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Why It’s Hard for Me to Speak Kindly to Myself

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A few years ago, when I was in a residential program for my mental health, we had to participate in an exercise where each of us had to compliment another client and all we could respond with was “thank you.” This forced us to sit with the discomfort of a compliment about something we deeply didn’t believe to be true about ourselves. For example, someone would say to me, “Becca, you’re courageous,” and all I was allowed to say back was, “thank you,” all while all the excuses as to why I believe I’m not took over my thoughts.

This past weekend, I was reminded of this exercise when I was at the gym and someone kept reminding me I need to be kinder to myself. I was told I need to work on that because I’m worth it. At that point, my thoughts started spiraling into, “I’m not worth it, this person doesn’t really get it,” etc.

But, the incredible person giving me the reminder to be kinder to myself knows what they’re talking about. They have spent years teaching and watching students grow.

My head likes to think this person is wrong, that I don’t deserve to be kind to myself. But really, that thought comes about because I have been given messages all my life growing up with a disability that I have internalized the thought to be true: I’m not good enough. And it’s my job to work to unlearn those messages and make the real truth a part of me.

I am good enough.

I try not to be too hard on myself for struggling to be kind to myself. I know that’s a difficult thing to do for anyone, especially those in the disability and mental health communities.

I spent my childhood in and out of doctors’ offices, having surgeries and other various procedures. When I was a little kid back in the 1990s, the mental health of children going through medical trauma wasn’t really taken into consideration, and that’s when I internalized the thought of, “I’m broken.” In my little kid head, if I wasn’t “broken,” why would I need to be “fixed” through surgery and other medical procedures?

This is just one instance of the ways the seeds of negative self-talk were planted in my head as a child.

And then, as an adult struggling with her mental health, the difficulty of talking kindly to myself (and believing it) continues on. My depression tells me I’m not working hard enough. My anxiety tells me I’m not perfect enough. My borderline personality disorder (BPD) has me catastrophizing and thinking nothing will ever turn out right, so what’s the point in staying alive in the first place? And my eating disorder tells me my body isn’t good enough, isn’t thin enough.

So, it’s pretty easy to see why being kind to myself is difficult. But that doesn’t mean I get a free pass to say, “Well, I’ve got a lot of factors playing against me, so I can just keep saying mean things to myself for the rest of my life.” Instead, it means I need to work that much harder at saying “thank you” to compliments and sitting there thinking about how those comments could be true instead of coming up with a million reasons as to why they’re not true.

Because even though it’s incredibly hard to be nice to myself, I am worth it. I am kind. I am funny. I am courageous. I am good enough.

And you are, too.

Getty image by Elena Medvedeva

Originally published: September 13, 2021
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