One particular area of self-esteem that people struggle with is around negative self-talk and being compassionate, and yet most of the time, the very people who struggle with this, have little problem talking and thinking positively about others and expressing compassion. It’s this disconnect between their beliefs, actions and their split lives that leads to a great deal of pain because they build up and give to others while starving themselves of the basics.
This got me thinking about my own journey and how over the years, I’ve become increasingly aware of my vulnerabilities and where I’m likely to be my harshest critic. It has been marrying up the me that interacts with others and my inner and outward self that drives my own relationship with me, that has brought me a great deal of clarity, contentment, congruency, and compassion. In considering my relationship with Em (my husband), as well as my two daughters, friends, family members and readers, below are the key things that I learned about my behaviour with others that have transformed how I treat me.
- I don’t keep going on and on and on and on and on about something. I say my piece / respond and then I’m done. I can’t keep going back and saying, ‘And then another thing…. blah blah blah.’ When I was a kid, sometimes a telling off could go on for days or even weeks, or I’d still be having something thrown back at me months or even years down the line. You can literally feel yourself shrinking inwardly. Of course if something big happens then it’s not going to be over quickly but what I don’t see a great deal of benefit from, is just going on and on about it for the purpose of making somebody feel bad. Sometimes we want to make a person feel bad enough that we then believe that sufficient punishment / remorse has taken place. I’ve learned not to keep clobbering me over the head about something. My energy tends to go into recovery / understanding, not beating me up for weeks and months on end.
- I don’t name call and berate. In the past, I’ve called myself some terrible things – ‘worthless, good-for-nothing’, ‘stupid/stupido’, ‘f*ck up’, ‘should never have been born’ and a lot of stuff that I’ll spare you from. Let me just say categorically that I would never speak to my own children let alone anyone else like this, so why do it to me? I got in the habit of catching and correcting myself and over the years, that nasty inner critic has faded.
- I don’t expect somebody to devote their present and future to finding ways to correct the past – trying to turn back time. I’ve spent more time than I care to recall trying to revisit ‘crime scenes’ either by hanging onto a situation or by finding a fresh person to validate me and allow me to feel that the previous stuff has been cancelled out. Hell, I’ve practically been out with every version of my parents! If I’m not expecting those around me to live in the past, why should I expect that of me? Don’t I deserve a present and future? Don’t you?
- I let it go and move on. Letting go is a decision and then you have to choose and keep choosing every single day to go towards letting go. I’ve been far more compassionate and forgiving in the past of others than I have been of myself and looking at the differences between them and me, it was simply that I held me to an impossibly high standard just so that I could tally it with the underlying belief that I’m not and never will be good enough. I focused on blame and shame, and each time something didn’t go my way, I’d see it as an opportunity to reopen the issue. It just ended up being a prison of my own making.
- I’m patient. Sure there are times when my loved ones are wearing down on my last nerve but overall, I’m way more patient with others than I am with me. My daughters have taught me so much and when they’ve been learning something new or they’re upset about something, patience has made the world of difference. I used to get really exasperated with me and all it did was bring up old anxieties.
- I don’t ignore them or hear what I want to hear. When we truly listen, we don’t just hear and then form snap judgements based on assumptions that we’re treating like facts. I have gradually learned to listen to my body and I listen to my thoughts and feelings, both the good and not so good without being so hasty to judge.
- I don’t expect others to live their lives perfectly. There was a time when it felt like I was a big screw up and everyone else had it so together but that was just a story that corroborated this idea that there was something wrong with me. My loved ones have far from perfect lives and I love them anyway, and in turn I’ve learned to like and love me too instead of holding me to an impossible standard that nobody else is living.
- I don’t keep reminding them of their mistakes. At one point, my self-hatred was so high that it was as if I was finding ways to rub my face in my messes, all while calling me names. This was cruel and inhumane. I wouldn’t treat somebody I don’t like in that way, so why should I do that to me? It was humiliating. Focusing on what I’ve learned or even gained out of painful experiences as well as showing me some compassion by recognising who I was at that time, what was happening etc, has helped me to grow. It’s not about letting you off the hook because that would mean permission to learn nothing; it’s about being willing to learn more about you and your choices and then applying it.
- I don’t kick them when they’re down. This is something I see people do all of the time – they’re feeling down and they put the boot in so that they feel even worse. You need you most when you’re struggling – are you there for you like you would be for a friend (hopefully) or do you bail? Be compassionate and supportive by doing for you what you likely do for others.
- I don’t encourage them to treat themselves badly. I’ve been very comfortable in the past with self-neglect, yet horrified for others.
- I accept them as they are, in full. None of the people that I like, love, respect, or care about are perfect. In the past, I’ve acted like I had to be perfect in order to be on their ‘level’. My daughters have also reminded me to practice acceptance because I don’t ever want to give them the impression that they need to be perfect in order to be worthy and that if they’re not, I (or others) will take their love away. I’m not perfect and like everyone else on the planet, I don’t need to be. You don’t need to be perfect either.