Many women struggle with what other people think of them. That mis-placed focus is very common even though you know how dangerous it can be to base your self-esteem on the way someone else chooses to treat you.
However, the danger is magnified when abuse comes from the closest possible person–yourself! You need to know how to get out an abusive relationship with yourself. This is definitely a Big Girl Panties episode as we take a deep look at whether we’ve created an abusive relationship that we need to address.
What does an abusive relationship with yourself look like?
All abuse takes a severe toll on self-esteem. The public tends to focus on physical abuse, but there are many different kinds of abuse and emotional abuse is positively soul sucking. According to PsychCentral.com, someone in an abused relationship “…starts feeling helpless and possibly even hopeless.”
When you’re in an abusive relationship with yourself you:
- Put yourself down constantly
- Are super critical of everything you do
- Allow others to ignore your personal boundaries
- Ignore your health and well-being
- Constantly engage in negative self-talk
- Ignore your strengths to focus on your weaknesses
- Wallow in guilt for things you’ve done in the past
- Blame yourself for everything and apologize constantly
- Isolate yourself from family and friends
The striking thing about this is that many of the behaviors noted above are classic behaviors we associate with others who abuse us. It’s daunting to think we would treat ourselves equally poorly.
Why are we so hard on ourselves?
We live in a negative world. Turn on the news any night and you will see never-ending stories of murder and other tragedies. And don’t think you can escape by jumping onto social media because there is plenty of negativity to go around on social too.
Several years ago, a television station tried to broadcast only good news. The show flopped because people expected the news to be bad, so they didn’t watch the ‘good’ news.
This plays a big part in why we are hard on ourselves. We are constantly exposed to negative stories and they train us to think with a negative view. Our parents teach us to be cautious (have you ever heard of stranger DANGER?) which we internalize as we shouldn’t trust anyone. We have an immediate negative bias whenever we meet someone new.
We can also be hard on ourselves because we fear what will happen if we aren’t. Wait, what? If we get our hopes up too high, we think we’ll be shattered when we are wrong.
I bet you do things at work because you know if you don’t your boss will likely come down hard on you. Nobody wants that.
These fears are very strong and are central to how many of us relate to the world and ourselves. If you have been conditioned to be hard on the world, you will logically be hard on yourself. This is where the abusive relationship with yourself is formed.
Can you stop the pain?
Is there a way to reverse this process and stop being so hard on yourself? Of course there is. It is not easy but, it’s also not impossible. It is going to require a shift in your thought processes. Anytime you feel a negative thought forming, you must intentionally change it into something positive.
If you have been abusing yourself for a long time, you probably don’t feel very good about yourself right now. In fact, your self-esteem and self-confidence are probably pretty raggedy and you believe you are responsible for other people’s mistakes and actions. You have learned how to be your own worst enemy and your inner critic is having a field day telling you how awful you are. (She’s lying!)
Take control of your inner voice
Your inner voice guides you in your journey through life. She tells you when to eat and when to go to work. She also tells you what to think about the people you meet, and so on. But, often, she takes a negative stance. That inner voice tells you the world is not safe and that you should criticize everything you encounter. It warns you to watch out because trouble is right around the corner.
Even though it has a tendency to be negative, this inner voice isn’t all bad. It can be helpful, like when she tells you to stop texting while walking and look both ways before crossing the street. But, when it starts to get overly negative, it’s time for you to take control and re-direct the tone of the conversation. You have allowed this negative voice to carry on unchecked for many years which means now you accept whatever she is saying, even when the message is negative.
Good news: your inner voice can be re-trained! The older you are, the more training it may need, but this training can eliminate the negative thoughts that it keeps creating for you.
You can’t blame your inner voice too much for the generally negative attitude. After all, she is looking out for your well-being. She is using what you have learned over the years as the basis for her position. Let’s face it, some of your experiences haven’t been as rosy as you would have liked. Bad experiences provide yet another negative belief for the inner voice to use whenever it sees the need.
If you force your inner voice to completely change how it works, the first reaction will be resistance. You have trained your mind well and it will do its best to keep protecting you. This is to be expected as it has years of experience under its belt. It’s also the reason why most people give up too easily on making changes. Your inner voice is strong and it will keep trying to revert to negative thoughts. And the more changes you try to make the more resistance you will likely face.
Be aware of this so your inner voice doesn’t keep you locked in an abusive relationship with yourself. The inner voice will tell you that you need to be hard on yourself to succeed and that you need to do better. Part of that message is good, we all can try to do better in life. But, when those messages start to overshadow the belief that you are a good person inside, it’s time for you to call timeout and take control of that voice. You are in charge.
7 ways to get out of this abusive relationship with yourself
Earlier, I promised you that it is possible to re-program your brain and with consistency and commitment to a new thought process, Here’s how to do it:
- Catch yourself in the act of being mean to yourself. Don’t wait until later, take note at the moment it’s happening. For some, living with verbal, emotional, and even physical abuse may have been the norm so self-criticisms and thoughts that are put-downs may not even get noticed. Try keeping a thought journal to help you identify yourself abusive thoughts and how often you have them.
- Convert your negative thoughts into positive thoughts. Once you know what these negative thoughts are, you can do something about changing them into more positive or constructive thoughts. For instance, you can change “You’re so ugly” into, “You are uniquely beautiful.”
- Give yourself the kindness and compassion you give to others. Loving kindness directed first and foremost at yourself, not only helps you feel better about yourself but it makes you more likely to be kinder and more compassionate towards others.
- Make self-care a habit. This may mean taking a long bath, a walk in nature or eating great food. It may also mean doing yoga, listening to music, or meditating. Self-care is the opposite of self-abuse.
- Exercise. Regular exercise is healthy and it makes you feel good. Your body releases feel-good endorphins when you exercise. I know exercise may not be your favorite thing (mine either, I hate to sweat) but chocolate and cheese don’t have the same healthy effect on your body and mind.
- Work with a coach to develop a plan to move toward what you want most. Getting objective professional help is often the most efficient way to grow as a person and improve your self-esteem.
- Connect with your supportive and positive friends and family. It’s important to be in a supportive environment when you are working on changing behavior and it’s hard to do that, isolated alone at home. Avoid abusive people like flu germs and surround yourself with those who can support you in feeling good about being yourself and developing your potential.
Learning to love yourself and participate in self care is the opposite of abusing yourself. And these are skills that can be strengthened in order for you to live a happy, healthy, and fulfilling life.
You may not have known it before, but you have every reason to start living a life filled with positive thoughts and emotions, and building positive beliefs and experiences. You are ultimately in control of what you believe.
Since these ideas are beliefs (and not absolute truths), why not choose to believe in something that makes you feel good about yourself? It takes practice, dedication, and commitment, but it can be done!
The process of getting out of an abusive relationship is going to take time. Don’t rush it. You need to reinforce positive messages within yourself and do it frequently and over a period of time. Eventually, the positive thoughts will take over and push the negative ones out, or at least, make them less frequent.
Don’t get discouraged if you revert to your old ways when you’re trying to make changes. These habits are going to take some time to break. Habits can be changed with effort on your part. Keep an open mind and know that better days will come for you. Don’t be afraid of the changes.