When you were born, you entered this world with precisely nothing – just you, yourself and your consciousness.
The only automatic preconditions you instinctively had were a fear of falling (being dropped) and a fear of loud noises. Everything else is what you have either learned directly from the influential people around you such as parents, siblings, teachers and so on, or comes from the way in which you have subconsciously internalised all your childhood experiences as you were growing up and trying to make sense of the world, and as you have continued to process and internalise your life experiences throughout adulthood.
What I know from having been through that process myself and trying to deconstruct some of the beliefs that I developed as a result, and from being a parent, is that sometimes there is absolutely no logic or rationale for the beliefs you develop about yourself, other people or the world. It’s all about how you happened to internalise or make sense of, your life experiences whilst you were trying to find your way in the world.
Each of your internalised experiences will have a profound effect on how your belief system developed as you grew throughout your childhood and developed into adulthood. The process will have started from very early on based on what you saw the significant people around you say and do, and the meaning you attached to what you experienced. This is the crucial part of this subconscious process and where the problem can sometimes arise because your brain is very creative when it comes to making meanings out of the things that happen to you. Not only is it easy and very common to draw conclusions that are flawed, it all happens outside of your conscious awareness so you won’t even realise what’s going on.
In the past, you may have inadvertently made meanings out of situations that were never intended by the other people involved, or drawn conclusions about yourself that weren’t justified based on all the evidence and the circumstances at the time.
If this happens on a regular and consistent basis, this will shape your belief system and, unfortunately, what you now believe about yourself might be unhelpful, disempowering or highly critical.
What do you typically say to yourself if ever you get something ‘wrong’?
I overheard a lady in the bank recently who had forgotten to bring something in with her and straight out of her mouth, automatically and without even thinking about the potentially devastating consequences of her words, she uttered ‘I’m so stupid’.
Wow. Just imagine if that was someone you loved or cared about that said those words to you every single time you were less than ‘perfect’ (deliberately in speech marks by the way because, of course, perfection as a human being does not exist).
And I hear this kind of automatic self-criticism spoken out loud by other people far too often.
Can you just imagine how you would feel about yourself after even just one day of being criticised like this on a consistent basis? Would you ever speak to someone you really cared about in this way?
It wouldn’t take long before the impact on your self-esteem and sense of self-worth would be really devastating, and you would start to adapt your behaviour accordingly – maybe saying no to opportunities you would actually like to have said yes to, or using an increased amount of your preferred anaesthetising crutch such as food, alcohol or drugs to numb your emotional pain.
The words you use with yourself on the inside really do matter. They aren’t just words. They have a significant effect. And they are important because, over time, if negative, self-critical words are used consistently then you will start to believe those words are true, and develop a belief that you really are stupid, useless or not good enough, or whatever other non-helpful language you use with yourself.
This cycle can result in devastating consequences because all of this will be happening subconsciously, outside of your awareness, so you may not even realise that there is a problem. And even if you do, you likely won’t realise that the problem isn’t your food, alcohol or drug intake – the real problem is how you feel about yourself (as a result of the words you are using on the inside), and the fact that these substances are helping you to push down your emotions because they are too painful to feel.
The good news is that even if you don’t realise it yet, you are always at a point of choice about how you speak to yourself on the inside and how you feel about yourself as a result. And if you want to change your internal chatter badly enough, it can be done1.
It’s so very important for your health and wellbeing that you develop a loving, compassionate relationship with yourself. Otherwise, it’s like living with your very own personal critic that treats you harshly and unfairly most of the time. And when you have that kind of programme running in the background, it’s not surprising that you don’t feel good about yourself. If you feel like that on the inside, how can you possibly be uplifted, cheerful and optimistic on the outside with everyone else around you? You can’t. Because the truth will always leak out and there will be a contamination.
If you want to develop really powerful, meaningful and loving relationships around you – it is essential that you get your own house in order first2. That you put on your own metaphorical oxygen mask first and treat yourself with loving kindness and self-care, and compassion for being human and for all that you are.
You can’t take someone through a door you haven’t walked through yourself – so when you can genuinely and congruently treat yourself with love, respect and kindness then you will be able to do exactly the same for everyone else.