“You can do it. You can do it. You can do it.”
I peeked out my bedroom, looking for my four-year-old daughter. I heard her high-pitched whisper again, “You can do it.” Looking down the staircase, I saw her. She sat in the downstairs hallway, one red sneaker beside her, the other on her right foot. She frowned as she clutched her shoelaces, trying to tie a bow. One knot after the next failed. But she kept trying. And as she tried, she kindly whispered to herself, “You can do it.”
This is the exact moment I knew my baby girl was going to be an emotionally healthy woman. She had her troubles; she still does. But inside her brain, she knows she is a valuable, worthy and lovable soul. She knows that she can accomplish her dreams, large (becoming an occupational therapist) and small (tying those shoelaces).
I also have an internalized voice of kindness and encouragement, most of the time. I usually speak well to myself. “Good girl!,” I say, when I leave the gym, sweaty and red-faced. “It’s getting there!”, I say, when I take a break from writing. “Nice session!”, I whisper, when a client has had a breakthrough. But this voice isn’t always kind.
“You suck at this,” sneers the voice, when I can’t make my computer run. Instantly, I freeze, flooded with anxiety. My mind goes blank and I can’t think. If my husband tosses a ball to me, the voice hollers, “You can’t catch balls!” I duck down and look away, the ball falling beside me like it always does. Interestingly though, if someone throws a ball at me, and I don’t have a second to think, I can catch it. My body can catch, but my voice tells me that I can’t, and therefore, I can’t. My own self-talk limits or expands my possibilities.
One time at work, I had an urgent computer problem. There was no one around to help, and I couldn’t reach my husband, tech-wizard and fixer of all my computer crises. “You suck at this!” yelled the voice. “I can’t do it, I can’t do it, I can’t do it,” said I, awash with tension. I sat frozen, my urgent deadline looming.
But then a new voice, the practical me, chimed in. “Look, why don't you try? This is really important. See if you can try.” I sat in my chair, staring at the computer screen. I took a few deep breaths and consciously shifted my thinking. “You are a smart woman. You really are. You can figure things out. Take it slowly.” My body became more relaxed, and the haze of worry cleared. Now I could focus on the issue. It took me awhile, but I figured out the computer problem. I actually did it, me!
How do you talk to yourself? Have you ever even noticed? Most of my clients have no recognition of their inner self-dialogue. They know they feel depressed and hopeless. However, they have no awareness that their voice says, “You are ugly, fat and no one will ever want you,” inside their own mind, insistently. When I point it out, clients look at me astonished. “Of course you feel depressed,” I say. “Who wouldn’t feel depressed if a person was shouting at them all day long how ugly and unlovable they are?”
Over time, we work on the self-talk. It takes awhile. A client has to be aware that she talks to herself destructively. She has to be mindful, and catch her inner voice being harsh. Much harder, the client has to accept that she deserves a kinder, more loving self-talk. The client has to accept and even embrace her inherent worthiness. This work can take weeks. Sometimes years.
I improved my own self-talk. Therapy helped me a lot, and so did meditation. Surrounding myself with loving friends was vital too. Here is a website that I recently found, all about self-compassion, which is full of ideas and tools: https://self-compassion.org/ . Check it out.
Improving your own inner voice is vital for resilience. You are the only friend you will ever have, who will be with you constantly, every minute, until the day you die. It is crucial that your internalized voice root for you, saying things like, “Nice try!” or “You rock!” or, “That was painful but you hung in there. Good for you.”
Or, like my wise baby girl once kindly whispered, “You can do it. You can do it. You can do it.”
Lise Deguire's multiple award-winning memoir, Flashback Girl: Lessons on Resilience from a Burn Survivor, is available for purchase on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Newtown Book Shop and The Commonplace Reader.