Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Wait, Did You Just Read Yourself?

It's amazing just how attuned we as gay men can be to the slightest insults from one another, and yet, we have no awareness of the hurtful things we say to ourselves. Having posted plenty of innocent remarks online that are mistakenly interpreted as shade, I often find that these same individuals are in fact magnets for insults because they are saying horrible things about themselves in their internal monologue. As a writer and discussion leader I'm always looking for ways to empower and encourage complete strangers in the same way I would speak to a friend, but when it comes time to publish those videos and articles, I'm always my worse critic. Each time I publish I imagine it to be the post where everyone realizes just how crazy or stupid I really am. It came to the point where I had to distrust my own opinion and leave it up to others to provide me positive feedback.  I have come a long way since then, and I’ve found some interesting strategies in fighting my negative self-talk over the last two years. I want to share with you a few of the things I’ve learned.

All day long you will speak silently to yourself. Sometimes the voice is so ubiquitous that we hardly acknowledge its existence. We often believe that voice to be us, a part of us believes every word that voice speaks. We identify with the voice because it comes from within our own mind, but are you the speaker of that voice if you can't really control what it says? Take a moment to be mindful, maybe even meditate on this question. “What if I am not the voice,? What if I am only the awareness which hears it?” Often we so closely identify with our own thoughts that we don't realize that they simply appear in our mind without any volition of our own. I put together a list of some of the worst self talk that we should catch ourselves saying to ourselves and some struggles to contextualize them into a positive self-image.

“It’s too late.”
It's among the worst things I've said to myself over the years. No matter who you are, no matter what you did, no matter where you’ve come from, you always have more power to change your condition than you may first realize. Before you take any step to improve your life, you have to believe that there is a chance that an improved version of your situation can exist.  We're always going to have to tune out the noisy judgments of others to feel better about ourselves and our lives, but are you also managing to tune out your own self-judgements? In an effort to better hear the soft and steady hum of your own inner strength you have to quiet the voice that tells you it's too late, you're not enough, it's too hard. Once you silence those voices of doubt, you will realize that it’s not too late to be and do whatever is you've always wanted.

“If only I was stronger, smarter, more attractive, etc.”
The worst loneliness is to be uncomfortable with yourself.  When you look in the mirror, and you're unhappy with the way you look you probably say things to yourself you would never take from anyone else. Feeling comfortable in your own skin isn't about delusional happy talk. It’s about being true to yourself, risking the ridicule of others and refusing to live a lie all why being kind to yourself. You don't have to pretend like you're not fat if you are in order to love yourself. Realize that being fat isn't the only thing that matters. Lying about the way you look will only delay your own self-contempt, you have to put the truth about yourself into the larger context of who you are. Remember, almost everything you see and think is a result of what you focus your attention on. The way people will see you is a direct reflection of what you believe about yourself.  You can’t possibly outperform your level of self-esteem and you can’t draw from yourself more than you think you have.

“What I have to say is not that important.”
I encounter writers who struggle with this every time they sit down to write. It's not that they don't have something interesting to say it's that they think it's already been said. And of course it has. It just hasn't been said by you. You are unique. Anything you say comes from a unique perspective and is thus valuable because no one has seen what you've seen or experienced what you have experienced and no one else ever will. Silence in the midst of struggle makes the inner battle that much harder.

Speak your truth.  Let it out!  Speak honestly and with kindness. One of the saddest things about some people telling their truth is that they use it to hurt others. For so many people, their most important thoughts and feelings often go unspoken and barely understood by themselves or others. And when they do speak it’s to cut someone else down to make themselves feel better. 

“The fewer risks I take, the fewer regrets I will have.”
I've heard it said no better way than by hockey legend Wayne Gretzky. He said, "You miss 100% of the shots you never take."  I have often taken the path of least resistance thinking that if I didn’t take the risk I didn’t have to feel the pain of losing. The thing is , this is an illusion., Just because you don’t feel the loss doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen. I still have to fight this impulse every day, but when I do, I feel a lot better about myself. You would never put up with someone who told you it’s not even worth trying, so why do we put up with it from ourselves? It’s not worth beating yourself up over having said those things to yourself, but once you recognize it for what it is make sure you actively fight against it. Take risks, make choices boldly, change the way you move through the world and do the things you want to do with confidence.

“It’s okay to stretch the truth sometimes.”
No one likes being lied to, but we seem to forget that when the truth is inconvenient for a given situation. Tell the truth to others and yourself even when it makes you uncomfortable. It’s disheartening to think how many people are shocked by honesty, and how few by deceit.  Don’t be one of them.  Uphold the truth, always.  Those who are easily shocked should be shocked more often. And you should be the one shocking them. Expect the truth from your friends and loved ones and hold them to the same standard that you hold yourself to. If you see your friends being dishonest to someone else call them out for it and let them know that you value honesty. Telling the truth doesn’t mean you have to lack tact or compassion, however it does make you a more trustworthy person.

“Pain should be avoided at all costs.”
To hurt is as natural as it is to breathe. A life without pain isn’t even a life we could imagine in the real world. There is a certain arrogance that assumes that we should eliminate pain from our lives. The most authentic thing about us is our capacity to create, to overcome, to endure, to transform, to love, and to become greater than our hardships.  Without struggle, there is no victory. Without pain, there is no joy. When we’re going through the pain we might not want to hear about how much our lives will be better for having experienced it, but when we’re on the other side we only appreciate the things we have in direct proportion to how much we had to overcome to attain it. It doesn’t matter how much you have if you can’t appreciate it’s true value.

“It’s okay to break a few promises here and there.”
You make commitments to others and yourself all the time.  The question is: Do you keep them?  If you said you’re going to do something, do it!  When you fail to keep a promise, it tells people (including yourself) that you don’t value their time or relationship.  Don’t over-promise; under-promise and over-deliver on everything you do.  And a few words to the wise:  Never make a big decision when you’re angry, and never make a big promise when you’re overjoyed. When people can rely on you, the quality of your relationships increases in proportion to how much you keep your promises.

“I just want today to be over already.”
Don’t wish your life away.  Experience it.  Work at it. Everything you go through grows you. Sometimes you think doing something is a total waste of time, and then it ends up being one of the best things you ever did.  Amazing things can and do happen when you least expect them.  I never quite understood people who are bored. I always have more to do than I have time in a day. If you’re bored then it means you’re not working hard enough to get the things you really want. Not everything is supposed to be enjoyable at this moment, but if you're growing and learning then you're making an investment in yourself that will be worth it.

We often have to tune out the negative judgments of others, but don’t ignore the negativity you bring to your internal conversation. Don’t accept limiting beliefs even if they're coming from inside your head. If you don’t challenge yourself, you will continue to think in the same way. Challenge yourself to think differently, and you may find that you have a well of potential you never knew existed.

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