What does it take to abuse another person? We can talk about traditional definitions like violence, beatings, inappropriate touch, or mental violence like emotional manipulation or saying horrible things about a person. All of that is abuse, to be avoided at all costs . But, what about the abuse of putting ourselves down? This is a kind of personal thought abuse.
Thought abuse is saying or thinking to yourself words like, “I hate myself.” “I am not good enough.” “I am stupid. I am unlovable.” “I hate everyone.” Sometimes it happens when you are not paying attention and negative thinking can put you in a horrible mood. Putting yourself down inevitably leads to putting others down. Abuse of oneself is as dangerous as others who might abuse you. The reality is, your relationship with yourself is more important than any other. Do you like you?
Low self-esteem, feeling unworthy or frequently worried and anxious is a reality for many teens. For some, feeling lonely and awkward is a daily struggle. Unfortunately, not all teens are part of a “popular” group.
Negative self talk is what you say to yourself consciously or unconsciously, that puts you down and ultimately undermines your self esteem. Sometimes this negative self talk is just below the surface and hardly noticeable to anyone. Often born on shame and misbeliefs, negative self talk leads to negative self images, which breeds all other forms of abuse. It is impossible to abuse anyone else, unless we first abuse ourselves. Shame begins inwardly and then moves out in the world. To deeply hate oneself or to feel unworthy and ashamed at a young age creates the potential for future abuse and even crime. I am not talking about experiencing a few low moods during the day, whereupon we are hard on ourselves. There is a time and place for firm self talk, like, “I really messed up, this time.” However, saying to yourself, “I will make some adjustments and do some things different next time” is quite different than, “I am stupid and always will be”…
Shame does not emerge from a vacuum. It takes a destructive adult to instill the potent poison. Sometimes we have genetic codes for depression, imbalance, or negativity and they will not “kick in”, until a certain age or intense life stress. Still, for someone to feel ashamed, there is usually an external cause. And, the original cause is often a parent, adult, or guardian who says or does something (on purpose or not) that over time harms a young child’s psyche. Fast forward to today. What if all our personal negativity is a lie of the mind? Then, it is our life’s work to steer our thoughts for the better, while acknowledging and understanding our past.
So the question is, how do you free yourself from negative self talk? Are you even aware of what messages you are sending your self on daily, moment-to-moment basis? Self awareness begins with paying attention. If you are feeling unhappy, you can help change that by changing your thoughts. Growing up and finding a good, comfortable inside that shines outside, is no small task and many adults will say it is a lifelong process. Yet, even though the world is full of disappointments, there comes a time when life tastes good and the tenderness and joy inside matches the tenderness and joy outside. Self-esteem comes from inside-- from knowing yourself and the kind of person you are. The essential ingredients are being good to your self, like cultivating acceptance, tolerance, and letting go of your negative thoughts and unreasonable expectations.
For example, what is the last thought you have before falling asleep and feeling when you wake? Are you positive or negative? What is your intention for the day? You can actually steer your thoughts! Catch yourself and put yourself back on track. Sure, it takes practice. But the payoff is a You worth loving and being loved.
Without a loving You, there is no loving another. So here are some thoughts to live by: love, life, and joy are your birthright. And, even though it may seem everything is hard and no one is on your side, let go and trust, everything will work out for the best. If your are a self talk abuser, why not make a vow to pay attention and change your tone? Remember you are more than your thoughts. You are in charge of your thoughts. Feeling good is not about what someone else says to you. It is about being okay with you—the imperfect, beautiful, loveable, mess that you may be.