Quickly, without thinking it through, complete the following sentence: I am _____. Do it again and keep it up until you run out of quick answers.
Now think back over your answers. If you’re like most people, you likely stated what you do for a living and your place in your family, and then described your physical, emotional, and intellectual attributes. And you probably weren’t all that kind to yourself.
We often speak of ourselves in unflattering ways. Sometimes the things we say are downright mean. Most of us would never be so cruel to loved ones, coworkers, or even strangers, yet we berate ourselves right out loud. Worse, we run a continual loop of internal dialogue admonishing ourselves for what we perceive as our shortcomings. We’re not this enough. We’re too that.
Why do we do that, what impact does it have, and most importantly, how can we change it?
Like many of our habits, negative self-talk often begins in childhood. Well-meaning (and sometimes not so well-meaning) adults often guide children to look outside themselves for approval and send subtle (and not so subtle) messages that surface stuff is what defines us. Being this way is favored over being that. Some of those thises and thats aren’t even within the control of the child, yet the messages are clear: there are beautiful and ugly physical types, impressive and practically worthless talents and skills, and more and less favorable ways to be in this world. We take those early messages and build on them. Over time, many of us fill in the blank at the end of I am with all the ways we see ourselves falling short.
Sounds rather abusive, doesn’t it? If we married someone or worked for someone who constantly put us down, we’d leave. We’d recognize the cruelty and rail against it. When we do it to ourselves, though, we not only take it, we constantly reaffirm these abusive ‘truths’ until we’ve worn ourselves down and out.
Clearly, this is not okay. What we think, say, and feel after the words I am determines the experiences we have. That’s not an understatement or woo-woo nonsense; it’s science. When we say I am unattractive, I am poor, I am ill, I am unlucky, I am not very smart, and I am underappreciated, we draw exactly those things. What we believe deep down and what we dwell on grows. We all like to be right. So much so that we create lives that reflect out innermost beliefs. So much so that we’d rather be right than happy. See, we think, looking over our lives, I knew it.
Here’s the good news from the above paragraph: What we believe deep down and what we dwell on grows. So let’s go back to the beginning, only this time, fill in the blank with good stuff. List all the wonderful things about yourself and add in those which you would like to be true, but don’t yet believe.
We have the ability to rewrite our programming to better serve us. Because it is a new practice to many, speaking well of and thinking good thoughts about ourselves might feel awkward and fake in the beginning. It might even feel wrong, as if nice people don’t toot their own horns. Keep at it. I’d be willing to bet that in the early days of our negative programming, something inside us said No! I am not stupid or bad or ugly or unlovable. I am good and I am meant for great things. Yet over time, through sheer repetition, we internalized those beliefs and then reflected them out into our lives. We can do the very same to make ourselves and our lives happy, abundant, and beautiful. Start today. Start right now. Because you are all sorts of worth it.
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