Friday, March 1, 2013
We all engage in self-talk, either in our minds or out loud. Anyone ever catch you talking to yourself out loud? A little embarrassing.... Not too long ago as I emptied my cart in a grocery store line, a young man nearby overheard me mumbling to myself because I had forgotten an item while shopping and it was too late to do anything about it. When I looked up and noticed him, he just smiled and said: "Don't worry. I do it too."
Self-talk was the topic of a recent TV discussion among experts on the subject and it was stated: "Whatever you say to yourself, you will believe." Now if I only said positive things to myself that would be one thing, but I have a habit of bad-mouthing "me." I always assumed it was harmless to casually call myself derogatory names like stupid, dummy, loser or in a moment of disgust use adjectives which label me as unlovable or unforgivable or irredeemable --insulting things I would not choose to say to someone else. If I did say the same degrading and demoralizing words to another person, it could be internalized by that individual and have an emotionally damaging impact. That's what bullies do. In a way, being verbally abusive to myself is a form of bullying.
So why have I given myself permission to use such undignified language in reference to me? What made me think the self put-downs which flooded my mind wouldn't affect me the same way they would affect others?
Think about it for a moment. If we didn't believe what we say to ourselves, we probably wouldn't say it, right? But here's the problem. Regularly telling myself I'm a loser affects how I feel about myself. The way I feel is the way I will act. Those of us who participate in habitual self-deprecation in our thoughts and conversations with ourselves have either failed to remember or never realized it does leave a detrimental imprint on our spirit and impedes the degree of effectiveness we can have in our interaction with family and the rest of the world.
Of course, there are deeper, underlying issues that prompt a person to bully him or herself. When we forget our lives have value and dignity, we have forgotten the source of that value and dignity. So we may need a reminder of how God sees us and why he created us, giving us a truly energizing, fulfilling and unique purpose in life. In his eyes no one is unlovable, unforgivable or irredeemable. Some may have never heard this good news. Our Creator doesn't have the same dim view of us that we may have of ourselves. We are, after all, his beloved children.
When I became more conscious of my habit of self-ridicule, I made it a point to try to catch myself before the insults came fully to mind or out of my mouth. Wow! What a difference it has made! If this is something you identify with, you might want to give it a try. What I am suggesting is not a quick fix that will answer the bigger question as to why a number of us don't seem to like ourselves very much. It merely involves an initial tweak in our thinking that could, however, lead to more serious sifting and sorting and searching of our hearts to uncover why we feel free to put ourselves down on a persistent basis.
Hopefully it is understood I am not invalidating the genuine moments of disappointment or discouragement or the seasons of grief that life brings. And I am absolutely not implying we shouldn't recognize and take responsibility for mistakes we make or sins we commit. I'm "just sayin'" it sure helps not to repeatedly call ourselves ugly names because it's so not true. It's counterproductive and a waste of breath.
I have been personally surprised at how a relatively small thing like giving up negative self-talk has restored some dignity I lacked. And having a more positive identity generates more positive reactions toward others. I suspect I will never stop sifting and sorting the accumulated stuff in my heart to discern "why" I've treated myself this way but refraining from self-bullying makes the process a whole lot easier.