It saddens me to witness so many of my friends and clients become victim to their own inner criticisms. The negative self talk as we know it. Some of us are aware of this constant badgering we put ourselves through and some of us oblivious to it. When we find someone talking out loud to themselves we think they are going crazy but what about this constant unforgiving chatter in our minds?
Be kind to yourself
One of the earliest issues a child develops while growing up is that of low self esteem. We often try to find external causes for the occurrence (that’s if someone identifies the issue) or assume that the child just needs to try harder in a particular area. As I write this, I am reminded of a friend’s facebook status after she delivered a baby which was “ the way we talk to our children, becomes their inner voice.” If it’s not parents, it is some other family member/friend/teacher/boss etc whose voice gets installed into the software of our brain. Sadly enough we keep running these tapes in our head without ever questioning them.
Messages like: 1) “You cannot even draw a straight line.”
2) “You should always get an A or else you are a failure.”
3) “You cannot afford to relax if you want to be successful.”
4) “Boys are not attracted to you because you are dark skinned.”
5) “You are not aggressive enough for this job.”
I am sure that each one of us has our own versions of messages like these that always keep running at the back of our mind. Somehow we believe these to be true and keep working as per the ‘shoulds’ and the ‘musts’ other people have imposed on us. We internalize these as our own values and continue inflicting pain on ourselves. All these messages tell you somewhere that “I am not good enough”, “I am not valuable/loved the way I am.” We also begin to play the “ I am good if I do..” game and feel puzzled when we are not accepted anyway.
It is also important to differentiate between this unhealthy self talk and constructive criticism/ feedback. When you receive constructive criticism or feedback for improvement, it is specific to the situation/ behavior and you leave from the situation understanding that you are valued for who you are and are being given suggestions to grow further. For example: A parent could tell a child that “ I was looking at your progress card and congratulate you for your improvement from last semester in Mathematics. Continue to do your best.” The child here is not being judged at a global level that he is a bad child for not receiving the highest grade. It is here that we learn to give ourselves some room for mistakes and ease out the need to be perfect all the time.
Low self esteem shows up in our work as settling for a lesser salary, our belief about what kind of life partner we deserve and what limitations we set on our abilities. A great amount of depression and anxiety stems from this unhealthy inner self talk.
At a much larger level, one cannot accept another person if one does not accept one’s own self. The answer lies in awareness. Be mindful of your inner dialogue, journal about it and reflect on whether it is helpful or harmful at this point in your life.
From a holistic perspective, I would like to mention Dr. Masuru Emoto’s water crystal experiment where he finds that water tends to crystallize in shapes resonating with the type of music being played around the water. The principle behind this experiment is that sound vibrations from the music influenced the formations in water.
With water being a major component of the human body and thoughts containing vibrations that echo through our systems, I would encourage you think about the impact your thoughts are having on your physical/emotional/ mental health.
It has taken me quite an experience to understand this fact of life. For years I heard people say this to me and I was also fortunate to see some people act on this belief. Being a person who needs to experience things first hand to understand them ( you can read it stubborn), it was not an auto response for me to nod my head when my father said to me ‘ in trying times, it is only your family that comes to your rescue’. In my share of life experiences I had seen friends and well wishers come to your help when it was needed and when they couldn’t I just did not take it as an opportunity to fall back on my father’s words. I always believed that you meet people in your life as per your needs and friends become your extended family or sometimes even acquaintances reach out to you when you need it the most. It is also important to mention that these experiences I am referring to occurred in my life when I had the luxury of having a permanent roof on my head ( provided by my father) and some money in my bank account (courtesy my employer). What I needed the most then was more of emotional support and I sought it from my friends.
Today, I am a student in a foreign country (US of A) who does not have a permanent income or accommodation. Being a romantic optimist I chose a university where I do not have any family relatives or friends that I knew from before. Somewhere in my heart I used to feel that life was too easy for them who had relatives that they could lean on when they needed. I would see some of my roommates who would go live with their relatives over the weekends and could count on them when they needed some help in this foreign land. When I saw the relatives help my roomies I would think , it need not just be family but anyone (who is your friend) would come to help you when you need it. Fortunately in addition to a couple of Indian friends, I also made some non Indian friends here who helped me go to a grocery store (you had to have a car to move around in the uncivilized neighborhood I lived in), drop me home from school, help me shift apartments and the likes. These experiences affirmed my beliefs that there are good people out there in the world to help you out. I felt that these people who helped me until then were my friends and I thanked the guy above for having met these people. What I am going to share further is completely a personal experience and I don’t intend to generalize it. Two months ago I fell very sick and I had to be hospitalized for a serious respiratory infection. This was sudden and I had not dreamt that I am going to need hospitalization. That day in my head when I was searching for someone to come and get me stuff I needed, I could just think of one name of the many friendships I thought I had developed here. It could be my shortcoming but some of my other experiences had made me aware of some cultural differences between Americans and Indians. A small example would be that I felt the degree of cautiousness surrounding common cold/cough and the likes among the people who were brought up here was very high compared to what I have seen back home. At times it irritated me and at times I was successful in making myself see the benefits of being so cautious. When I fell sick, my head told me that I should not try and call someone who generally is overcautious about avoiding infections. I did debate with myself saying that may be the people I was thinking about may understand the complexity of my present situation however I decided against putting anyone through such a dilemma and called on the one person I had no doubts would understand.
During my stay at the hospital, I recalled the times when one of my family members fell sick and without a second thought we would do what was required. When I was here in a foreign land without anyone whom I could assume would bring me my clothes/ food and other basic stuff I remembered how members of a family perform such duties as an ‘auto’ function. As much as I am thankful for the two friends who helped me the most during this period, I did gain a far better understanding of what it means to be a family. No matter how strained your relationship, when need arises its your family that takes over the situation and understands your needs even before you verbalize them. I have been fortunate to find such support with people who are not ‘related’ to me however there is always a limit to what friends can do. Some willingly cross that limit and go out of their way to be around you when you need it but that limit always stays. Beyond that limit is when you enter the circle of your family and close relatives. Sometimes members of extended family may do it as an obligation but I guess it still counts because at the end of the day they do help. I have not personally experienced the ‘extended family’ reaching out to help part but have seen this happen with people around me when cousins and uncles traveled distances to settle their niece/ nephew in this place they would otherwise be foreigners to. Perhaps, you can say that I have learned to appreciate some relationships when I did not have them around me.