Secret Abuse: Our Own Cruel Voices

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This is an article for those, which is most of us at one time or other (however secretly), who have experienced that unkindly companion; questioning your achievements and decisions, criticising your face, your hair, that joke you told last night at dinner, that meeting where you didn't speak up enough, not fitting in exercise before work...

The hardest part? No one can hear what’s going on and say, ‘hold on, that’s not fair, you did a great job today.’ For those of you now thinking 'ah yes, I get that', I would like to introduce you to Guy Winch, a man that celebrates 'emotional hygiene'. The idea is to treat our minds like our bodies, and ensure it in good nick. Similar to washing your hands so you don't get ill, Guy Winch advocates for emotional check ups. His talk ‘Why We All Need To Practice Emotional Hygiene’ is excellent. He describes a scenario where a woman picks herself apart after her date leaves dinner early. (I won’t describe it all for you).

He builds the case for the importance of looking after ourselves; what if we all became our own best pals? Would the challenges of life become a little easier if we had our own backs instead of second guessing every move?

What if, when we go through something challenging, we replicated the support and tone we give to friends or family, to ourselves? If your friend had had a hard time at work, or an argument with a partner, you wouldn’t respond with ‘well to be honest it’s unsurprising because you are useless, ugly, and really boring.’ Imagine if when someone told you about a small mistake they made, you made them dwell on it for hours, days, or brought it up every time they were feeling a bit low? You would be seen as an incredibly toxic influence, the type of person to stay away from. Yet, it is so easy to subject ourselves to this abuse. The abuse of the mind from our own toxic voices. 

 Thus comes the idea of ‘self compassion’. The School of Life describes this perfectly in their short video ‘Self-Compassion’. Kristin Neff is also a campaigner of ‘self-compassion’, and has dedicated a whole campaign to it. Plenty of material can be found on her website http://self-compassion.org.

So we agree, we should probably give ourselves a break, and be a little bit more supportive. But how can we actually stop those voices? The Huffington Post has a great article on dealing with this, ‘Self-doubt detroys the heart, mind, body, and soul’. The most useful part of the article, for me, is the suggestion that we should be focusing on the present. This goes hand in hand with a lot of advice on anxiety: finding your own way to anchor yourself into the present. Sport and art helps a lot with this, because you have to focus on a moment in time, and you become very aware of your physical being (and of course sport releases those wonderful endorphins).

My personal take is that the first step is acknowledging how vulnerable we all are. We are not these invincible creatures made from steel, we are social beings full of insecurities, worries and burdens. All of us are. Even those that are fine most of the time will have those tough days where things get a little too much. It is ok to feel overwhelmed, and it is ok to acknowledge when rubbish things happen, and you are not a terrible person because of it. Obviously there is a vastly sliding scale for this, and some people’s inner voices can be much much crueller than others. But I am still a true believer of opening up, and hopefully our vulnerability can be shared. Slowly we will realise everyone else is doubting themselves around us.

The second step is being kind, instead of beating yourself up, treat yourself. As soon as you realise the cruel words are building in your mind, make a conscious decision to treat yourself instead. Be it a pint with a friend, a run, reading a book, it doesn’t really matter, but it is important to see it as a treat from ‘you’ to ‘you’, because things can be hard, and you are great.