Thursday, April 5, 2012

Talking to Myself

We all have an internal monologue.  I myself can never seem to turn mine off, whether it be in the middle of the night, in savasana, or simply in the line at the grocery store.  My internal voice is part jokester, part snark-ster, part philosopher and, let's be frank, part a-hole.  That less positive part of my mind can manifest in moments of frustration (see: Boston road rage), but lately I've been reflecting on how often that mean, demanding, and impatient voice is the one that I turn on myself.

Last week, as I know I mentioned a few times, was a pretty grueling one for me, so as it drew to a close, I made some time to attend a ninety-minute yoga class to unwind, thanks to a friend who offered to share her babysitter for the morning.  This class was a rare treat, and not the sweaty power yoga that I usually prefer, but more of a slow, meditative, stretching class, where you're encouraged to turn off your mind and relax.  Of course, my internal monologue took the opportunity to chat up a storm, literally for the whole ninety minutes.

But, here's the thing, I wasn't thinking about my to do list, or my grocery list, or any list at all.  No, my "monkey mind", perhaps inspired by the introspection of the yoga teacher, took a more analytical approach to our conversation.  I found myself immersed in thoughts of how I could be better:  a better mom, a better wife, a better friend, a better runner, a more in-shape, well-rounded, less exhausted and more patient person; and not in a "I'm so inspired to be better!" kind of way, but more in a "why am I not doing better already, dammit" tone. I was marinating in my own shortcomings, and giving myself hell for it, all during the very ninety-minute time period I had painstakingly carved out to rejuvenate myself.  At the end of the class, my hamstrings felt looser, but a lot of me felt more tense, just for having engaged in all of that negative self-talk.

A certain amount of critical self-relfection is important and even necessary.  Setting goals for oneself and measuring our progress against our expectations can lead to great things.  This is how we run marathons, earn degrees, and make it through childbirth.  I value my inner voice for this, and use it to keep me honest, on target, and in touch with the larger path that I'm trying to follow.  But somewhere, she always crosses the line, and becomes a little abusive.  I'm striving to find a balance where I can use this challenging inner voice to my benefit more than to my detriment, but I'm not quite there yet.

My sister always encourages me to talk to myself the same way I would talk to my son, or someone who I really love, cherish and want to protect.  When she (or my son, or my husband) messes something up, I'm always the first to say, "hey, you'll do better next time, it's no big deal, you're awesome anyway, and I love you."  So, why, when I make a similar misstep, is my own voice the first to annihilate myself about it ("Why did you do that?  How could you be so stupid?  Typical!").  I wouldn't dream of speaking to my loved ones that way, so why do the words roll so easily off my tongue when they are directed towards me?  I know I'm not alone in this habit, and I think it is one for which many women have a propensity.  No good can come from negative self-talk, yet it is so tricky to kill at the root while preserving the valuable elements of an internal monologue.

How can we challenge ourselves to great things, and be painfully honest with ourselves in our periods of self-reflection, while still being as kind and loving to ourselves as we deserve?  Is this something you have mastered?  I'd be so interested to know how.
We all deserve to treat ourselves with the same protection and affection we pour on our children.
Getting there is hard work.


  1. Omg get out of my heaaaad SMJ!!! LOL

    Once again, SPOT on. Thanks for being so open. All I can tell you is that the best piece of empathy I received during this (yup, stressful as in OMG when will I go in to labor and get traumatized all over again, OMG OMG whose idea was this?!) week was:

    Go easy on yourself. Be gentle.

    I'm trying to do just that, and you know what? It does make a small yet noticeable difference. Who'd've thought...


  2. So beautifully and poignantly put, Jane. As usual!!!
    The inner critic, taskmaster, manager, whip-cracker, d-bag is a tough one to wrangle...but it's so worth the effort and mindfulness it takes to treat yourself with acceptance, compassion and empathy. Brene Brown's recent TED talk, a follow up to her first one on vulnerability, really speaks to this...
    Thank you for having the wisdom and courage to put this into words and share it. You are a gift.