Now more than ever, we need to cultivate self love towards ourself: isolation, anxiety, panic. It's easy for our thoughts to spiral into a negative downward spin.
Whether you know it or not, we are narrating the unfolding of our life every second. Just like a narrator in a book or play explains what is happening, we too talk to ourselves describing our experience each moment. This went really well. She thinks I'm ugly. I'm an idiot for saying that.
The Stoics, a lot of which Cognitive Therapy is based upon, say that it is not the event itself, that causes our suffering, rather our judgement about the situation. The way we thing about an experience determines how we feeling about it. In essence:
event + thought = feelings
So what this means, is that by changing our narrative, by changing the stories we hold about ourselves, we can alter the way we feel. To me this has always been an incredibly empowering concept! We are in control of our lives. We can choose our thoughts. We can create our reality!
We tend to be our biggest critic, judging our every thing we say and analysing every action we make. But it is possible to become our biggest cheerleader, to support ourselves with kind language and shower unconditional love and kindness.
Changing Your Critical Self-Talk
To get the most out of this exercise it needs to be practiced and will require several sessions to be truly impactful on your compassion for yourself.
There are three steps to this exercise that you will repeat several times.
Notice when you are being critical of yourself and write down the words, tone, phrases, etc., you use with yourself. It’s easy to be critical of one’s self, but it’s harder to notice all of these factors. You will likely have trouble noticing these things the first or second time you try, but don’t give up! It will get easier the more you practice it.
The goal of this step is to simply get a sense of how you talk to yourself when you are criticising yourself or being negative about yourself. It is not only practically challenging to get a sense of how you talk to yourself, it can also be emotionally challenging to confront the reality of how you talk to yourself. It might bring up a lot of difficult or intense emotions, but remember that the next two steps are meant to help you become more positive about yourself. You’ll get there!
Here we begin the process of “talking back” to the critical voice in our head. Don’t take on the same critical tone with this voice in your head – although you may want to be nasty to this voice, that will just encourage self-judgment instead of self-compassion!
Tell the voice that you understand that the voice is nervous, anxious, or worried about getting hurt, but that it is causing you unnecessary pain. Ask the critical voice to allow your compassionate self to speak for a few moments.
Now we work on reframing the observations made by the critical voice. Put them in a more positive perspective, perhaps with the help of the “unconditionally compassionate” friend from the last exercise. Instead of allowing the critical voice to berate you for a choice you made, put on your “self-compassionate” or “compassionate friend” hat and view the situation with a focus on the positive.
For instance, if you feel horrible for something mean you said to a friend, don’t allow your critical voice to have full control in your mind. Let your compassionate self take over and say something like, “I know you made a mean comment to your friend and that you feel bad about it. You thought it might feel good to get that off your chest, but you just felt worse after. I want you to be happy, so please think about calling your friend and apologising. It will feel good to make up with her.”
You can even pair this positive self-talk with loving physical gestures, like stroking your arm or giving yourself a hug. However you do it, engaging in this kind of positive self-talk will help you to start being more kind to yourself, which will eventually lead to genuine feelings of warmth and love for yourself.
As with all these practices, there is no right or wrong and it is important to modify it to work with you. It can often feel awkward and unnatural but remember you are learning a new skill and it will take time before it feels comfortable, natural even. I think you will agree that it is well worth the effort in the long run.
Much love, keep in touch, and keep safe.
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