Befriending Ourselves

Phil Parker often asks a disarmingly simple question: “If you treated your friends the way you treat yourself, would you actually have any?”

Usually this question is greeted with sheepish smiles and knowing looks, as the piercing truth of the answer is revealed. Because of course we’d never dream of treating our friends as badly as many of us habitually treat ourselves. The critical voice within is never sharper, never harsher or less forgiving than when directed squarely at our sense of our own shortcomings and inadequacies. And there is apparently no end to our creativity in identifying ways in which we fail to live up to some lofty ideal that probably has no basis in reality anyway.

Somehow, probably long ago, we decided at a core level that it was a good idea, perhaps even necessary, to be our own toughest critic. And, ever since, that persistent voice within has found innumerable ways to berate, put down, judge and criticize ourselves, leaving us increasingly convinced that we are deeply flawed and simply don’t measure up.

If any of this rings true to you, please read on. Because changing how we talk to ourselves is one of the most important steps we can take on our healing journey. As Lisa Hayes reminds us: “Be careful how you are talking to yourself, because you are listening.”

The cost of this habitual way of (mis)treating ourselves is enormous — both to our physical health and our emotional well-being — because every unkind and negative thought or word that we send to ourselves stimulates the ‘fight or flight’ stress response. This powerful reaction, which releases a host of hormones into our body, then ripples through every aspect of our physiology — creating degrees of mayhem and dis-ease as it does so.

Studies show that seeing the word “NO” flashed for less than a second has a measurable impact on a person’s brain chemistry. Imagine then what happens when we habitually barrage ourselves with negative, demeaning and mean-spirited thoughts.

And imagine instead how profoundly we could influence our lives if we decided to change this one thing — how we talk to ourselves. To become not the sharp-tongued critic, but the loving supporter who always has an encouraging word. To give ourselves the unconditional kindness and understanding that we yearn for, and seem to offer so much more readily to others. And to believe in ourselves no matter what. This is probably the most powerful change a person can make. And the results, to health and happiness? Simply immeasurable.

Suggested further reading:

Radical Acceptance, Tara Brach
Words Can Change Your Brain, Andrew Newberg, MD and Mark Robert Waldman