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I Used To Criticise Myself

I don’t remember exactly when it happened, probably because it was a little at a time and it was such a long time ago now that it feels like I’ve always had that internal commentary telling me that I’m doing it wrong, that I don’t say the right thing, that I don’t fit in, that I’m forgetful or lazy or shy or sad.

I Used To Be Confident

It was shocking to me when I was sitting with my mum for breakfast recently and we started talking about my childhood. She said that I was so happy and confident when I was younger, when I was 5 and starting school I had friends and laughed and played. I couldn’t believe her as I didn’t remember this. She said that I moved schools because we moved house and shortly after I moved into the school, I insisted that I go to the same school as my little brother who was just starting. Apparently I was very persuasive and wanted to be there for him, to support him and help if he needed it. 

Mum and Dad agreed and I moved schools for the third time in a year. What I didn’t know was that it was a smaller school, and just days before we started mum got a call to join the teaching team. Instead of being the only one at school I was now at a school with my mum and my brother. There was a lot that was great about this, but also kids would single me out because my mum was a teacher, I started to not fit in so well. I grew shy and spent more time in my own company. My brother was really confident and fitted in, made friends quickly and would go to their house, hang out with them… but I didn’t find it so easy.

As I grew older, I started to feel like I didn’t fit in 

As I grew older I continued to feel different, like I didn’t fit in. Before I went out I would think a lot about what to say, how to be on my best behaviour, how to fit in. Then when it was time to leave I’d listen to music and start telling myself that I was confident, that I will meet new friends, that I will have fun. Sometimes I would actually show up, but more often I would talk myself out of going, say I’m too tired, too busy, too shy. Before long I wouldn’t get invited out much anymore. 

Internally I would criticise myself for what I ate, how I looked, what I wore. When I hung up the phone after speaking with someone, I would analyse and notice how awkward I was. Very rarely I went on a date and when I did I would feel so awkward and out of place that I wouldn’t know what to do or say and ended up leaving early. 

Like swiss cheese, slowly my confidence got more and more holes in it, and I would wonder from time to time how did I become so self critical? Why did I treat myself so poorly? How can I stop it?

It’s fascinating that often we say things to ourselves that we wouldn’t say to others, we have such high standards, high expectations and if we don’t meet them talk ourselves out of the very relationships, friendships or situations that may help us. 

We are strongly influenced by our environment, the people around us, the media, our culture all have an effect on who we are, how and what we think of ourselves and in turn our self talk. 

We don’t criticise ourselves as children

Very young children rarely have self talk. It most often develops as we grow up, usually through going to school (for some people it’s before this) that we notice that we are not the same as the next person. Often we are expected to sit in a classroom and listen to the teacher, to compare ourselves to others in the class and think about what we’ve done, who we are and how we are the same or different to another person. For some people they have learnt from a young age to adapt, to be kind to themselves and others and the Self Talk is more balanced, encouraging, For many though, self talk is critical, noticing the differences in people, situations, circumstances and themselves. 

My internal dialogue as I grew up was very strong, I would pre-think what I would say to most people so that I could best get it right, I would pre-think through and play out social experiences and situations and if real life didn’t match how I thought it would happen (which was very very often) then I wouldn’t be happy, I would lose confidence in myself and think I needed to do better to be better.

Self talk can be helpful in solving problems, in analysing and looking for solutions, however most of the time we overthink to stop from doing. We think and loop over and over and don’t go and talk to the guy or girl we are interested in or go to the gym, or have a conversation with a new person just because we can. We’ve started to use self talk as a reason not to ‘do’. It’s safer to analyse and stay inside our thinking than to go for an interview for a job we want, to have a conversation with someone or just experience the feeling of fun, calm or joy. 

I Was Ready To Change

I met someone when I was 30 who was clever, kind, charismatic, the kind of person who could fit into any social situation and who met people easily, creating genuine connections. I was in awe and found the courage to ask him for any tips for being less socially awkward and more confident. 

He stopped in his tracks and did something I’ll never forget. He sat down with me and really considered my question, and asked me more about myself, what my story was, what I wanted, and he listened intently. Instead of being wary I took a leap of faith and trusted him when he said that he used to be shy and he learned how to turn the volume of his self talk down, and even to change it to better support him as he grew. 

I was fascinated and wanted to learn more, so I spent more time with him, with someone who had been there before and knew the pathway out. I learnt to focus on the small things that I did really well, and to appreciate them, feel good about them. I was excellent at photography, at helping others, at giving thoughtful gifts, at singing and laughing. Each time I did something I was great at, I would celebrate a little, I’d train myself to recognise the things I’m excellent at and slowly my confidence in myself grew. 

I learnt from someone who had been there before

What I learnt was that my unconscious mind loves to generalise, so when I notice that I am excellent at decorating my room it will look for other things that I am excellent at and stack them together. If I feel good about myself at the same time then I can call that feeling confidence, accomplished, special. The more I feel it the more it grows and the easier it is to feel. 

I made a list of the things that I did well and a list of things that I would like to improve. Knowing that someone else had been like me and had learned how to be more confident again and how to manage their self talk gave me hope that I could do it too. I started to criticise myself less and started to look at the things I wasn’t so great at as opportunities for growth, I realised that I learned how to be confident as a child and then I learnt how to be shy and how to self criticise. If I learnt it then I could unlearn it and I could learn a new, more useful skill. 

I discovered that the emotion of confidence was within my grasp and I could build on it day by day. I wasn’t perfect straight away but like learning to tie my shoelaces or learning to walk every time I did well I celebrated it and every time I didn’t do so well I looked at it through the eyes of someone curious to learn how to grow, how to be consistent. 

We Can All Build Confidence

People meet me now and cannot believe I was ever shy, I still work on my confidence every day, and still work on my self talk and catch myself quickly if I notice myself being to hard on myself. Along the way I’ve found other people to grow with to go to if I want to check if I am on track.

To begin with, perhaps take a moment and maybe start making a list of the things that you are good at, no matter how small. Things that you are confident you do well it might be walking the dog, keeping in touch with friends, gaming, playing cards, making a particular dish, baking, exercise, surfing, walking on the beach. No matter how small or what it is, every little or large example of something you can feel good about, proud of or confident of adds up, and when you see it written give yourself the gift of feeling a positive emotion like confidence, pride, appreciation. Put the list on your wall or fridge and keep adding to it.