A few months back, I made a change that had an enormous effect on my self esteem. It may sound overly simplistic, but I stopped saying negative things about myself out loud.
I've always been hard on myself. It was something that teachers, coaches, and friends' parents commented on from an early age. If I missed a goal in a soccer game or wasn't happy with how a painting turned out, I was quick to vocalize my disappointment in myself. I'd like to say that I grew out of this, but my inner critic only became more disparaging the older I got.
In therapy a few months back, I shared just how mean I was to myself on a daily basis. I tried to keep things light and somewhat jovial (if that's possible?), but pretty much admitted to the fact that I verbally bash myself about everything. That shattered wine glass I was trying to clean? That would result in lots of name calling under my breath. If a client disapproved of a pitch, that made sense: All of my ideas suck. Did my favorite jeans feel a little snug? That's because I'm lazy with zero discipline. You get the idea. Even typing out these sentiments makes me realize that I had a completely abusive relationship with myself.
I had never fully admitted to anyone the extent of my all-encompassing criticism—it was just something that I lived with. In my head it was completely justified since I'd attributed any success I'd had to how hard I pushed myself. My therapist pointed out though that any successes I experience are more likely because I'm smart, driven, and resourceful—not that I was really mean to myself. And for whatever reason, that clicked.
I'd always been mindful of not coming down on myself in front of Sloan, but almost found pleasure in doing it privately. My therapist suggested that I stop vocalizing my put-downs, no matter the situation. I thought it sounded petty, but agreed to try it out, assuming I'd say the same things, though silently. But a weird thing happened: once I stopped slamming myself out loud, my inner critic quieted almost immediately.
One of the things I want most for Sloan is for her to feel confident and self-assured. And I play a big role in that—not only in my encouragement and acceptance of whatever she does, but also as a role model for how I treat myself. I want to show her that she will make mistakes... and that it's okay (I now cheerfully exclaim, "Woopsies!" when a glass breaks, which is quite the departure from my previous behavior). I want her to know that she will have "failures" in life—bad grades, breakups, and beyond—but that her self worth should never be questioned. For the first 34 years of my life, I fell short on accepting myself without judgement. It's taken me a while to get here, but I look forward to leading by example and embracing myself, flaws and all, to show Sloan that being nice (to everyone) is always the right answer.