Woolly-Bully: Negative Self-Talk and Despair Never Induce Change

Your worst enemy can harm you as much as your own unguarded thoughts. — The Buddha.

And sometimes we can be our own worst enemy in the form of our self-talk.

When we start out on making life and personal changes, there’s quite often a lot of enthusiasm behind it.  But then discouragement sets in. It could be something akin to what happens to me, as well as the type of intention we’re putting behind it.  So often the focus and reasoning isn’t about improvement or making better, self-encouragement emanating from a resource of self-acceptance and self-compassion.  Rather, it’s from a sludgy, poisonous well of (often very well-disguised and very unconscious) self-hatred, self-rejection and wanting to get rid of ourselves first.

I recall a very vivid moment.  It was actually one of many similar moments, back when I’d fallen into a fairly deep well of despair and unrealized, unrecognized self-hatred.  This was about twelve years ago.  I don’t remember what brought about this moment, as, in my mind’s eye, I’m standing in a dark room and only I am illuminated from an unknown source.  In this memory, I’m in hysterics over whatever it was (I was alone), and I’m beating my self on the head with my fists, screaming through gritted teeth about how dumb I was, how [beeeeeep]-ing stupid I was, how fat and ugly and unlovable was.  And it all seemed perfectly logical, reasonable and true.  I felt so wretched and disgusting it made it okay to say those things to myself.

But it’s not.  In fact, this kind of self-talk is even more detrimental, I think, than if someone outside of us is saying those kinds of things. 

Yes, comments from other people can and do stick with us, but we can walk away.  We cannot walk away from the raging in our heads — but we can choose to heal it.

I remember that, at one point — either in that particular moment or another — I suddenly heard myself.  I mean I really heard myself.  It came through and hit me with a such a force I felt like I was caught in a tower with a gigantic bell clanging at me, emanating something like a shock wave.  The air around me felt pristine and empty and clear.  I remember standing very, very still, and I remember that it got very, very quiet.  As if I stood in a pocket of air in my apartment that allowed in no noise at all.  I was horrified to hear how I was speaking to myself.

But the thing is — many of us (and I was certainly in this loop) simply pile on more of that kind of self-treatment to get ourselves to stop.

It becomes exactly like a t-shirt I once saw: The beatings will continue until morale improves.  You cannot find happiness by inducing misery.  Life has pain, but it’s a choice to suffer. 

Maybe that’s hard to see at the moment, but it’s true.  It’s just that suffering for many of us has become a habit running on autopilot.  But the awesome thing is — as it is with any behavior/choice/self-talk we want to change — that’s all it is.  A habit.  And all habits can be changed.

As a Life Coach, my focus is to help my clients move forward from the here and now; what happened a moment ago or sometime in the past doesn’t matter.  Not that it isn’t important as it’s a part of who we are, but only as a way to realize that it can’t be changed.  Only now can.

And sometimes it’s a struggle for me to remember that, too.  I’m just as human as you are.  And moving forward in that moment, letting go of all that self-directed malice, was what I chose to do.  Was it easy?  No.  Because it was a long-ingrained way of thinking about myself and treating myself.  I hadn’t realized exactly how mean my own self-talk could get.  It was just that, until that moment, I was utterly ignorant to it.  Unconscious.

And, yet — when I heard it, it was something like suddenly noticing a landmark that somewhere, way inside, you had always known was there, but suddenly became “new” in that moment.

But how many times have we heard these things in our heads?  Screamed them at ourselves?

“I hate this.”

“I hate the way I feel.”

“Ugh. I can’t believe I was so stupid.”

“Nobody will ever love me if I look like this.”

“I’m never going to get what I want.”

“I hate who I’ve become.”

“I mean, how many times do I have to screw up [insert your name] before I get it?  That’s all I am — a screw-up.”

Even if you wrap those phrases in humor, they still mean the same thing.  You’re carrying around your own personal bully. 
 That may sound (terribly) harsh, but pause for a moment and consider that.

I call that kind of self-talk the Voice of the Bully.  Because that’s what it is — it’s us trying to bully ourselves into changing by saying we’re worthless.  That we’re dumb and stupid and fat and ugly.  That until we get rid of those horrible things that we hate, we’re unacceptable.  And because it’s us speaking to ourselves, it’s okay.  If someone else were to say those things to us, we’d be rightfully angry and hurt.  But if it’s our own voice…it’s acceptable.  But, as I said above — it’s not.

Healthy change cannot come from self-directed malice or negative self-talk.  Or the malice we have taken from other resources and made it our own. 

We trick ourselves into thinking that will get us to our goals and get us the happiness we seek, but the proof is in the fact we’re still miserable.  Misery does not beget happiness or acceptance.  It only begets more misery.

Bullies want attention.  They want to feel fulfilled and happy and at peace — but they don’t know how to find that.  And, most of all, they want attention.  So they act out — but in a very dysfunctional way.  And then they get rewarded because people do, then, pay attention.  But then they get rejected again.  That makes the cycle start all over again.

Healing begins with acceptance — as much as you can muster — of yourself, and those parts that are acting out in dysfunction.  First, foremost and always.  My bully still appears sometimes, but when she does, I know it’s because I’m not listening to a part of me, and so she appears to get my attention.  Luckily, she doesn’t have to appear very often.  So when she does, I find out what it is she needs to feel heard and healed again.

That part of you that’s in pain is trying to bully you into paying attention to it.  But, because it’s in pain and it hurts, you reject it.  Again and again and again and again.  What might happen, do you think, if you stopped and listened to it?  Really carved out some time and paid attention to it?  Started taking out that negative self-talk and infused it with positive?

It starts with giving yourself the compassion and love you crave (or more of it) and creating a safe place to heal. 

And, just as importantly, to start listening to that part that’s in so much pain.  It may be that it’s gotten mute, but it will still speak up in various ways.  It has something to tell you — something important.  And I can guarantee that you will never feel whole and at peace if you continue to reject it, because, otherwise, you’re rejecting a very valuable part of yourself.

So what’s one small thing you could stop saying to yourself?  One small change you could make in how you might be aiming some self-directed malice towards yourself?  What could you say to yourself instead?  What could you do for yourself that would help you feel encouraged?

Let me know what you come up with by leaving a comment below, or in an email — or maybe even in the discussion forum.

Questions or comments?  Email me at heather (at) smallchangelife (dot) org, or drop by my Facebook page.  Twitter is @SmChangeLife.  Contact me with any questions or comments, and always feel free to leave a message below, too.


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  1. Pingback: How Doubts From Others Influence Our Goals

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