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This is my last post for my Self-Esteem November, and although I don’t have a foolproof “Three Steps to Always Feel Awesome About Yourself” to show for it, I am sharing a question that I find helps guide me back to higher self-esteem when I falter: what happens when I choose to be kinder to myself?
In my exploration of the definition of self-esteem and its relation to negative self-talk and imposter syndrome, I kept thinking: I should know better than to fall into these traps. I’ve practiced these tools intentionally for my writing at The Tending Year, and I coach my clients to overcome blocks to their productivity that are rooted in limiting beliefs… so why do I still sometimes revert to putting myself down?
The closest I got to an answer was that it may feel more comfortable to keep myself small. Not literally comfortable as in enjoyable, of course, but instead on a path I’ve tread many times before, one that feels safe because it is known. However, the path that feels risk-free is also the path that prevents me from vocally expressing self-love.
I’ve been working on choosing to simply be kinder to myself since last weekend, where my negative self-talk was too loud to ignore. My Sweetie and I went to see Sasha Velour perform her Smoke and Mirrors tour. She’s a drag queen whom I admire a lot for her approaches to gender, art, performance, and her dedication to queer community. My Sweetie got me VIP tickets as birthday gift in September, which included a meet-and-greet. When we got to the front of the line, Sasha hugged us both, complimented my outfit with genuine joy, and told me “Your patterns are giving me life!” She wrote “Kate, Love you” when she signed the cover of her book I’d purchased. I felt blissful and energized, which makes sense, as queer community and art are two of my values, not to mention that someone whom I truly respect just complimented me!
But when I saw the photos, I immediately resorted to saying critical things about myself. I said unkind things out loud to my partner about how I looked and I tried to disguise my negative self-talk with humor. I felt sad, and my sadness was increased by the fact that I truly did love my outfit and my hairstyle that evening, as I’d dressed up specifically for the occasion. I was completely ignoring the magic in the photo: my Sweetie’s beautiful smile, Sasha Velour’s bright joy humming for all to see, and the pure happiness that was in my smile! That moment in the photo had felt amazing, and it was almost as if I resorted to negative self-talk when I saw the photo out of some internalized belief that I couldn’t possibly look amazing just based on my glee.
When I reflected later on my proclivity to automatically choose negative thoughts about myself instead of reverting to affirming ones, I was reminded of something I’d heard in the personal development world: choosing a side of the stick. This concept comes from inspirational speaker and author Esther Hicks. Hicks talks about choosing one side or the other of “the stick,” where the stick stands in for a situation with both negative and positive aspects. We have piles of sticks in our lives, where each stick represents something like work, a relationship, etc. Hicks suggests that we can choose which side of the stick to hold upright, or choose the situation and the vibration we want to occupy. You can read more about this metaphor here.
It’s important that I recognize here that we don’t always have a choice about choosing happiness. There is structural oppression in the world, and there are some factors that we cannot change about our situations. I acknowledge this oppression because I do not encourage anyone to unintentionally gaslight themselves if they are unable or unwilling to simply “choose” to see a situation via a positive lens. However, in the case of things like negative self-image (like in my photo example), I’d like you to reconsider what happens when you see something that is neutral and automatically turn towards negative self-talk instead of positive. How do you feel? What would happen if when you encountered a photo or a compliment or an opportunity, you reverted to positive self-talk? I could just as easily have looked at the photo of me and my Sweetie and Sasha and said, “Wow, I look so happy!” When I say that about the photo now, with awareness that being kind to myself is an active choice I want to make, I feel happy. I want to keep practicing choosing self-love.
The takeaways for today are a few of my favorite prompts for being kinder to myself, as well as additional reading on topics that may enable you to be kinder to yourself.
- Ask a loved one to write a letter about the things they love most about you and why. I break down this step in my blog post, “How to Feel Good Enough.”
- Write a ta-da list of your accomplishments, and be sure to include non-work tasks. Instructions on how to write a ta-da list and a free download are in my blog post, “Why and When You Should Shift from To-Do to Ta-Da.”
- Learn to recognize your inner critic or “inner mean girl” so you can differentiate that from reality and choose not to listen to her. I talk all about how to do this in “Self-Compassion: What It Is and How Do I Do It?”
- Recognize when you are experiencing limiting beliefs and use Byron Katie’s “The Work” to shift your mindset. I describe how to do this in “Limiting Beliefs: Choose Wisely.”