It was about a year ago that I began taking my words very seriously.
In my teens, I was introduced to Louise Hay, the ‘fairy godmother’ of self-help. She first taught me about the power of language and positive affirmation . She believed that words carry hidden powers- a force through which our beliefs create our reality. But in the midst of divorce and disaster in my early twenties, and with the natural passage of time, I had all but forgotten Ms. Hay’s wisdom.
In our journey to health and happiness, last year my husband and I made a commitment to cast out self-deprecating language in our home after reading Jen Sincero’s You are a Badass. Her words and wisdom echoed Louise Hay, and I began noticing how and how often I spoke badly to and about myself. It became glaringly apparent that something needed to change when we noticed our 11-year old using humor to mock herself- mimicking our own self-injurious ways.
It is so easy to beat up on ourselves. To criticize, to count the ways we fall short of our own expectations (or the expectations of others). To punish and blame and insult ourselves. Whether it’s posting a hilarious meme, or anything that follows the statement,
(“Fat, Clumsy, Stupid, Crazy, Silly, Ridiculous, Over-the-top”…some of my former favorites).
Sometimes self-criticism takes the form of,
“I need to…” or “I should…”
(“Lose weight, exercise more, eat better, go to bed earlier, be more focused, stick to the budget, get more organized”…also some former repeats).
Sometimes it’s just apologizing. Over apologizing for what you said, what you did, didn’t say, didn’t do. What you thought or didn’t know.
Sometimes it’s apologizing for who you are, the hardest betrayal of all.
I have never been a fan of sarcasm- it makes me uncomfortable and feels like a shield for defensiveness and insecurity. Criticism and Judgement are sarcasm’s sassy neighbors, and I think we adopt these habits in middle school- a safeguarding from the cruelty of others. Where everyone is yearning to fit in, to feel like we belong. Where everyone feels like an outsider, but no one says so.
But we’ve said our good-bye to these seasoned old habits, and still consciously strive to help one another through creating new and healthier language.
And since then, I’ve watched my self-esteem grow, right alongside my daughter’s who, at 12, is one of the most confident young women I know (praise God).
I’ve worked hard to replace criticism with gentle forgiveness for myself. I have grown in my acceptance for who I am today, who I’ve been, and who I’m still becoming. In Braving the Wilderness, Brené Brown says, “True belonging doesn’t require that you change who you are. It requires you to be who you are”. And if we don’t learn to belong to ourselves first, how will we ever belong anywhere?
We must be our own source of loving kindness, instead of demanding, chasing, and waiting on it from others.
Albus Dumbledore was right. Words ARE an inexhaustible source of magic, so this December, I recommend giving yourself permission to:
- STOP saying negative things about yourself you wouldn’t say to a friend or family.
- WHISPER, “I love and approve of myself” when you catch yourself saying or thinking negative things about yourself (even if this feels cheesy at first).
- DISENGAGE from conversations or relationships built on criticism or complaining (these cheap, shortcutted friendships undermine our ability to belong).
- WATCH the magic unfold.