Most of us have come to the conclusion at some point that we need to love ourselves more
What does it mean to love ourselves? What can we do to improve our self-esteem? Take us seriously? Do what we like? Take care of our body? Put limits? Use affirmations? Come to our defense? All of this is important but what has helped me the most to build a loving relationship with myself has been to stop criticizing me.
Stop criticizing yourself
The first time I heard this idea, it was through Louise Hay’s teachings fifteen years ago. This concept resonated deeply within me because I recognized that I had developed from a very young age, an implacable critical voice. I was sure that my depression was directly related to the way I treated myself. Being fascinated with this new way of relating to the self, I told my son, then 12 years old, how destructive it was to criticize ourselves and that I had decided to stop doing it. He asked me: “How are you suppose to improve if you don’t criticize yourself?” I do not know if I was able to clarify at that time the difference between criticizing ourselves and recognizing our mistakes and defects because the line that separates them is thin. I think that socially there is an overvaluation of criticism. The education I had and I think is not exclusive to my family or the country where I grew up focuses on pointing out what we do wrong and forgetting to mention and celebrate what we do well.
Trained to see the “bad”
When we were criticized excessively, our minds were trained to look at all that we do wrong and what does not work in our lives. Starting to pat ourselves on the back for what we did well and appreciating our achievements and or efforts to improve can feel exaggerated, false, superfluous and even ridiculous at first. It is easier to begin by imagining that our inner children are listening to us and that what we say to ourselves we are saying to them. To have Inner Child sessions where we see how little validated, supported, protected, etc, we were as children, can be a great motivation to develop a voice that focuses on our strengths and treats us with patience and compassion. A good start is to pay attention to that voice that criticizes, discourages and / or scares us and “listen” without judgment. Watching the way, this inner critic talks to us is revealing.
About the voices
Generally, the inner critic was established in us at an early age. This can be the internalized voice of one of our parents / caregivers or even that of the inner child of a certain age who tries to help us. There are degrees of severity in these voices according to how the adults around us treated us. If your voice is intensely harsh or even cruel, I recommend Inner Child wok to discover what beliefs are behind it and how to dismantle them. If your internal critic is rather “manageable”, a good idea is to dialogue with it. Say that you are not perfect, and that you never will be and that you appreciate the feedback; that it’ll be more helpful if it focused on the things you do well. Listen to what it says. Every internal voice, even the most insidious and negative, is trying to protect and help us using mechanisms that were developed years ago with a valid reason, but now only hinder us.
“Leave it, you don’t know”
If you still think that criticizing yourself is good for you, I invite you to imagine a family scene where a child is constantly given messages like these: Clumsy! Leave it, you can’t do it! Stupid! You got me fed up! Shut up, you don’t know a thing. Bad, lazy, you liar! You’re never going to get anywhere! You took out all the flaws in your father/ mother. Why don’t you learn from your brother/ the neighbor? You are going to kill me one day! Where do you have your head?
Do you think this boy or girl will grow up with a healthy self-image? Sure not. On the other hand, if this child had been told that they are trusted, that they are intelligent and talented, that they are destined to achieve their dreams, that their opinions matters, that they are unique. And when they do something positive, they are praised. they hear often from their caregivers that they are proud of them, that they are good and that they are loved. How do you imagine this boy or girl will grow up? Trusting themselves? Feeling that they deserve loving and respectful relationships and a fulfilling life? Knowing that they are worthy? That they will easily forgive their mistakes and be proactive? You bet.
This is what reparenting is all about: to become the father/ mother we would have liked to have. It sounds simple but it is not. Something that I highly recommend to my clients is that when they catch themselves critizicing them, to apologize and transform the negative message into a positive one. For example, if they say to themselves: “What a fool I am! I always do the same! I am never going to change”, to say:“ You are not stupid. You are smart and I love you. Making mistakes is okay. I know you will do better next time”; to give ourselves compliments every time we do something positive, however simple it may be. I encourage you to do this experiment even if at first you feel uncomfortable in doing it or think it is silly. Treating yourself with love and understanding; appreciating the positive in you, as if you were speaking to a little boy or girl who is learning and doing the best they can, is a habit that will radically improve your self-esteem. Awareness and repetition are key.