Letting Go of Harsh Self-Judgments: The Eight Steps to Change.
(An excerpt from The Snowball Effect: How to Build Positive Momentum in Your Life by Kristin Barton Cuthriell, LCSW, MSW, MEd)
- Step One: Acknowledge what you want to change.
- Step Two: Become deeply aware.
- Step Three: Catch yourself in the act.
- Step Four: Become your own self-parent.
- Step Five: Learn where these messages came from in the first place so that you can begin to challenge the validity of your self-depreciating thoughts.
- Step Six: View yourself as a child in need of love and compassion.
- Step Seven: Replace your negative judgments with loving thoughts.
- Step Eight: Repeat the process over and over again.
Step One: Acknowledge what you want to change.
Begin by acknowledging that this is something you want to change. Acknowledge that you want to be kinder to yourself. You can’t change anything until you know what it is you want to change. So by acknowledging that you want to treat yourself better, you have already taken the first step in the change process.
Step Two: Become deeply aware.
After acknowledging that you want to change the way you treat yourself, it is important to become aware of the things that you tell yourself and think about yourself. This can be more difficult than it seems because you have probably been putting yourself down for years. After doing something for a really long time, it becomes so natural and normal that you don’t even know you are doing it. Think about it. At one time you learned how to walk, ride a bike, and drive a car. Now most of you can do those things without thinking about them. You have done them for so long that they have become automatic. The things you say to yourself have become automatic too. You are on autopilot much of the time and may not realize how often you criticize yourself. In order to change this pattern, you must practice mindful awareness.
Mindful awareness requires you to get out of autopilot mode and shift into extreme focus and thought. It involves thinking about what you are thinking. In order to change your harsh thoughts and self-talk, you have to be mindfully aware of what you say and think about yourself. You have to be mindfully aware that you are having critical thoughts in the first place. It involves becoming consciously aware of that which has become second nature.
Step Three: Catch yourself in the act.
Once you are aware of your harsh self-judgments, you can begin to catch yourself in the act. Once you begin catching yourself, you can begin to stop yourself. Do so assertively. Tell yourself, “Stop. I don’t deserve this! These are old tapes, and they are not true!” Say it over and over again every time you find yourself thinking unkind thoughts about yourself.
Step Four: Become your own self-parent.
By telling yourself to stop when you find yourself being critical, cruel, and demeaning, you are acting as your own healthy parent. You are forbidding someone to demean you. It just so happens that the person doing the demeaning is you. Just as you would step in and tell your child to stop if he or she were bullying another child, you tell yourself to stop putting yourself down. Emotionally healthy caregivers provide children with encouragement, validation, structure, discipline, comfort, acceptance, and unconditional love. They correct the child’s behavior when necessary rather than attacking his or her character. Unfortunately, many caregivers were unable to provide these things to their children due to their own emotional wounds. Many times parents and caregivers don’t know how to meet the emotional needs of their children because their own emotional needs were never met. By self-parenting, you provide yourself with things you may not have gotten as a child. It is time to be your own healthy parent. Insist that you are kind to yourself! Do not bully yourself! Create a Zero-Tolerance Bully Policy for yourself.
Step Five: Learn where these messages originated, and challenge them.
Knowing where the messages came from in the first place can help you challenge the validity of your self-defeating thoughts. Many of the things you tell yourself or think about yourself today were probably told to you by someone else when you were a child. After you have heard them enough, they become recorded in your head. Now you take over where the other person left off and tell yourself the same message. You have now personalized and internalized messages regardless of their validity. What is really important to know and eventually internalize is that the messages that you tell yourself began with other people—making it about them, not you! It was their issue in the first place. They threw their junk at you, and it stuck.
Maybe people put you down because they were feeling insecure, jealous, or inferior. Maybe they took their anger out on you, and it really belonged elsewhere. Many well-meaning caregivers displace their frustrations and take them out on their children. They may come home from work yelling and screaming at their children, when their real anger stems from their job.
A mother may lash out at her children when her deeper frustrations have to do with her own childhood. A father who cannot admit his own limitations, projects them on to his son and lashes out at the boy for traits that really belong to him. When these types of things happen, the person delivering the demeaning message is usually unaware of the dynamics surrounding the attack. A caregiver doesn’t consciously say to himself or herself, “I am so mad at my boss, I think I will go home and take it out on my family.” A mother doesn’t say, “I felt so powerless as a child that I think I will try to control everything my daughter does.” An older brother doesn’t say, “Dad has made me feel so inferior, weak, and powerless, that I think I will bully my little brother to make myself feel more powerful.” These projections are not planned out—they just happen.
But for an adult, tracing it back to its source can help you detach from it. You are not tracing it back so that you can accuse and blame. That is fruitless—blame is not what this is about. Remember, whoever put these negative messages into your head also received them. You are examining where they originated so you can better challenge the validity of those harsh judgments and then let them go. You are not finding out where they originated so that you can poison yourself with resentment. This is about letting go.
Step Six: Picture yourself as a child.
Find a photo of yourself as a young child and put in on your dresser or somewhere that you visit daily. Look at that photo. Observe the color of your hair and what you were wearing the day that the picture was taken. Notice your expression. What do you think you were thinking about at that time? How do you think you were feeling? Now ask yourself if that child deserves to be treated the way that you treat yourself. Do you say things to yourself that you would not say to that child? Are you mean and abusive to that child? Remember that the child is still very much a part of you. Do you treat that child with kindness?
Step Seven: Replace negative judgments with loving thoughts.
Try telling yourself, “I am a worthwhile, wonderful person who can do anything I set my mind to do.” Say it to yourself over and over again. It may feel funny at first, as most new behaviors do, but if you tell yourself this stuff enough, you will begin to believe it, just as you began to believe negative messages you heard long ago. Make a list of your positive qualities. Review it regularly. You are reprogramming your brain to think kind and compassionate thoughts about yourself.
Step Eight: Repeat the process over and over again.
Commit to steps one through seven every day. You are literally rewiring your brain to think differently about you. This means that you must practice regularly. As long as you continue to put down your worth, you have not practiced enough. You can’t expect to break a pattern overnight if it has been going on for most of your life. These things take time and are hard work. But you are so worth it!
If you found this helpful and would like to dive deeper and gain more insight and inspiration, please check out my book, The Snowball Effect: How to Build Positive Momentum in Your Life. I would also love to connect with you on my other social media sites.