We’re often good at picking on ourselves. We try not to to pick on others, or at least feel bad when we do, because that is something we have been conditioned to pay attention to. We’re told to “be nice”, and “say you’re sorry” from a fairly young age.
It’s rare for someone to ever tell us to treat ourselves this way. By the time we finally hear it from someone, it’s hard to take in, because we’ve had so much practice with scolding ourselves. It makes sense to some part of us that we are human just like everyone else, but there’s a part of us that cannot allow positive self-regard, mistakenly believing that if we do treat ourselves kindly, there’s no end of trouble that will automatically follow.
We can practice loving-kindness meditations, or actively work to challenge the inner critic – difficult to do at first, but immensely helpful.
Another tactic for getting a sense of what that kind of support could do for us is to imagine having our own personal cheering squad. Who would be included? You can put anyone on your cheering squad…God, movie stars, family, mentors, teachers, superheroes, your grandmother, best friend, dog, etc.
If you notice, the cheerleaders at sporting events are closely following the game, cheering every positive move, and offering hope and encouragement when the going gets rough. They aren’t criticizing the errors or belaboring the poor choices. They’re not encouraging bad behavior or advising the team to give up and go home.
I bet no one on your cheering squad would tell YOU to give up, either. Nor would they be abusive or tell you that you should have done better. Can you imagine what their cheering might sound like for your every little victory? Can you imagine how they might support you during rough times, encouraging you to take it slow during the hard parts and really do your best without beating yourself up? Can you visualize the whole group of people who would love for you to be happy and succeed?
Can you imagine how you might feel today if you’d had this kind of support all the time your whole life (minus the criticism)? What if you always knew you had the benefit of the doubt, that everyone knew you were always doing the best you could, that you’d already registered the ‘ouch’ of your error and learned from it and didn’t need it pointed out? Can you imagine what that might feel like? I mean it – imagine it right now, and feel it in your body. Or, in any given moment, you could check in…what would they be saying?
If you have trouble with this idea, then you may want to inquire about what is blocking your ability to have positive self-regard. Friendly regard for ourselves is important, because without it, we’ll likely sabotage our efforts toward success and not even realize it. This is not letting ourselves run wild and abandon responsibility. It’s support for our successes and our challenges that makes both those things easier to take in.
The origins of this self-regard difficulty are complex and culturally constructed. There may be some way the overfunctioning critic gives us the illusion of safety. It sometimes requires assistance to inquire more deeply into that, because we may be touching into traumatic material. We don’t have to do it alone, and it’s often better not to. Listen to your cheering squad. They know a thing or two about that.