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How Can I Talk to Myself the Way I Talk to a Loved One?

Amanda Ann Gregory, LCPC, EMDR Certified

Here’s a hard truth: we tend to be more compassionate and empathic toward the people we love and less empathetic and compassion toward ourselves. Imagine that your loved one has lost their beloved dog. They say to you, “I’m devastated. I shouldn’t be feeling this way, she was just a dog. I’m ridiculous and I just need to get over it.”

What would you say to them? You might say something supportive, such as “you have every right to feel devastated, she was a member of your family,” “You’re being hard on yourself,” “You’re grieving. “Anyone else in your situation would feel similar. That’s doesn’t mean that you are ridiculous, you’re simply grieving. ” These are great ways to extend empathy and compassion to your loved one.

Would you say these same phrases to yourself? If so, that’s wonderful! You are expressing empathy and compassion for yourself just as you would for a loved one.  On the other hand, would you communicate something different to yourself, such as “Yes, I need to get over it,” “I’m just using this as an excuse to be sad and lazy,” “It was just a dog, why am I so weak?” These messages lack compassion and empathy, and they will not help you to move on; in fact, they might actually prolong your grieving process.

The fact that you speak to your loved ones with empathy and compassion is a strength that you can use to support yourself. What would it be like if you spoke to yourself in the same way that you speak to your loved ones?

Try these methods to become accustomed to talking to yourself as you would a loved one:

1)  Listen. Do you actually listen to yourself? Or do you quickly jump to solutions and conclusions? Try to listen to your own words, your emotional experiences, and how your body is responding. This information can clarify what’s occurring and how you can best support yourself. For example, telling yourself to “get over it” when your body is severely fatigued due to grief is not going to suddenly give you energy.

2)  Validate. Extend to yourself the same validation you would extend to a loved one. Consider the statement, “You have every right to feel devastated, she was a member of your family.” This statement validates your loved one’s emotional experience. When you are speaking to yourself, trying reminding yourself that your emotional experience is legitimate and important.

3)  Don’t Tolerate Emotional Abuse. Do you speak to yourself in an emotionally abusive manner? Natasha Tracy defines emotional abuse as, “any act including confinement, isolation, verbal assault, humiliation, intimidation, infantilization or any other treatment which may diminish the sense of identity, dignity, and self-worth.” This can include calling yourself names, minimizing your emotional experience, and making threats. The phrase “It was just a dog, why are you so weak?” sounds like emotional abuse, and this will not bring about sustainable positive changes. Would you emotionally abuse your loved ones? If not, then you shouldn’t abuse yourself.

4)      Provide empathy. How do you provide empathy to yourself? Start with the empathy that you would provide a loved one. Take the phrase, “Anyone else in your situation would feel similarly. That’s doesn’t mean that they are ridiculous, they’re simply grieving. You are grieving.” This empathetic phrase might be something that you would say to a loved one, but can you say it to yourself as well? Start by imagining that you are speaking to a loved one who’s in your same situation, and then try communicating that same message to yourself.

If you speak to yourself as you speak to a loved one, you may notice an increased ability to manage your mood and change your behaviors.   

Do you need help to express self-compassion? If so, you could benefit from participating in therapy. Contact Symmetry Counseling today to schedule an appointment. 

Tracy, N. (2012, July 24). Emotional Abuse: Definitions, Signs, Symptoms, Examples, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2021, March 28 from https://www.healthyplace.com/abuse/emotional-psychological-abuse/emotional-abuse-definitions-signs-symptoms-examples

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