I can’t pinpoint when my disdain for my personal “imperfections” turned into obsessive negative self-talk. I do know that somedays I felt like I was suffocated by these thoughts as I mentally tore myself apart. I never felt smart enough, healthy enough, funny enough, thin enough, curvy enough, my skin wasn’t clear enough, my hair wasn’t shiny enough – I could go on and on. I didn’t realize how low I had sunk until my self-hate brought me to tears as I listened to the negative dialogue in my head screaming at me that I was worthless and would never be good enough. No matter how hard I tried, I could not compete with the thoughts in my mind. These thoughts left me feeling empty, depressed and even self-sabotaging.
Self-Sabotaging habits perpetuate these feelings: “I’ll never be as thin as ______, I guess I’ll eat this whole batch of cookies” or “I’m not interesting enough to make conversation; no one would be interested in what I have to say so I will just keep to myself.” These thoughts and feelings can become very dangerous leading to self-inflicted violence, eating disorders, depression, etc.
Negative self-talk is the side effect of not loving oneself. Think of it this way: A cracked pitcher can be filled with water but it will never be filled fully because the water will continue to leak out. Until the pitcher is repaired, it cannot hold water. But once it is repaired, it is whole; able to hold water. Similarly, we can try to appease the self-talk by trying to fix our “imperfections” but this method will never be enough. We won’t feel content until we fix the cracks in our heart and love ourselves.
To some degree we all experience negative self-talk, don’t we? As Christians we are often reminded to love one another. Loving your neighbor as yourself is the first and greatest commandment. But how can we love our neighbor as ourself if we don’t even like ourselves, let alone love ourselves? I am going to suggest it is impossible to love others fully if we have not learned to love and accept ourselves. When we see ourselves through condemning lenses of judgement, those same lenses are going to distort the way we love and relate to those around us.
When we battle with negative self-talk, sometimes it is the physical imperfections we struggle with the most because we are faced with them each time we step in front of the mirror, stand on a scale, read/listen/watch anything promoted by Hollywood (the media is seriously not doing us any favors!). The body and the physical things are something we are always trying to set aside for the greater good of spiritual growth. However, the body is the physical vessel God has given us to do His work. How can we be effective workers if we do not love and nurture these earthly bodies?
If, like me, you find you are picking yourself apart – my hair, my skin, my body, my personality; then maybe it is time to take time to learn how to love yourself. To start, ask yourself why you believe negative thoughts about yourself. When did these thoughts begin? Can you find the root? Some of these questions will take some serious thought and honesty. I encourage you to grab a notebook and start jotting down your answers before moving forward.
Now, think of all the hateful things you feel for yourself. What would you be without these thoughts in your life? Write your response down!
Do you know how I answered the above question earlier this year? Peaceful. Without all the negative self-talk, I knew I could have so much peace in my life that was missing as I continued to beat myself up for not reaching an unattainable level of perfection.
You see, our thoughts and feelings quickly become our actions; our actions become our beliefs; and our beliefs continue to perpetuate the negative thoughts and feelings we have planted into our minds. Think of thoughts and feelings as seeds. We have the power to plant positive or negative seeds in the mind. If we want to break the cycle, we have to replace these negative thoughts and emotions with positive seeds that affirm ourselves of who and what we are.
To do this, I encourage you to begin a loving kindness meditation daily. Your meditation should be one of the first things you do when you rise in the morning to help you remember to plant positive seeds at the beginning of the day. A loving kindness meditation can be as simple as stating a positive affirmation about yourself. Examples include “I am beautiful”, “I am enough”, “God created me in His image.” Sometimes, I say mine in the form of a gratitude prayer to God by thanking Him for creating me the way I am.
I encourage you to come back to this affirmation or mantra throughout your day when you notice the negative self-talk creeping back in. Leave post-it notes in your car, on your bathroom mirror, on your computer, etc. to remind you of your mantra. If, like me, your negative talk has become quite severe, then you may need to take this a step further. Consider setting alarm reminders every 2-3 hours to check-in with the seeds you are planting in your mind. When my (silent) alarm pops up on my phone, I take a moment to repeat my mantra in my head and consider if I have been loving or hateful to myself. It is also beneficial to keep a notebook to track the positive and negative self-talk and actions you demonstrate through the day. Also make notes of how you react to these situations. At the end of the day, take time to reflect on your notebook and the actions of your day. Were you able to combat the negative self talk? After a few days (or weeks!…or months!) you will start to see patterns. Note times of day, times of the month and other situational stressors that cause your negative self-talk to increase. Being aware of these triggers, helps us to address them and prepare for them better.
We have to recognize that we ARE beautiful. We are beautiful just the way God made us in our own, unique ways. God created us in His image and specially handcrafted each of us. Each of our attributes makes us unique and sets us apart as an individual. That is true beauty by the ultimate creator.
It may seem cheesy but I want to close with the loving kindness meditation I use. The first time I heard it, I didn’t think I could take it seriously but it has become a mantra that resonates with me and helps me be the best version of myself. When I love myself, I can better love others and lovingly serve my Lord:
I am beautiful.
You are beautiful.
We are beautiful.
Life is beautiful.