How do you speak to yourself?
If you asked me what was one trait shared by nearly all of my clients, especially when I start seeing them, I’d say that it is this:
Most of my clients are very hard on themselves AND they admit they don’t speak very nicely to themselves.
Sometimes it seems justifiable. People will say things to me like:
But I’m NOT where I want to be.
I don’t want to be lazy.
I just have high standards.
These things may well be true. But we have to look at the outcomes we actually want to achieve. If our desire is to feel happy and be more successful in whatever form – being hard on yourself is probably not the best way to do it. Perfectionist tendencies don’t necessarily lead to better outcomes.
I was reminded of this when I read the results of a recent study into the effects of perfectionistic parenting on test results.
As soon as I saw the study, I realised there was something in this for my clients too.
You might imagine that a focus on results, and “getting things right” would lead to better results. Nope!
“In our perfectionistic rearing condition, we trained parents to focus on “getting it just right” and to focus on the child’s mistakes and the negative consequences of those mistakes.
This research found that the consequence of this behaviour is that it increased the child’s perfectionism but it did not necessarily result in improved performance.”
The study also found a relationship between increased perfectionism and higher levels of anxiety.
Likewise, constantly focusing on where you’re making mistakes, on the things you haven’t done, self-criticism and negative self-talk will probably make you more perfectionistic, but may OR MAY NOT lead to better “results” in whatever you’re doing and will probably lead to more anxiety.
And being hard on yourself is often just mean.
You wouldn’t do it to a close friend (more than likely), so why do it to you?
Occasionally, clients will talk about childhood traumas or difficult breakups they’ve been through, and they’ll still sometimes apply that same harshness:
I wish I would just get over it.
I can’t believe I’m still having to deal with that.
Why can’t I just leave it all behind, what’s wrong with me?
I will often say – imagine you had that 7-year-old-you with you now who experienced that really difficult situation, some form of abuse or traumatic parent break up. Or that 21-year-old-you (or last-year-you) who has suffered a bad breakup or other big loss and doesn’t have the time or resources to properly grieve or deal with it. Would you tell them to “just get over it?”
Would you say that to a friend if they were obviously upset?
Try being compassionate
Rather than wishing you could Just Get Over Things, or judging yourself, or feeling frustrated and annoyed if you don’t think you’re moving forwards, try showing yourself some compassion.
There are parts of you that are obviously upset, unhappy or confused about what to do. If you were the most wonderful parent to yourself, or the best friend possible, what kinds of things might you say?
Some compassionate things you might say to yourself
I am so sorry you’re going through this (or had to go through that thing in the past)
It really isn’t fair. What can I do for you? (Yes – ask yourself this, and find out what the answer is)
It must be so hard feeling so stuck/confused/lost. I know it doesn’t feel this way, but it won’t be like this forever.
What’s making you feel so hurt/stuck/confused? What do you need? (Allow yourself to journal your responses)
What do you need right now to feel a little better? (Hint – if it’s a block of chocolate or a bottle of wine or two, maybe sit with this question a little longer)
How do you show yourself compassion?