This post begins with a difficult admission. I used to be a mean girl. Years ago, I would speak horribly to someone who I was supposed to be nurturing, loving, and building up. Nearly everyday, I’d utter phrases that hurt. Sometimes I’d mutter under my breath,”Your hair looks terrible!” On other occasions, I’d whisper,”Your skin is awful!” And sometimes, when I was feeling particularly hateful, I’d say loud enough for everyone to hear,”If you weren’t so fat, you’d have clothing that fits!” I didn’t say these things to my children, or my friends. I said them to myself and I didn’t think they were bothering anyone but me. After all, I spent the majority of my day building up others. As a teacher, I used only positive words in my classroom. As a mom, I never missed an opportunity to tell my daughters how wonderful I knew they were.
Then one day, I was school shopping with my, then 10 year-old, daughter. In the middle of trying on new pants, she looked in the mirror and blurted out, “These jeans make me look fat!” She certainly wasn’t overweight and I asked her why she would say that about herself. “You say it when you look in the mirror, Mom.” Her reply hit me like a ton of bricks. I did say that to myself, and more.
After an apologetic discussion and heartfelt assurance of her perfect size and beauty, I promised to stop speaking harshly to myself. This was not an easy task. I’d suffered from poor self-esteem most of my life and after my divorce, my self-worth plummeted even further. I’d formed deeply ingrained, negative self-talk behaviors that felt too hard to break, but I certainly didn’t want to be a bad example to my children and I was tired of feeling bad about myself.
I couldn’t afford counseling at the time, but I had read that it takes 30 days of consistent practice to break most habits. I decided that for the next 30 days anytime a negative thought about my appearance entered my mind that I would counter it, out loud, with a positive statement about myself. This was difficult, because it often felt like I was lying to myself. My head would tell me, “Ugh! You look rough today!” but my voice would sing, “You look beautiful. I love you! I feel good about myself!”
Over and over, day after day, I kept up with my experiment. Oftentimes, my young daughters would catch me praising myself and giggle. I would then remind them of their beauty, inside and out. Soon, I began to hear them complimenting themselves, and each other, laced with happy laughter, in the mornings before school.
Sixteen years later, I still have my same routine. My adult kids will still giggle when they walk in on me finishing up my makeup and saying, “Damn, I look good today!” They know I’m not a raging narcissist, but they also know that I now believe my words to be true. In the midst of caring for, and about others, I care about myself, too.
What are you saying to yourself? Have you ever broken a negative habit? How did you do it?
***If you would like to participate in Wisdom Wednesdays, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’d love to read stories of how life’s situations have helped you gain personal wisdom. I welcome writers of all ages and experiences.****** (I could really use a few posts. :))