Many of us grew up with the idea that we need to be hard on ourselves to get ahead. Somewhere along the way, we got it in our heads that the way to succeed is to approach ourselves with a critical, unkind, or even punishing attitude. When we make a mistake, we feel like we need to yell at ourselves.
I often see this in my patients. Someone may come in complaining of structural pain in her body, but after a few sessions, it becomes clear that stress has played a major role in causing the pain. Stress tends to be caused by a combination of two things: an external stimuli and our internal response to that stimuli.
We can’t necessarily keep stressful events from happening. But we do have a great deal of choice in how we respond to them.
Let me give you an example. A friend of mine works at a law firm. She has a busy, fast-paced job. It can be quite stressful — that’s the nature of the work. She’s also quite good at it. But she tends to be hypercritical of herself as well, constantly comparing herself to her coworkers and judging herself for not measuring up to a standard of performance that she has set for herself. As you can imagine, this adds a great deal to her stress level!
We can choose instead to be kind and gentle with ourselves.
Think about it: do you like it when someone yells at you? Probably not. Would you (on a good day) want to yell at someone else? Probably not! So why would you yell at (or be unkind, or harsh with) yourself?
Most of us try to be polite and kind to the people around us. But we can lower our stress and achieve greater peace by being polite and kind to ourselves as well. A good first step towards doing this is noticing when we’re not: if you start criticizing yourself, watch it happen. You can even say to yourself, “Oh, looks like I’m yelling at myself again.” Watching it happen, instead of buying into it, is a great way to take the power out of that self-critical voice we have.
Positive affirmations can also change how we approach ourselves. When we notice we’re being unkind to ourselves, we can also pause for a moment and say something loving instead. This can be a wonderful way to start the day! I like to say a few affirmations in the mirror each morning before I brush my teeth.
I also try to practice self-forgiveness. When I make a mistake, instead of getting mad at myself, I try to say, “It’s okay. I forgive you. I love you.” It’s a much more gentle way to live.
Learning to talk to ourselves with love can really open things up. We can feel more relaxed, more at peace, and more open to whatever life experiences come our way. Try it!