by Sarah Rutledge Fischer
It’s resolution time, but I’m feeling frustrated. I’ve spent years getting my life under control. I eat well. I don’t drink much. I exercise regularly. I’ve cut toxic people from my life and spend time on relationships I value. I even started flossing daily. Despite all that, I feel horrible.
I know it doesn’t make any sense, but I have this constant voice in my head telling me how awful I am. If I make one choice, the voice shrieks at me for being a total queen. If I make the other choice, it tells me I’m a fraud. There is no winning. I know the voice comes from my critical homophobic upbringing. I keep trying to ignore it, but it just keeps getting louder. I’m exhausted. Help.
Never Good Enough
Dear New Good Enough,
You are good enough, and I wish my knowing so could convince you. But that’s not the way it works, is it? I’m so sorry these negative messages are causing you pain. You have been working so hard, and you deserve to be able to enjoy it.
Before we start, I want to encourage you to seek out a therapist to speak with about this. I can provide general advice, but these kinds of thoughts tend to go deep. If you are ready to do the hard work (and it sounds like you are), a professional can help you understand and respond to your particular combination of life experiences and brain chemistry.
Now, let’s see what we can do. The voices you are talking about are often referred to as inner dialogue or self-talk. Increasing the positivity of your self-talk has been found to improve self-esteem and ease some depression and anxiety. But as you found, trying to just ignore negative self-talk usually doesn’t work. A more effective approach is to hear what it is saying and then find a way to rob that message of its power. Here we go.
For a day or two, write down every thought you have about yourself—no matter how small. “My teeth look weird.” “Why am I always late?” “That shirt looks nice.” Positive and negative, write them all down. It may be overwhelming to hear just how tough you are on yourself, so line up a friend for emotional support. Also, try not to berate yourself for having the negative thoughts. Lots of us struggle with this; you are in good company.
Now that you are aware of the messages you send yourself, it is time to start robbing them of their power. A good first step is to question their validity. Start with one statement. Is it true? Are you sure? Now, take a look at your reaction to that thought. How does it make you feel? Does it dictate your action in a way that is positive? For example, does thinking you are a fraud make you want to show the world your true self or does it make you want to hide?
Now that you better understand the statement and your response, it’s time to come up with some alternatives. If your thought is based in truth, is there a positive way to reframe it? If the thought isn’t true, is there a more helpful thought you can replace it with? “My teeth aren’t Hollywood straight, but I love the way I can make people feel with my smile.” “I’m owning my true self and expressing confidence.” “I’m working hard to create a worthwhile life.”
Practice responding to negative thoughts by replacing them with positive versions. It will feel awkward at first, but if you stick with it, you’ll notice that as your inner dialogue changes, your self image probably will too. That should get you started.
Have your own question for Allie? Send her an email at Allie@focusmidsouth.com. Focus Mid-South reserves the right to edit letters for length and clarity.