I want to call something out, and I want you to call it out too.
We tend to be ridiculously harsh on ourselves; placing so many conditions on feeling worthy, having to live up to some standard before we allow ourselves to appreciate who we are. Even if we may realise this is the case, we often find excuses or justifications for our self-criticism.
Let me paint a picture
Imagine you had a friend who was trying to lose weight.
Imagine that you treated her as if she wasn't worthy, or suggested that you didn't like her as much because of her weight.
Imagine you went out to dinner and you judged whether she should be eating this and asked why she wasn't watching her diet more carefully.
Imagine someone gave her a compliment and you instantly downplayed it by saying that she's still not looking her best.
Imagine you took a photo together and upon seeing it you'd frown at the way she looks and told her not to post it anywhere.
Imagine texting her later that night, reminding her that she really shouldn't have eaten that meal earlier and that she's letting you down.
How do you think this type of talk makes your friend feel? How much are you making her doubt her self-worth just because of her looks? Do you think it motivates her to take better care of herself, and get healthier and stronger? If you were in her shoes, would you stay friends with yourself? My hope is that you wouldn't and you would clearly see such a person is not your friend, even the opposite, and someone to stay away from.
Our bully is the loudest when we face a challenge
It sounds ridiculous to write this, and yet we don't see that we're our own worst bullies and that this is how we talk to ourselves a lot of the time.
Be it about our body image when we want to lose weight and get healthier, when we're trying a new dress in a shop, or when we compare ourselves to someone we see on Instagram or on the street - how critical are we about ourselves in those moments?
Be it about facing a challenge, applying for a new opportunity, prepping for an interview or an exam - how we tell ourselves we're not smart enough or not good enough, that we're going to fail, so we maybe shouldn't even go for it?
Be it about ending a toxic relationship - how we think we brought it on ourselves or that we're too weak to leave, or that we don’t deserve better, we won't meet anyone else?
Be it about making a mistake or embarrassing yourself in a social situation - how we keep on magnifying and replaying that detail that can literally keep us up at night?
Just think of any problem, situation or challenge that is currently bugging or worrying you and notice how you talk to yourself about it - I will bet you are being harsh on yourself exactly where it hurts the most, aren't you?
The illusion that it's helpful
What’s crazier, is that even when we start recognising this negative chatter, there is a strong conviction to defend our inner bully. We somehow justify that beating ourselves up is good and helpful, that it makes us work harder and keeps us accountable, in check, and motivated.
But why do we think that's true for ourselves, when it's clear this wouldn't help your friend in the above example? We know it doesn't work in relationships, or at work if your boss is a bully, or with team sports if the coach just points fingers at all the mistakes everyone made during a game. It's the same when it comes to your relationship with yourself. We feel and do our best through support and encouragement, focusing on our strengths, by feeling our inherent worth, and by being rational but kind about the things we want to improve.
Conditional love will never make you feel good enough
We so often define and limit how much we love ourselves before we look a certain way, hit our target weight or achieve a certain thing or status in life, and that's a recipe for never feeling good enough.
We imagine that when we achieve those things is when we will feel our best, finally be worthy, and can start to truly love and appreciate ourselves. However, true acceptance and self-love can't be conditional - it will always be fleeting. If you reject or deny any parts of yourself now, don't love yourself now with your perceived imperfections and limitations, you'll find more things to reject, moving your goal posts further and further even if you reach them.
The alternative is to focus on the present
The way I like to look at it, self-love and acceptance is your relationship to yourself starting and ending with every present moment. Not when, not then, just now. This moment. How many conditions you hold against yourself right now is a good reflection of how much you are limiting your self-love. The good news is that it also means every moment is an opportunity and a choice to turn this around.
Don't wish for it to go away, but approach it with kindness
Sadly, that bully will always be there. It's part of our human condition, but my wish for you (and myself) is to keep a closer eye on it and recognise that it's not as helpful as we think. As Julia Cameron puts it “We tend to think being hard on ourselves will make us strong. But it is cherishing ourselves that gives us strength."
So when your inner bully talks to you, join me in taking a slow breath and asking; would I talk to my friend the way I'm talking to myself here? can I be kinder to myself in this moment? can I accept where I currently am? can I even be kind to this inner bully who is simply feeling insecure?
Keep on bringing it back to this place of awareness and kindness as many times as your bully talks to you, and start reframing this relationship so that your internal dialogue looks more like a chat between two best friends.
Lots of love to you and your inner bully, from me and my inner bully.
Be kind to each other!