The other day I was having dinner with a good friend of mine, and she was telling me about the problems she was dealing with in her life. They were legitimate problems. She was having massive amounts of stress at work, and it was permeating all aspects of her life. She was tired, frustrated and overwhelmed.
As she spoke, I realized something: she was saying terrible things about herself. She was a bad mom. She was an idiot. She was doing everything wrong.
The words came out of my mouth before they even formed in my head, (this happens a lot with me, actually) and I said to her, “You know, if I heard someone talking about you the way you’re talking about yourself right now, I’d rip them to shreds.” (With my words, of course; I don’t advocate violence.)
She kind of stared at me in confusion for a moment, and then she said, “Wow. You’re right.” We considered the concept for a bit, and she acknowledged that if anyone had said to me some of the things that I had said about myself in our same conversation, she wouldn’t have stood for it.
My friend’s life was in a tailspin, that was true, but she was still the same highly intelligent and fantastic mom she always was. I saw a pretty, smart, kind and capable woman who was dealing with an enormous amount of stress. But that’s not how she saw herself.
It occured to me that we do this to ourselves all the time. It’s not just women; men do it too, but it seems like they’re far less guilty of viewing themselves with the same disdain women do.
If someone said the things to me that I say to myself on a regular basis, my mom and five of my best girlfriends would somehow materialize out of nowhere and take them out.
After that revelation, I decided that I would only talk about myself in a way that my girlfriends and my mom would deem acceptable.
No more, “I’m fat,” or “I’m a terrible mom,” because if someone said that to me, they would have to answer to an army of well-manicured females.
If there were something negative about myself, I was going to address it in a productive way. I’m not a horrible mother, but I could “phone in” an evening event every now and then so that I could spend more time with my kids.
I’m not fat, but if I swapped out tacos with a salad for lunch, I might find that my pants fit better.
That was three weeks ago, and I have to say, the results have been astounding. I feel better about myself, of course, but I’m also finding that I see fewer flaws to begin with.
An unforeseen benefit: when you’re not a total jerk to yourself, you tend to see solutions, not just problems. I’m not an idiot for forgetting something; I need to set up alerts on my phone for important things.
I also realized that people are just horrible to themselves. Now that I’m trying not to be relentlessly mean to myself, I’m becoming much more aware of how awful everyone is to themselves.
Everyone does it. I don’t know if it’s American society or just human nature, but we’re not nice to ourselves. I’m not saying we have to say only positive things about ourselves. In fact, I believe self-examination is critical if you want to be the best version of yourself that you can be.
But if we are going to be critical, we have to be productive about it. It’s an easy enough metric. Before you say something about yourself, imagine that someone said it to your best friend. Would you go into battle-mode? If so, then change the narrative.
Claire Goodman is the managing editor of the Katy Times. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.