The voice that I used to talk to myself in my head with typically sounded like a cross between Judge Judy (on good days) and the evil stepmother from Cinderella (bad ones). Critical, to the point, sometimes disguised as for my own good, but came down way too hard and wasn’t particularly kind.
But ever since I realized, hey, I love myself – why am I talking to myself as though I’m a prison warden in a one-woman-only Alcatraz on Kerrie Island? – I’ve been vigilant about reprogramming the voice I use to talk to myself in my head.
1. In times of embarrassment, foot-in-mouth situations and public faux pas
Before: “Why did you do that! Oh my god I hate myself.” Accompanied by wanting to hide away forever.
Now: “It’s okay. It’s just a mistake. No one really noticed. EVEN IF they did, no one really cares that much/You’re doing your best to make it right.”
It’s not as if I no longer feel mortified or embarrassed. Because if there’s one thing I learnt, there’s no way to exorcise feelings completely – feelings are what makes us human! So in these moments, I just hold on and ride these waves. But, the difference is that instead of intensifying those emotions and over-stimulating myself even more with with nasty self-talk, I make an effort to soothe myself, and to be kind instead.
This has really changed everything.
Being noticed, especially having mistakes noticed, can be a huge deal for highly sensitive people. I know I get really overstimulated by the sensation of having done something wrong – plus, horror, having it pointed out – and it makes me overly cautious. But I’m learning to talk myself gently off the ledge in those moments, and more importantly, to let go.
Oftentimes for HSPs, we think that EVERYONE is watching, everyone notices, but that’s not really true. No one really looks that closely. And even if they did, they wouldn’t think much of it; it would usually be forgotten about soon enough. And in those times when people DO notice, and DO pick up on it, and get on your case about it or pass a judgmental comment…? If they are unkind about it, then it’s really their problem! Especially if you’ve done all you can to apologize or to rectify the situation. Most likely, they’re probably just being plain tactless, and in that case, let it roll off your back, baby.
Try: “It’s okay, it’s a new day, and I’m good. You’re kind. Your heart will shine through and people who matter will see that and will overlook any mistake or faux pas.”
It’s also taught me to be kinder, and to keep my blunt self in check with others – because no one wants their mortifying moments to be pointed out. No one.
2. In more intense situations of fear, doubt and uncertainty
When you feel like you have the rug pulled out from under your feet, especially in situations like dealing with losing your job, finding a job, having all your plans crumble before your eyes etc., it can be so easy to be down on yourself even more. But think about it – if your best friend comes to you with a major life crisis, would you berate them further?
Before: “You should have known better, you should have done XYZ, why didn’t you XYZ…?!”
“This relationship/job/project failed, therefore I failed and am a failure, the end.”
I used to put a WHOLE ton of pressure on myself to ‘stay ahead of the game’, way beyond reasonable expectations i.e. being able to divine the future in crystal clarity – thus all the ‘shoulds’. What the ‘shoulds’ only served to do was to freeze me into a state of paralysis, unable to forgive myself, unable to truly move forward.
But the truth is: we are never in 100% control of any situation. Expecting total control, including in situations where other people are involved – people with FREE WILL – is not only an exercise in futility, but also a form of arrogance! But it’s okay, everyone’s arrogant at some point, it’s like a Badge of Immaturity we all wear for a while. Eventually, we all learn. (See? Compassionate talk happening here.)
It’s natural to feel regret, sadness, anger – all stemming from a sense of helplessness and fear, but turning those feelings into self-destructive thoughts serves no one, least of all yourself. Resist the temptation!
Try: “You did the best you could with what you knew. You made the best decision you knew how to make. Now that it’s turned out like this, okay, let’s see how we can work this. Let’s see how we can fix it or make it better. Now you know better!”
“Even though this relationship ended / job opportunity didn’t work out / project didn’t pan out, doesn’t mean that I have failed. It taught me XYZ; it was a really valuable lesson. Yes, I did make a mistake, but I’ll find out what that is and make sure I don’t repeat it again. I know I will learn it this time around.”
Give yourself some breathing room. Take a step back – and suddenly, options seem clearer when you stop throwing yourself under the bus or condemning yourself. Suddenly, there’s space to move forward.
3. When dealing with work pressure
There are times I just don’t feel like getting down to work. I procrastinate. I get distracted. I find a million other little things to do instead. It’s also the side of me I usually associate with my HSS self – sensation seeking and that gets bored easily.
Before: “Oh my god what’s wrong with you, just focus, you’re being lazy, if you don’t do this, this means you’re going to…(dire consequence)”
That used to result in me doing the work, but feeling heavy-hearted with lots of feet dragging. The work is usually uninspired.
Now: “Okay Kerrie, what do you need in order to focus? Can you focus for 20 minutes and then go read that site/go for a drink/talk a walk instead? What’s bothering you? What’s the REAL reason behind not wanting to do this?”
I might discover that I have a niggling worry I need to sort out with myself first, or have some issue that I need to take care of. Or it might be the work, or the project itself – something is making me drag my feet (I might have intuited something that’s off about it, but that I’m not yet conscious or cognizant about; I can’t quite yet put a finger on it.). Sometimes that dragging of feet means something. Sometimes it means that a decision DOES need to be put on hold, more information is needed before moving ahead. My intuition needs to be checked in with. I wouldn’t have been able to realize all of these possibilities if I had just kept being super harsh towards myself.
4. General day-to-day appearance-related self-talk
First thing in the morning. Bathroom. I look into the mirror.
Before: “Oh my god. Check out that pimple! And your dark eye rings! Your skin is XYZ. Your face is XYZ. (Replace XYZ with any criticism you can think of.)”
Now: “Hello Lover You Sexy Beast.”
(Though I’m not usually quite that pumped up.)
“Hello self! It’s a new day. You’re choosing to face the world with an open heart, and that’s amazing.” Then, big grin.
Because every day IS a new day. Can you be kind and friendly to yourself? Over time, it gets easier, more natural, and more of a reflex. Try it and watch yourself blossom under the loving nature of your sweet, sweet (real) talk – and watch it spill out of your mouth in conversation with others.
“You yourself, as much as anybody in the Universe, deserve your love and affection.” – Unknown, but Not Buddha
P.S. A journalist once asked Dalai Lama what he thought about self-hatred and he was totally baffled! It had never crossed his mind before that someone might hate themselves.
How do you talk to yourself in your head? Is it always judging, criticizing, full of admonishment? Or loving and kind? I’d love to hear. We can all learn to sweet talk ourselves together.