Imagine this: You’ve taken an exam in one of your classes, didn’t feel so great about it, and upon getting back the results your worst fears are answered. You did terribly on it, and you chastise yourself about the bad grade, thinking things like “You’re such an idiot, how could you screw this up? You’re a failure, you can’t do anything right.”
Now imagine it was a friend of yours that came to you with the bad grade. Would you call them an idiot, a failure or that they couldn’t do anything right?
Most likely, no, you wouldn’t. You’d probably advise them that they’d do better next time, ensure they adopt some better studying habits to do better the next time, ask if they’ve tried study groups or give them a chance to just vent to you and then get their mind off the subject matter.
So why can we treat others top notch while we neglect our own selves?
In truth, I don’t know the answer to that question, but I can assure you that it’s a normal, common experience to treat ourselves poorly even though we would share kindness to those around us. Maybe it has to do with our expectations, our ideals or how much quicker the negative self-talk comes to us than positive self-talk. Whatever it may be, I’m here to tell you that there are ways for you to increase your positive self-talk and practice some much needed self-love.
What is self-love? Well, it’s all about treating yourself kindly, gently, with forgiveness, understanding and genuine love. It’s about giving yourself some slack when you make a mistake, and to recognize that we humans all make mistakes. It’s about treating yourself well especially when you’re not feeling well. It’s about loving yourself when you may just want to tear yourself apart.
Sounds huge, right? But don’t worry there are small things we can all do each day to choose self-love over self-hate.
The first step is to be aware of when we’re using self-hate talk over self-love talk.
If you notice you’re thinking in terms of black and white or all or nothing thinking, catch yourself, call yourself out on it, and try and look for the shades of gray instead. So, for instance, let’s say I had a twenty page reading to do. If I got through only, say, five pages and was using a cognitive distortion such as all or nothing thinking, I may accomplish those five pages but discredit myself for that effort because I didn’t do ALL of the reading, all twenty pages of it! Then I may start thinking about how the whole world is going to implode because I didn’t finish it, which would be catastrophizing, and then I may call myself an idiot or a failure (personal attacks on myself that will decrease my sense of self-worth) which will propel me to feeling guilty and lousy and then I go off to procrastinate those feelings away for the rest of the day.
Not a very productive or healthy cycle, now, is it?
If I wanted to practice some self-love instead, what might that look like? Well, going with the example above, let’s imagine that I caught myself thinking in black and white, catastrophizing and calling myself an idiot. I can take a moment to say, “Hey, Raquel, sounds like you’re being pretty harsh with yourself. I mean, you DID read five pages, yesterday you weren’t able to, so doing that today is amazing. In fact, you’re pretty amazing! Maybe I just need a new song to listen to while I work on this assignment.” Now, this change won’t happen right away, but that’s what practice and experience may one day provide you: a list of how genuinely awesome and amazing you are.
Other ways of practicing self-love include treating yourself well with good self-care. This means taking responsibility of whether we’re getting enough sleep, eating enough, getting in exercise, keeping our appointments and making it to class.
Next, we’ll want to employ some positive coping strategies. Again, in the future I’ll expand on a whole list of positive coping strategies that are out there, but a few for now could be artwork, talking with a friend, coloring, writing articles for the Mass Media, volunteering, taking a bath, and buying something cheap and nice for yourself.
This last tip was mentioned in an article I found online by Elise Curtin about self-love (I needed to start somewhere) and is a pretty neat idea. One day I needed to practice some self-love after having lapsed a second time in my self-harm recovery, and conveniently I bought a new book to read at a little bookshop set up at South Station. That worked pretty well for me since it was a book I found interesting, artsy, and would continue to help get my mind off the parts of life that were bugging me. It was a nice, simple self-love treat!
Again, reminding ourselves to be kind to ourselves is another good approach we can use to practice self-love. When we catch ourselves slipping back into negative self-talk, going on about failures or what not, we can realign our thinking instead to, “Well, I made a mistake and as a human being we all make mistakes, and next time I’ll do better by doing X, Y and Z.” Or we can remind ourselves that a grade, in the large scheme of life, really doesn’t matter all that much. I mean, if I got hit by a bus tomorrow, I wouldn’t be that upset about my GPA. My GPA is far less significant compared to me having my life. I’d be more concerned with having been hit by a bus than that numerical output.
Another interesting strategy from the article is mentioned by having words or phrases painted onto stones. That’s where the picture attached to this article comes into play. I bought three stones from a store in the Providence Mall, two that say “Courage” and “Healing” and another I gave to a friend. I’m often carrying these stones around with me nowadays, as I find them helpful and cheery to look at when I’m going through a tough time. They remind me of my journey and what courage I’ve taken along with me as well as the healing I’m continually expanding. And, plainly put, at the end of the day, they are something to hold onto. If you’ve ever felt suicidal, you’ll know how dire and how important it is to have something to hold onto for one more day (or hour, or minute, or second).
Lastly, I will end this article by briefly discussing a self-love activity I received as a handout from my third hospitalization. It depicts imagining your hurting self before you. Then, you imagine a kinder self. The kinder self then speaks soothingly to your hurting self, treating them gently and kindly. At the end, the two selves hug it out.
So if you can take anything away from this article: Be kind and be gentle, not only to others but especially to yourself. You’re the only you you’ve got! Stay safe, everyone.
Article #6 – Mass Media. Spring 2016. Written April 28.2016