On Talking Smack and the Value of Unconditional Self Love
I like to think I keep my negative self-talk under control, but periodically my inner critic (or what I like the call my inner ninja) gets a little rowdy and starts talking smack. I think she means well. After all, she's the same internal voice that pushes me to do my best, provides tough love and helps me to be discerning. Still, when I'm stressed or under-resourced, she ends up misguided. And that's exactly what happened over the weekend when I found myself hammered with the shoulds and the nevers and the always. It went something like this: By age 36, I should be married with kids and and have a fully developed career. I should have written a book already. I should own a home. Maybe two. My cousins do. And here's where things start to snowball: also why don't I cook better? Why aren't I more stylish? And if I was a better person I would take my dog for a 40 minute walk every morning instead of a 30 minute walk. I see people doing that on Bernal Hill every day.
You get the picture?
When the smack-talking ensues, things can feel pretty isolating.
Enter my friend Erika. The thing about Erika is that in general, she's kind of awesome, and more specifically, she's always good for a reality check. And this weekend she gifted me with one of the most precious reality checks ever, wherein over yummy fries and a beer, she shared her own experience of being in her mid-30s and beating herself up over what she had yet to accomplish. Erika's idea of success, she told me, was hinged on three pressures: (1) marriage (2) children and (3) owning a home. And while I could identify with all of that, there was a twist in the plot of her story. Right around the same time she was knee-deep in freakout, she was also diagnosed with breast cancer. Then, as you might expect, everything changed.
When you’re fighting for survival, it turns out, there’s no room for self-criticism.
“During treatment, I learned to love myself in a deeper way. I saw the bigger picture,” Erika told me. “I looked in the mirror at myself, totally hairless, my survival in question, pale, nauseous, distorted and bloated, not working, not doing anything but treatment. I wondered, am I my hair? Am I my career? Am I my singleness, my status as a renter, my financial status? No. I am this beautiful, unique, magnificent person, deep inside. Everything external can change and my essence is still constant. That's who I am and she is beautiful.”
After seven years of remission, my friend Erika still dwells in that reality – which is nothing short of inspiring for me. Of course, self-criticism rears its ugly head now and again, but Erika’s doesn’t indulge the negativity.
“ I think it's important to be grateful to your inner ninja (or in my case, inner drill sergeant)," she says. "I always tell her, ‘thank you, I know you are trying to keep me safe, but I'd like you to get to work planning my career improvement (she needs to be kept busy). Right now a different part of me is going to be at the wheel.' This really soothes that part of me. That way I'm making sure to treat Drilly with gratitude and self love rather than judgment, which ultimately feels bad too.”
Let me make clear, that while you may read or hear about these types of life-changing stories often, (a) you can never get enough inspiration and (b) its an entirely different experience to watch a friend emanate grace as she shares her reality-checking-wisdom. So I'm passing it on here.
It hit me hard while I was listening to Erika's story that I was not helping myself in any way with the negative self-talk, but rather I was being straight up mean. And the truth is, I would never allow someone else to talk to me that way nor would speak to others in such a way. And so I recommitted to gently keeping my inner ninja on task, and keeping Erika's story close by as a reminder of the importance of being kind to yourself. After all, self love is at the heart of self-care. Bottom line.
In the days since our conversation, this topic of talking smack to ones self has come up numerous times with friends who have been struggling with the same issue. It feels pervasive. We internalize familial and societal pressures; we hold ourselves to impossible standards. And then what? How do we manage it? What actions can we take to course correct?
Here are some suggestions:
1. Find your Erikas. Not literally, of course, but do identify a few people who are helpful in providing a reality check when you're struggling with providing one for yourself. Community is essential.
2. Try to re-focus your thoughts. What are you grateful for - both within yourself and in your life? Note your accomplishments. Dwell in those for a while.
3. If you notice the negativity come on and can't re-focus your thoughts, switch gears altogether. Distract yourself with action (take a walk, watch a movie, something that will get you out of your head).
4. Find your inspirations. Music, words, pictures, people - what reminds you to love your perfectly, imperfect self. Unconditionally. Make a list and keep it close.
5. Share your own strategies in the comment section here! As noted above: community is essential.