Perhaps the biggest tragedy of our lives is that freedom is possible, yet we can pass our years trapped in the same old patterns…We may want to love other people without holding back, to feel authentic, to breathe in the beauty around us, to dance and sing. Yet each day we listen to inner voices that keep our life small. ~ Tara Brach
The key to breaking the patterns that keep you locked into unproductive, self-destructive thoughts and behaviors is awareness. Just as the sun lights the darkest corners of a room, awareness lights your mind, revealing all of your sadness, anger, shame and self-doubt. Shedding light on these unpleasant emotions moves them out of the shadows and into the light of day, where you can see them for what they truly are. And what they truly are is lies.
From the time you were old enough to crawl, the people who loved you told you very believable lies about yourself. They did not mean to hurt you. They believed that by telling you that you were not quite good enough the way you were that they were teaching you to be a better person: stronger, faster, smarter, funnier, prettier, skinnier and ultimately happier than you already were. They led you to believe that the real you—the imperfect, sometimes awkward, sometimes unhappy, sometimes unsure of yourself you—was an unacceptable version of the person you could become. And in doing so they taught you that it was never acceptable to be happy with yourself. They taught you to always judge, always condemn and always reject the person who looked back at you in the mirror every day. And eventually those voices became your own. Following you everywhere, they repeat the same message over and over and over: you are never going to be OK the way you are.
Silencing the voices inside your head begins with awareness: first, the awareness that they are there and then the awareness that they are wrong. It is not enough to simply acknowledge them, although that is where you must start. You must actively, consciously challenge them and replace them with the truth.
Today and every day make it your practice to listen to and challenge the negative voices inside your head. Carry your journal or a small notebook with you wherever you go, and jot down the negative, self-deprecating thoughts that come up. Then, write something that challenges the negative thought with the truth. When you think to yourself “What a dope I am; I forgot my hair appointment again!” write down your initial thought, and then next to it write the non-judgmental truth: “I was so busy today that I forgot my appointment with the hairdresser.” Then remind yourself that no one is perfect, and move on.
Review your notes at the end of the day, and try to develop some insight into the kinds of thoughts that happen most often and why. For example, do you call yourself names because your siblings labeled you in some way when you were a child? Or do you constantly berate yourself for being late when what you really need to do is simplify your schedule and create a more manageable life? Sometimes self-criticism is a way to avoid taking responsibility for improving some aspect of who you are. Although the most important part of this exercise is to challenge and eventually silence your self-destructive thoughts, it can also be very helpful to develop some insights into where they originated and what they are telling you about the person you are today.