When someone you care about lets you know they are going through a tough time, how do you respond? You probably offer empathy and understanding, with a voice that is gentle and reassuring. You might validate that you would feel the same way if you were going through something similar. You take time to listen, pledge your support, and maybe even offer some wisdom or guidance.
Think back to when you were experiencing a difficult time. Hopefully the people closest to you offered the same support and compassion. Now, think about how you treated yourself during this time. Were you harder on yourself than you would ever think to be towards someone you cared about? For a lot of people, their self-talk can be very critical and shaming. You might replay your perceived mistakes in your head over and over. Sometimes these thoughts can be so distressing they begin to eat away at your self-worth.
Our self-talk is often a product of the statements we have heard from others, or the expectations that others placed on us. It’s easy to internalize these statements as our own, particularly if they came at a vulnerable time or from someone we looked up to. We develop an inner bully that knows all of our most vulnerable spots.
If you are having thoughts like these, there are some things you can try to help! If you can start to think of these thoughts as the words uttered bully sitting on your shoulder, they become easier to to distinguish from thoughts that are truly your own. This skill can be further strengthened in therapy, where you’ll also be introduced to the concept of self-compassion. Self-compassion is giving yourself the same kindness, gentleness, and empathetic support you would give to your best friend or a child. Developing self-compassion is especially important because it takes having it for ourselves in order to give it to others.