Self Care Through Self Talk
By Silver Rose
Self-Care Using Self-Talk
When I adopted my teenage foster daughters many years ago, I was certain they would have a profound impact on my life. I didn’t realize what an impact they would have on my work. Over the years, they have graciously allowed me to share with you the lessons they have learned along the way and some they have yet to learn. As a result, many people have greatly benefited. In this, my daughters are both great teachers.
My oldest, for example, suffers from mental illness. One of the symptoms is that, under extreme duress, she cuts her skin with a knife or sharp object. She tells me that doing so relieves the pressure she is experiencing. Her arms are scarred from this self-mutilation. Thankfully, the occurrences have decreased significantly over the years. However, once in awhile, she feels the need to do it again. When she did a few weeks ago, I started to think about it in the context of our own reactions to stress.
Most people are horrified to hear about this symptom of mental illness. However, I challenge you to look into your own lives and explore whether you might practice some version of self-mutilation that is less obvious.
For example, do you say any of the following self-abusive things to yourself (or to others about yourself)?
· I’m such an idiot.
· I’m so lazy.
· I’m so fat (overweight, out of shape, etc.)
· I’m so ugly or, I have no style.
· Everyone else is much smarter.
· I’ll never make it. I’ll never be much of anything.
· I’d lose my head it if weren’t attached to my neck.
· I’ll be late to my own funeral.
· I’m always procrastinating.
· I’m so screwed up.
I recently met a man who has an amazing flair for this. He will say things like, “What is wrong with me? I told my tax preparer I would check the returns and get them back to her right away and it took me a week to do it!” To which I reply, “Yes, but you DID it. Not only that, but your taxes were in the mail three weeks ahead of the April 15th deadline.” And he’ll ARGUE with me, “Yes, but I took so long!” He continually argues for his own ineptitude and invites others to agree with him. Fortunately, he has begun to notice it. The more I say to him, “Yes, but you DID it,” the more he can hear what a critical parent he is to himself. His automatic negative thinking is, “You don’t do anything when it’s supposed to be done.” Translation: there is something very wrong with you.
We live in an amazing time during which we have access to all sorts of information that will help us to heal deficits left over from childhood. Whatever our parents or teachers didn’t provide for us we can provide for ourselves. And yet, instead of noticing when we are improving, we are continually looking for things to criticize. If our boss or friends did the same thing, we would be outraged. And yet we somehow think it’s okay to cut ourselves. My daughter tells me, “At least when I do it, I’m in control of the pain.” As distorted as that thinking may sound about the act of cutting one’s skin, I think the act of critical self-talk has the same motivation. If WE are the ones criticizing, at least we are in control of the pain being inflicted. Yet, if we take it one step further, we will see that it would be better to stop the pain altogether. DON’T cut your skin. DON’T criticize yourself.
What’s the solution? Appreciative self-talk is one clear path to feeling better. You can even use humor to get there. Say things to yourself like, “You know, you used to be kind of an idiot but you’re actually good at several things now!” and then list them. If you cannot stop the self-criticism about something, then TAKE SOME ACTION.
If, for example, it is true that you are often late, then do something about it. Think what that will do for your self-confidence. The Law of Attraction works in the following way: if you are focused on the problem, you will attract more of the same.
Focus instead on the solution and watch self-mutilation be replaced with self-care.