Have you ever found yourself going down, down, down, as your inner voice tells you, “You're an idiot. You ruin everything. What's wrong with you!?” I certainly have had those moments.
As a trauma-informed coach, I've also worked with many people who find themselves berated by their own negative inner voice. In her book Adult Children of Emotionally Immature Parents, psychologist Lindsay Gibson explains that a loud inner critic is especially common for people who learned to get by as a child by internalizing other people's frustrations and blaming themselves.
You might recognize yourself as an internalizer if you tend toward people-pleasing. Kids who internalized learned to make peace by keeping everyone around them happy. They may have discovered that showing their own anger or making mistakes only caused more chaos around them. Instead, they learned to get angry at themselves.
We Can Change the Way We Talk to Ourselves
As adults, we can change the scripts about making mistakes. Self-compassion helps us recover from slip-ups much faster than self-criticism. We can learn to stop turning anger in on ourselves, but it takes practice.
Shame is a strong trigger of inner critic rantings, and shame feels awful. If you have not been received with grace when you make mistakes, then you might feel shame far disproportionate to the size of the mistakes you make. Then, if you pile on the anger at yourself, it feels even worse, and it gets harder and harder to get back to a place of calm and self-reflection.
The following scripts are like mini-anchors to use to help yourself not get swept away in the moments when you're feeling a lot of shame. If you can stem the flood of inner negativity and let the feeling of shame wash over you, it will leave again. Once the initial wave of feeling passes, your mind will calm, and you'll be more able to assess the situation accurately and make plans for what to do next.
Oops You Made a Mistake
My dad used to sing this song when I was a kid, and the chorus went:
Oops, you made a mistake,
And you're beautiful,
Oops you made a mistake,
and you're beautiful to me.
I think we could all use that message from time to time.
You do not deserve to be berated by anyone, including yourself.
The next time you feel yourself spinning into that negative self-talk, maybe one of these phrases can help you find a little bit of self-acceptance.
- Breathe, just BREATHE.
- I am learning. Mistakes are part of learning.
- Part of me feels very stupid. (Noticing that it's only part of yourself can help you find a little distance so you can acknowledge that part but realize that it's not all of you.)
- I feel bad right now, but it will pass.
- I am loved. I can speak to myself like someone I love.
- I am strong. I can do this.
- I can make changes and discard what is no longer working for me.
- I don't have to be perfect. It doesn't matter that I'm not perfect.
- The people who love me don't want perfect, they want me.
- I have an overwhelming feeling in my body. It hurts in my chest/stomach/head/throat… (Try to notice what's going on inside yourself. Sometimes, tuning into the feeling in your BODY rather than following all the stories you're thinking about the feeling helps you get more grounded. )
These are phrases that have been useful for me – they're just ideas: take what works and leave the rest. The main point is to find a few mantra-like phrases to get yourself through a rough moment.
Mistakes Are a Normal Part of Growth
When we can trust that learning comes out of making mistakes and making readjustments, then we can encourage growth. When we find compassion for ourselves in our lowest moments, we also expand our ability to find compassion for others.
You are not alone. We all have our moments of swirling around in the dark pits. You will not help yourself get out of the dark pit by flogging yourself with harsh words. You are loved.
Oops, you made a mistake, and you're beautiful to me.