Sometimes when we are depressed or become mentally ill, we lose a sense of identity, we lose track of who we are and what we may mean to those around us, as well as our impact on the world.
Usually our home lives and ability to work is affected, our family ties can become strained. With that, we lose our sense of worth, we feel pointless, dull, ugly, sluggish, trapped and even as though we are a burden on others.
We have to remember to be kind to ourselves, to nurture ourselves and to build ourselves back up again.
Basically we have to learn the art of loving oneself- it sounds so cringeworthy doesn't it?
I hate all this positive thinking cr*p!
Is all that negative thinking cr*p working for you?
So what's the solution? Find a middle ground.
How many times a day do you find yourself saying:
'I couldn't/daren't/won't ever _*insert thing you'd like to do*_
'I'm too _______' or I'm not _______ enough' ?
Some common examples are:
I'm too fat
I'm too stupid
I'm not pretty enough
I'm not clever enough
I'm too shy
I'm not outgoing enough
I’m too old
I'm not witty enough
It is actually quite surprising just how often our inner monologue is filled with put downs or negative talk. And half the time, we don't even realise it is happening!
Now imagine you were saying those things to another person, about themselves, perhaps a friend or family member.
That is a lot of negative attitude and put downs for 1 person to digest!
Chances are you wouldn't be so cruel to actually peck away at someone else's confidence like that.
So why do it to yourself?
Sometimes, even when we give a compliment to others, we put ourselves down in the process.
Eg: You're so brave for doing that, I am such a scaredy cat, I could never _______.
He's such an amazing artist, I'm rubbish at art, I can't even draw stick men!
You always have such great skin! I've tried everything and I still can't get mine
to clear up.
Why can’t we enjoy and appreciate the greatness of others for just a few minutes without pulling ourselves apart?
What purpose does this constant picking serve?
To encourage us to better ourselves? Well that kind of makes sense, but since when did bullying and shaming people become the standard practise for self help, self improvement or even teaching children?
Nope, it is just another excuse to sit and berate yourself for how utterly awful you are and how pants life is whilst getting even more frustrated.
Even in our longing for more from life, we point out our lacking, our inadequacies:
If only I was more _______ then I could _____.
I wish I was more like_____, I'm so awkward.
I'd love to be able to ______ but I'm ______.
Imagine little old me ____ , as if I could.
I’d never have the confidence to ______.
Who’d listen to someone as _________ as me?
All of that longing equates to very little action because as soon as we have put forward our desire, we deny any chance of achieving it by belittling ourselves!
Try to monitor yourself over a couple of days or weeks (depending on how much human interaction you have) See how many times you can catch yourself out, putting yourself down.
No matter who we are and how far we’ve come, how much we have achieved and the impact we’ve made on others: if depression kicks in, if we don't have enough positive self talk running through our every day brain chatter then pretty soon we drown out all of the positive thoughts or feelings of admiration that we ever might have had for ourselves!
Now think about how many times a day/week/month you might say to someone other than yourself:
She's so ________interesting/funny/kind/amazing.
You've always been great at ____________.
But you always look so ______ handsome/beautiful/well turned out.
Compare that to how often (or little) you might compliment yourself, take a little second to feel really great about yourself or take pride in your actions.
You probably don't like to boast about yourself, you may put your lack of self enthusiasm down to modesty. Only you don't because being humble makes you quite endearing to others and that would imply you think you are worthy and we all know you are a massive waste of space.
Hurtful isn't it? If you heard someone else say these things to you it would cut like a knife.
Any time anyone is cruel or hurtful or judgemental towards us we add it to our mental list of failures and inadequacies that confirm our own negative self beliefs and we often like to run through that list just as our heads hit the pillow at night or just before an important meeting or a promising night out.
Now a little self criticism can be helpful. It helps us reflect on our mistakes and experiences, it allows us to improve on our performance at work or teach us how to communicate better when tensions are running high etc.
The problem in picking away at our own self esteem all day is that eventually, every bad thought or experience, no matter how minor, is followed by an inevitable hate spiral, one where we run over all of the reasons why we are the worst, ugliest, most pathetic, pointless, sh*test person to have lived.
'But I'm a realist' I hear you cry! 'I'm not going to delude myself into believing that I am more brilliant/talented/beautiful than I am. What's the point if other people can see through it. I'll soon get found out and they will all see that I am just plain old, average, boring, rubbish, me.'
Even if we consider what we are saying to be true, ie realistically we may not all be beautiful enough to be Miss World, it doesn't mean that repeating negative, hurtful statements over and over is helpful to us in any way (nor does it make us feel or become more beautiful).
There is a difference between having realistic expectations of yourself and reminding yourself of what you deem to be inadequacies and failures on a daily basis. That in itself creates an unrealistic vision of yourself.
We all know how this self loathing cycle goes and yet being called out for it makes us feel just as uncomfortable, defensive even.
‘But I don’t mean to, I’m just so depressed/tired/fed up/stuck/lost right now!’
But is it really more comfortable to sit in that loathsome state?
Something that we think of as being so engrained, automatic almost, can only be challenged with reason and being pro active.
I bet if you were to ask a friend, colleague or loved one, or even an acquaintance, to describe you, they would point out things that you would never have noticed. Perhaps they see strengths in you that you never knew you had; or feel that you bring a certain energy or humour into conversation that you weren’t aware of.
There is a way to being actively kinder to yourself by emphasising your good parts, the bits of you that do shine bright enough that even you can see them on a good day. These can be coaxed out and reconfirmed using a technique called:
The idea behind affirmations is that we are drowning out some of the negative self talk by using positive, affirming language instead.
It is not a case of 'correcting' your every sentence and censoring every thought that pops into your head.
The idea is to simply repeat the affirmation, like a mantra, over and over a few times each day, in order to drive the message behind it, home, so it is firmly planted in your head and subconscious, and can be retrieved and used as a defence against any self flagellation that creeps in.
Some simple ones to try are:
I am good enough!
I am a wonderful father!
I am strong and I will get through this!
Some more specific ones might be:
I will stand up for myself at work today!
I am going to open up to my therapist and it will be okay.
I am a brilliant cook and my guests are going to love this evening!
Try to make up some of your own, or modify the ones above to suit you and your circumstances.
The trick is to leave out any negative words and do not mention the things that you fear or are trying to avoid ie 'I won't fail this test'
If you repeat that over and over, all your brain will hear is FAIL and TEST and before you know it you will be doubting yourself even before you've got your pen out.
So in that scenario, change it to something like 'I will pass this test' or 'When I pass this test I will be so happy'. Try to picture yourself having passed that damn test too, visualisation is so useful in keeping you focussed on a goal.
The next part takes some practise and sometimes a fit of the giggles (never a bad thing!)
Stand in front of a mirror. Look yourself in the eyes. Repeat your affirmations over and over, at least 5 times each.
Eg. I AM good enough! X5
Soon it will come naturally and you will start to undo, or at least plaster over your negative thoughts and beliefs with these positive, optimistic, healing words of self love and respect.
Try it as often as you can, say every morning, just after brushing your teeth.
Just 2 minutes twice a day can help to reduce mental plaque! ;-)
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