When I first started this blog, I published what is now considered the favorite post on this site: “Why We Need to Call Women Better Words.” The post encourages people to replace a woman’s self-criticism with encouragement, to speak truth when she can’t hear it. This post caught people’s attention because it was a simple yet powerful reminder to affirm the women we love. It’s something I’m a strong advocate for, a habit I faithfully practice in my own life.
But lately, I’ve been convinced of another problem, one that I’m having a hard time remedying because I’m the one causing it. As much as I try to be generous in encouraging others, I am equally committed to criticizing myself. I’ve noticed that I do not call myself kind words, not in my head or in my journal entries. In fact, when I’m trapped inside my head, I can be downright mean. Talk about calling women better words– shouldn’t I start with myself?
This self-critical monologue is a pattern I’ve taken note of in my journal entries of late. Look at this:
“I’d love to stay and spend the rest of my day with you, but my stomach is reminding me of life outside the page, and I must get back to making something of myself.”
“Gotta get moving, gotta get achieving, gotta get that motivation pumping through my bloodstream.”
“It doesn’t help that I’m home while [my roommates] are at their real people jobs, and I’m still watching children and dogs to earn my rent money. Maybe my dad was right—I should have been pursuing X ugh STOP IT Ashley. You are where you need to be, and you did what you could… Give yourself the same grace you extend to others. Shit. I just remembered that I was supposed to take the GRE practice test this morning. Grace. Ha.”
“THIS IS ABOUT ME—ABOUT WHO I AM—ABOUT THE PERSON I SPEND THE MOST TIME WITH—ABOUT THE CRAZY BITCH I HAVE TO GET OUT OF BED EVERY DAY SHE’S DRIVING ME CRAZY”
Reading these excerpts back, I know I should have heard alarms go off in my head when I called myself a bitch. That’s one word that I don’t tolerate, ever. I would never call someone else a bitch, so why would I call myself that? It only goes to show how unwilling I am to extend grace to myself. I can accept the humanity of others yet fall short in accepting the shortcomings in myself.
Since I discovered that I had formed a habit of critical self-talk, I have been trying to call myself better words. It’s not a quick fix. In order to change the habit, I have to monitor my self-talk (an activity that typically happens subconsciously) and then I have to actively replace the negative words with better ones. This is one of those concepts that I cannot claim to have authority in (yet), but I hope to get to a place where I can take my own advice and be as gracious to myself as I am to others.
If you’ve resonated with what I’ve written here, I get you. It can feel, well, scary to look inside and find out that you are your own worst, loudest, meanest critic. I know that it’s hard to turn that mode off and let the gracious voice inside you speak for once. If you’re really struggling with overcoming your negative self-talk, here are three things I’ve done to re-wire my brain to call myself better words:
First, you need to break the cycle, allowing other peoples’ voices into your head.
Imagine how the people who love you the most would react if they heard someone talk to you the way you talk to yourself. I’m a big sister, and if someone called one of my sisters a bitch, I would immediately call them out. I wouldn’t stand for that. And then later, I would remind my sister of who she really is: funny and brave and thoughtful and loved. To help you hear better words, ask the people you care about to give you a few words to describe who you are and write them down. Put them somewhere you can see them. Don’t forget.
Next, you’ve got to learn how to say nice things to yourself.
Now that you’ve allowed loved ones to break through your internal monologue, you’ve got to do something a little more difficult: you have to learn how to talk like someone who loves you. Try saying these things to yourself:
You are a loyal friend.
You are brave.
You are beautiful.
You are a hard worker.
You rise in the face of challenges.
Do you stumble over any of these affirmations? Struggle to believe that these are true about you? You need to hear them because they’re true, especially the ones you cringe away from. Learning how to replace negative words with your own kind words and affirmations is the ultimate act of self-care. Even if you don’t believe them, repeating kind words to yourself will help change your self-talk from negative to positive.
Last but not least, listen to your Wise Ash.
When I’m in a sour mood, my friends call me Bad Ash. It’s a nickname that indicates that I am acting out of character. I’ve gone one step further and claimed her as the ugly voice inside my head. For example, Bad Ash is the one that called me a bitch in the above journal entry. She calls me lazy, sometimes crazy, and she always pesters me about not working hard enough, never being good enough. In response, I’ve practiced cultivating another voice: Wise Ash. She’s tender and gracious, and I listen for her voice when Bad Ash tries her worst. She usually re-frames Bad Ash’s criticism, like you read earlier. Hear her try and speak out here:
“…Maybe my dad was right—I should have been pursuing X ugh STOP IT Ashley. You are where you need to be, and you did what you could… Give yourself the same grace you extend to others.”
She broke up my thoughts, literally x-ing out to indicate that there was a shift in my perspective. Granted, Bad Ash came back right away, but Wise Ash said what I needed to hear in the moment: You are where you need to be, and you did what you could… Give yourself grace.
So as you go on your way, catch yourself habitually sliding into self-criticism and allow your Wise Ash to speak up with better words. She will affirm what you know innately:
You are where you need to be.
You are trying your best.
Give yourself grace.