We talk to ourselves all day long. We comment, critique, and chastise our every move. From the big to the small every decision and action gets scrutinized by our inner-critic. For most of us, its harsh. Much harsher than what we say to anyone else.

Where does this negative self-talk come from? Sometimes people tell me its very clearly their mothers or fathers voice internalized. Other times its less clear. It might be a compilation of negative messages that youve heard — a dance teacher who called you fat, a boss who made fun of you when he thought you were out of earshot, a teacher who returned every essay completely covered in red corrections, your father who never gave a damn about you, or your grandma who blamed you for her anxiety.

We hear these messages as: Theres something wrong with me. People dont like me. I dont fit in. I suck. Im stupid. Im fat. Im simply not good enough. Everyone else is succeeding and happy and Im not. Obviously, Im the problem. Im the one that cant keep up or live up to expectations.

There are plenty of ways to show yourself some love. In fact, I wrote a popular list of 22 ways to love yourself more. Often, the challenge is getting started. When you dont feel lovable or good enough, how are you going to write yourself a love letter or forgive your mistakes? Before you can do any of those things, you have to find just one tiny little piece of you thats worthwhile.

This means you have to muck through all the garbage people (including yourself) have been telling you, sort through it, come to your own conclusions about who you are, and throw out the false beliefs, inaccurate conclusions, and other toxic waste.

Start by noticing when this beast, that we like to call the inner-critic, is rising up. This self-critical voice isnt your pet cat. Stop letting it out and feeding it. If you stop listening to it, it will eventually grow weak, shrink, and die. Dont lose hope. It takes time to starve a giant beast.

You need to be firm and direct. You need to vigilantly watch for attempted escapes. This alone takes practice. Notice when your self-critical voice shows up. Tell it youre done with its lying, hurtful messages; they aren’t useful or needed anymore. You can choose new thoughts. More accurate thoughts.

At the same time that youre asking your self-critical voice to go away, I want you to do fourthings for yourself every day.

  1. Ask yourself: What do I really think?

Its time to start thinking for yourself instead of believing what others have told you. Absorbing and believing negative messages about yourself started when you were young, which is why you dont question them or realize many are simply false. These beliefs also have a tendency to become self-fulfilling. When youre told youre stupid, you unconsciously act in ways to make this your reality. It doesnt have to be this way. Positive beliefs about yourself can be self-fulfilling in exactly the same way.

It helps to slow down, so you can turn inward and explore what youre really thinking and feeling. If youre not used to doing this, it can feel quite strange. You may find negative feelings that are hard to deal with or you may initially find no feelings at all. Keep looking. A good therapist can help you differentiate your feelings/thoughts from those of your parents (or others).

The point is that you get to decide how you feel about yourself. You no longer have to take the labels that have been thrown at you. Be selective. Really challenge those old stories that continue to tell you that youre stupid, weak, troubled, or the cause of other peoples problems.

  1. Write down one thing that you did right today, that youre proud of, that you like about yourself. One thing every single day. If this is hard, start small I took a shower so I didnt offend my coworkers with my b.o., or I put in a solid 20 minutes of work before I started surfing the web. Just start somewhere. If youre stuck, think of something nice that a friend has said. If you do this consistently every day, youll start to notice things that really matter. Focus on the things that you like about yourself. Work on improving the parts of yourself that you dont like.
  1. Keep negative people at a distance. This is challenging for sure (you can read more here). But its actually easier than tackling your own negative self-talk. If others refuse to treat you with respect, you can choose to separate yourself. But you have to learn to respect and love yourself. Of course, the challenge is that its hard to leave unhealthy relationships when your self-esteem is in the toilet and you think you just may deserve this lousy treatment from others. This is why you have to work on both the inner and outer critics at the same time.
  1. Forgive yourself. Yes, do it every day for the big things and the little things. Make it a practice because self-forgiveness is the opposite of self-criticism. It can be as simple as saying, I forgive myself for ___________. Im doing the best I can. I dont have to be perfect to be lovable. You can be happily imperfect.

There isnt a quick fix for building self-esteem, self-worth, or self-love. Its a daily practice. The more you work at, the better youll feel about yourself.


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Image by: Arup Malakar