Being a parent has raised so many new insecurities for me, both in the way I parent and in realizing that there are so aspects about myself I wish I could change, like my lack of patience or the way I look when I raise my voice (suffice to say, it's not my most flattering angle). I know I’m a good mom and everything, but there's still that voice inside my head that points out all my downfalls on a daily basis. It’s so hard to eliminate negative self-talk and just focus on the positives of my life when that inner-critic in my ear is just so damn loud.
I do try to watch what I say about myself and others when I’m around my daughters. I don’t use the words "fat" or "ugly" in a negative way when describing a person, and I don't focus on their weight. When my daughter steps on the scale we have in our garage, she always asks what the number means and we usually tell her that it means she's "healthy and a perfect weight.” When I talk to them about their bodies, we talk about how strong and healthy our bodies are and how important it is to take care of it. If my daughter gets upset at herself because she makes a mistake, my husband and I tell her everyone makes mistakes and we have to make mistakes in order to learn from them. We teach her to embrace her imperfections and love everything that is unique about her, like the dimple under her eye.
But that’s not how I talk to myself when I make a mistake or catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror. So I set out to try my best to to eliminate negative self-talk for a week in an effort to treat myself better, but also to give myself the same respect and confidence I give my daughters.
I set out to stop negative self-talk for one week, both in front of my kids and in front of others. I also established a goal to rein in the negative self-talk that goes on in my head throughout the day, and wanted to do my best to correct the things I was saying about myself. Keeping track of when it happened the most was also a goal of mine, because I wanted to better understand how big a part treating myself so negatively has played in my day-to-day life.
Day 1: Watching What I Say
Shopping for clothes can be really frustrating, amirite? Especially when trying to find a strapless bra and a really cute outfit for a night out. I dread bra shopping because I can never find the right fit since I’m like a negative A (thanks, kids!) and I’m just not happy with my bust. There was a lot of negative self-talk going on in my mind as I tried on bras in the fitting room, but I made sure to not vocalize those feelings since I had the girls with me. I am very cognizant of what I say in front of my girls since my 4 year old repeats everything I say. Last week, I told my husband that we need to watch what we eat since diabetes runs in our family and my daughter started crying saying she "didn’t want diabetes." I felt like such a failure for putting that fear in her head, especially when she's too young to understand exactly what it means. So at the store I really made a concerted effort to watch what came out of my mouth, even though trying on bras too big for me made me feel so insecure about myself and my body.
When I started to pull my bra on and my daughter asked which one I was buying, instead of saying, “None, because they don’t make bras for barely-there boobs,” I thoughtfully said, “Nothing today since I think I can find something else at another store.”
There are so many reasons why I don’t want my daughters to hear me talk negatively about my body, the main one being that I don’t want them to start thinking about what they need to change about their bodies in order to make them perfect.
Day 2: Realizing It's OK Not To Be Perfect
I learned that my negative self-talk extends beyond way beyond body image when I started to focus on those moments when I’d call myself "stupid" or ask what was "wrong with me" whenever I made a mistake. The first negative self-talk statement came in the morning after I realized I not only forgot to write a check for the gardener, but also forgot the candy order form for my daughter’s school, which was due. “Stupid" and "disorganized” were the two names I caught myself thinking, but being hyper-aware of this negative self-talk helped me slow down and give myself a break. I reminded myself that I can’t remember everything and that it’s OK to make mistakes — it's not like I'd forgotten to do these things on purpose to hurt the gardener or my daughter.
I realized that although I'm so good at speaking positively about my daughters’ bodies to ensure they know how wonderful they are, I'm terrible at taking my own advice.
The self-doubt continued at work when more responsibilities were added to my plate. The first thoughts that ran through my mind were: What if I fail? What if I can’t live up to their expectations? What if I mess up? What if, what if, what if — but I did my best to shut off that inner voice before it could go too far. I took a few deep breaths, reminded myself that actually, I can do this, and that I would not have been given the extra duties if I couldn’t handle them.
Day 3: Talking Back To The Voice In My Head
Once I realized how much I put myself down, I did a search for how to combat negative self-talk and found a few articles with recommendations I felt comfortable implementing and put them in to play this day. When my inner critic started to comment on how puffy and tired my eyes looked on day three, I implemented the strategy recommended in a PsychologyToday.com article to “talk back” to that inner negative voice and basically tell it to shut up. Instead, I told my inner voice that while I may feel tired, I don’t look as bad as she’s making me out to be. A little under-eye makeup and all would be fine. Honestly, once I stood up to that Debbie Downer in my head, I felt so much better about myself.
Day 4: Practicing What I Preach
Unfortunately, I had yet to find an outfit (or strapless bra) for my night out with the girls. So I spent an evening after work hitting up a few stores in search of the perfect top that didn’t require a strapless bra and made me feel good about myself. I’m not sure if the reason why my inner negative self-talk voice was out in full force on day four was because my kids weren't with me or because I was just so tired from a long week, but even reaching out to a friend to tell her how terrible I felt in everything I tried on did nothing to help to silence the voice in my head.
I felt horrible, of course, and right away the negative-self talk started. I whispered to my husband, “I feel like a terrible mom right now. I should have more patience.”
I realized that although I'm so good at speaking positively about my daughters’ bodies to ensure they know how wonderful they are, I'm terrible at taking my own advice. I tell my girls that makeup is something fun to put on that can make them feel great about the way they look but it's not something they should ever feel obligated to wear; I make sure to tell my oldest how much I love how strong her legs, how creative and forward-thinking she is, and how beautiful her body is. But why can’t I do this for myself? I continued to struggle with taking it easy on myself and I really failed at standing up to my inner bully this day.
Day 5: A Big Set Back
I did fairly well keeping the negative self-talk at bay on day five and I’m not sure if the reason for this was because I wasn't thrown in unknown situations or in an environment that was outside my comfort zone. Plus, the day was busy with the usual errands and downtime with the girls. There was no reason for me to second-guess myself.
That is... until I raised my voice at my youngest daughter when she got upset because I refused to give her a second bag of gummies and she hit me and began to throw a huge tantrum. All over a bag of gummies! I tried asking her to take a breath, hugging her, and trying to calmly talk her down, but then she hit me and I raised my voice at her. I felt horrible, of course, and right away the negative-self talk started. I whispered to my husband, “I feel like a terrible mom right now. I should have more patience.” Although he confirmed I’m not a bad mom, that loud voice inside my head drowned out any and all reassuring statements.
Days 6 And 7: Catching Myself In The Act
By the last two days of the experiment, I was able to predict when my inner negative self-talk was about to start and was able to squash it before the thoughts even formed. I determined that I'd likely put myself down if and when I was in an uncomfortable or awkward situation. Like, if I was given an unexpected compliment at work, I'd go back to my desk cussing myself out for not responding with a nice compliment in return.
Another slip up happened after work when I caught myself comparing my body to other women's at the gym, which is something not to do when trying to eliminate negative self-talk. But when I caught myself in the act I physically shook my head to snap out of it and just focused on my workout.
The Take Away
After a week of tracking my negative self-talk, I realized that it happens in my head on a daily basis and usually manifests in situations when I feel uncomfortable or unfamiliar with what's going on. After realizing how much I put myself down in the own confines of my head, I’m determined to take it easier on myself. I need to allow myself forgiveness, move on from past mistakes, talk to myself as I would a friend — because there's no way I would ever be as blunt with them as I am with myself — and be mindful of negative talk overall. I want to be as kind to myself as I’m teaching my girls to be to themselves. I'm a work in progress, but I'm trying.