Learning to Talk to Myself

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For eight years, I suffered from debilitating OCD.

I won’t get into what exactly that was like here, but let me give you a little description of OCD:

“Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is a mental health disorder that affects people of all ages and walks of life, and occurs when a person gets caught in a cycle of obsessions and compulsions. Obsessions are unwanted, intrusive thoughts, images or urges that trigger intensely distressing feelings. Compulsions are behaviors an individual engages in to attempt to get rid of the obsessions and/or decrease his or her distress.”

I didn’t have the kind of OCD where I cleaned a bunch of things or checked my lock 42 times when leaving the house. I had obsessive and distressing thoughts that I could not turn off, no matter how hard I tried.

I no longer suffer from OCD. At least, not in the OCD-sense. What I do suffer from are constant, negative thoughts about myself, thoughts that have become so normal for me they are no longer out of place.

Let me give you a glimpse of the thoughts that flit through my head most days:

  • You are lazy
  • You are a bad friend
  • You are a crazy/psycho/emotional fiancé
  • You don’t know what you’re doing
  • You’re not motivated enough to pursue your dreams or craft the life you want
  • You are not a good Christian
  • You don’t love God enough
  • You judge other people
  • You are so critical of others
  • You aren’t responsible
  • You’re wasting time
  • You’re not doing enough writing/devotional/service

This inner dialogue is something I have allowed myself to think is good for me. The inner critic is but the impressive amount of self-awareness that I possess to see all these things about myself. My ability to know my faults is astounding – why aren’t other people as aware of their faults? How annoying of them. I should probably point them out.

When I see the way I speak to myself written down, the words become real and sound like they’re coming from someone who hates me. I imagine the person spitting these words at me, cutting me down and taking pleasure in the cutting down.

I justify this inner dialogue by telling myself I’m simply being realistic and honest with myself. To tell myself anything else would be to give myself too much credit. If I’m not aware of all the ways in which I’m falling short, how can I possibly hope to improve?

This mentality is not only a death sentence for me, but a death sentence for those I’m in close relationship with. Like, very close relationship.

I am a glass half-empty gal. Which is a damn shame, but there it is, and it’s going to take strong mental work on my part to get out of that. And I have a huge problem with looking at my relationship with Clifford from a glass half-empty perspective.

If Clifford annoys me or hurts my feelings, or if I don’t feel my needs are being met, a cloud of criticism covers everything I see and experience about our relationship. Suddenly, the only things true about Cliff are the things I don’t like.

Like when I think Clifford drives my car too fast and slams on the brakes, and why is he so rude and inconsiderate and not careful of my possessions and why doesn’t he respect my things and why doesn’t he respect me and what else is he not going to have any respect for and is he just at his core inconsiderate or not caring and should I be afraid of this and oh my gawd am I getting into a marriage with someone who doesn’t care about my feelings or safety or my needs?

Everything I criticize, whether it’s myself or Clifford or that girl at church, comes down to fear. Fear and doubt are always the root of my criticism.

I criticize myself because I’m afraid of not being self-aware and not improving. I’m afraid I actually am awful, that I am not enough. 

I criticize Clifford because if I can pinpoint all his faults perhaps I can protect myself somehow from these faults catching me off guard or hurting me down the road.

I criticize other people because I’m secretly afraid they are enjoying life or themselves more than me, that they have something I don’t have, whether that’s a passionate relationship with God or a fulfilling job or looks or glamorous adventures.

A few summers ago, I read Ann Voskamp’s book One Thousand Gifts. It changed my life, man.

It’s the true story of how Ann realized that the root of all faith and relationship with God is based in thankfulness. So she started keeping a journal of every tiny thing she was thankful for. That summer, I did the same. And I still remember how different I felt. I felt more alive, happier, more aware of the fullness of things rather than the empty.

So I decided to try it again, but this time was a little different. While I started writing down daily things I’m thankful for, I also started writing down daily things I’m thankful for about Cliff:

2. He laughs with and enjoys my friends.

5. He doesn’t get mad or hurt if I decide not to come to youth group or skip church.

6. He tells me there’s nothing I could do to make him love me more.

9. He forgives quickly and easily.

13. He gets so excited for me about my dreams and goals.

Even in the tiny act of writing a sentence like this down, the irritability and criticism (and fear) melt away, like a bit of ice falling from a diminishing glacier.

Since it felt so good to orient myself towards being thankful once more, I decided to try it on myself. I want to rewire the inner dialogue, the incessant critic, the cloud of doubts and flat-out rejections of my own incredibleness. It’s like my brain has to learn a brand new way of thinking. Positive thinking. Blech.

So here it is. The difference. The way I want to speak to myself. The glass half-full approach to my own being, the own greatness of me and that I’m actually not a total f-k up, the way I want and need to speak to myself in order to see my days, life, world, and people as brightness, as gifts. To be transformed by the renewing of my mind.

  • I am creative.
  • I’m not afraid of difficult things.
  • I’m always committed to growing.
  • I own up to my mistakes.
  • I seek peace between myself and others.
  • I stand up for what I believe in without putting others down.
  • I have dreams that I am not putting off but I’m actually pursuing and figuring out.
  • I have a heart that breaks for animals, and I respond to that by seeking opportunities to support animal causes.
  • I value people being heard and seen for exactly who they are, warts and all.
  • I ask really good questions.
  • I use people’s names because I want them to feel important.
  • I put in the work to figure out how to reach my goals.
  • I value commitment and sticking to my word.
  • I love DANCING.
  • I write about real things because I’m the bravest person I know and because I want others to know they’re not alone.
  • God loves me. That’s it. That’s hard to get and I don’t get it and I still wake up every day under the belief that I have to earn it and there’s no way I can earn it because half the time I don’t even like going to church or talking to God but he loves me still. 

What if I woke up thinking these thoughts? How would my world open up and how would my interactions with others and God stop being tainted by self-hate and instead be greeted with open arms knowing how incredible I am?

What would it take to find out?

2 replies »

  1. Girl, this spoke to me. It’s so easy to tear ourselves down, and then tear down those around us to displace the blame. I need to revisit One Thousand Gifts, thanks for the reminder to be kind to ourselves and grateful.

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