The Thoughts We Think About Ourselves
If you are like a lot of people, you may spend a lot of the day criticizing yourself mentally. For instance, maybe you have a constant stream of thoughts running through your mind that goes something like this: I’m so stupid. I’m fat. I’m a failure. What’s wrong with me? I’m ugly. I’m so lazy. I believe many of us think these types of things on a regular basis; in fact, I think thoughts like this are so common that often we don’t even question them. Maybe we believe that by thinking this way, it makes us better people. Perhaps we think that we’re being tough on ourselves, and this will whip us into shape. Maybe we think that thinking negative things about ourselves is a sign of humility and that it is normal and harmless. I suggest, however, that thinking about ourselves negatively and harshly should not be normal and that it is not harmless but actually very damaging. In addition, I suggest that instead of it being right to think negatively about ourselves, it is absolutely good and right for us to think loving thoughts about ourselves. It can actually drastically improve our lives. I would first like to examine why it is odd that we speak negatively to ourselves so frequently. Then I will examine why it is good to speak lovingly to ourselves and how we can start to do this.
Speaking to Our Friends, Speaking to Ourselves
If we stop and think about it, we will realize that it is quite odd that we speak negatively to ourselves so often. After all, we get really angry and hurt when other people say negative things about us. For example, we instinctively realize that it is wrong for others to say these demeaning things to us. So, it is odd that for some reason, we often think it is okay for us to say these things about ourselves. In addition, it is odd that we say such demeaning things to ourselves because we would never say these things to our friends or to a young child. We recognize that our friends and young children need someone to believe in them and to see the best in them. We understand that when we believe in people and support them, it makes it easier for them to succeed and to be the awesome people they are. So the question is, why don’t we think the same things about ourselves? Why do we think that everyone else deserves loving encouragement, but we deserve harsh, negative words from ourselves?
This painting is “Boreas” by John William Waterhouse.
I suspect that sometimes when we speak harshly to ourselves it is because we don’t really realize we are doing it. But I think many times, we are aware we are doing it but think it is a good thing to do because we believe that it will make us a better person. Or perhaps we think that we will get a big head if we speak to ourselves lovingly. I would like us to consider, however, that speaking to ourselves lovingly is the best thing we can do for ourselves, because when we speaking lovingly to ourselves, we speak truthfully to ourselves, and everyone is nourished by the truth. Truth is like a light that illuminates our mind and allows us to see our world more clearly. On the other hand, when we speak harsh things to ourselves, we say things that are not true. Over time those untruthful ideas can start to cloud our judgment about other things and people in our lives. For instance, if we continually tell ourselves we are a failure and start to believe this is about ourselves, we may start to assume that we will never be able to accomplish anything good and that everyone else thinks we are a failure, too. This can lead us to increasing feelings of failure and hostility towards ourselves and the world around us. Speaking truth to ourselves, on the other hand, helps us see ourselves and our world clearly so we know how to act well and what steps to take next.
“But”, you may say, “What if the negative things I say about myself are true? What if I fail at things? What if there are ugly and horrible things about me?” It is important to realize that all of us fail sometimes, and all of us have imperfections and dark and even ugly parts of us. There is no one in the world without these aspects of their lives. But why should we think that these aspects of ourselves deserve hateful comments? Failure and imperfection are a normal part of being human. In fact, they are often part of what makes being human interesting and beautiful. Our failure helps us learn. Our imperfections are often unique aspects of us or they are a history of our lives and our choices. So rather than looking at them as something we have to hate and for which we must chastise ourselves, we can view them as important feedback about our life. Rather than deserving our hatred, they deserve our appreciation and reflection. For instance, if you fail at something in your job, this failure shows that you you were showing up to your life and trying new things. This deserves commendation. In addition, your failure provides valuable feedback about what you do and do not know and the things about which you need to gain more knowledge or help. Furthermore, when we praise ourselves for the good things in our lives in the midst of our failure and imperfections, it allows us to stay focused on the good things which we are doing, which helps us figure out how we could act in such a way to bring more of that same good into our lives. For instance, when we praise ourselves for our accomplishments at school or at work, it helps us to focus on what we are doing well in these areas, and by thinking about these things, we can continue to do act well in this way in all areas of our life.
Therefore, when we speak lovingly to ourselves, it actually helps us to make the most out of our failures and imperfections as well as our successes. It may, however, be hard to figure out how to speak lovingly to yourself, especially if you have been in the habit of speaking harshly. If you are not sure how to speak lovingly, these three truths might help you form a good foundation for this loving practice:
- Who you are at your core is this amazing, unique person. You can do excellent and beautiful things—you need support, love, and recognition of who you are to keep moving towards this good.
- Mistakes are inevitable. You don’t have to beat yourself up about your mistakes. You can use them as valuable feedback to help you know how you can keep heading in the right direction.
- When you make mistakes, you need more love, not less. We all want to do good. We all want to live well. Mistakes and acting badly are really painful because they are our misguided attempts to get the love we desire. When we love ourselves in the midst of our mistakes and bad behavior (without ignoring or excusing them), we are giving ourselves the love we are looking for, and this helps us get back on track.
When you realize these things about yourself, you can start to speak to yourself the way you might speak to a good friend or a young child. You might say things like this: You’ve got this. You’re amazing. You’re going to make it. You’re going to figure it out. Good job trying new things and making mistakes. As you continue to think loving things about yourself, you are not only being a good friend to yourself, through your love you are creating the ideal conditions for you to keep doing good in all areas of your life. You deserve that kind of love.