By ALLIE MYSZKA
If you’ve ever been to therapy (or even if you haven’t), you’ve probably heard someone preach about the importance of the way you talk to yourself. It’s no secret that all of us—especially women—live with everyday pressure to look, feel, act, and be a certain way. But according to who? What voice is really driving you to do what you do?
For many of us, that voice is our own. Most everyone has an “inner critic,” and that voice—the one that spews negative self-talk—shapes how we see ourselves, and truly, how we feel. It soaks in millions of messages from media, from the mirror, and from other people. It takes those messages to extremes—then beats us up with them.
A few years ago, Dove launched a project to show women how horrible their self-talk would sound if it was said aloud. Several women wrote down the negative things they thought about themselves and their bodies. Later, two actresses in a coffee shop verbally attacked each other using those negative ideas the women had written about themselves. The women were unknowingly seated a table over from the actresses and could overhear their conversations. If you haven’t seen the video, watch it here.
Not surprisingly, most of the women were appalled to hear things like, “You have horse hips,” or, “You look like a mouse when you smile,” spoken aloud to another person. Most even intervened and asked the actresses not to speak to each other that way—and then they realized that those words were the exact same ones they’d used when speaking to themselves.
We’re all guilty of this from time to time, aren’t we? We berate ourselves over anything and everything. We say things to ourselves that we would never say to another person.
Putting on makeup? “Ugh, look at my horrible nose.”
Getting stuck on a work task? “If I wasn’t so stupid I would’ve been done with this hours ago.”
Choosing an outfit? “I can’t wear that. It’ll just make my thighs look even worse.”
Forgot to take care of something at home? “I can’t believe how irresponsible I am.”
Sound familiar? Oftentimes, we’re not even aware that we speak to ourselves this way. It’s become so ingrained in us that we don’t notice until we stop to think, or in the case of the women in Dove’s campaign, write it down on a page.
So, what do we do about it?
I’m no pro at quieting my inner critic myself, and I still have plenty of times where I listen to it and let it dictate my actions. But, I have learned a few practical ways to drown it out, and—slowly but surely—retrain it to be my advocate instead of my enemy. Your negative self-talk only diminishes when you can change self-hatred into self-compassion.
Where to start? Here are a few of my favorite resources:
Dr. Kristin Neff, a communications professional and researcher, has several books and resources that encourage us to look at our own self-talk, and approach ourselves with the same compassion that we would show a loved one in our lives. She developed guided meditations, journaling exercises, and even simple verbal practices to help us change the way we speak to ourselves. Find her self-compassion exercises here.
As an avid reader, I’ve always loved Brené Brown and her honest work. In this short book, she invites us to find our worth not from how much we accomplish or what we look like, but from our ability to live truly authentic lives. Find the book here.
If nothing else, I hope you’ll stop and think about the way you speak to yourself today. It may take time and it won’t be easy or simple, but tuning into your own self-talk and pushing yourself to change it is a worthwhile journey.
Allie was born and raised in Georgia, and moved to Nashville after graduating from the University of Georgia (Go Dawgs!). She’s a freelance writer, Pilates instructor, old soul, and chronic DIY-er. Connect with Allie at alliemyszka.com.