Melody Beattie has a book called Stop Being Mean to Yourself that I often lend to clients because it’s a good book and because I love the title. It is hard to feel happy when we are so critical and judgmental of ourselves. No wonder we don’t feel good enough. We live with a mean voice in our heads that puts us down all the time.

It’s like a soap opera in there! For some people, negative self-talk occurs only in high-pressure situations, like a public event; for others, it’s all day, every day. We monitor our words, our behavior, and our appearance, and we always find ourselves wanting. We say the wrong thing, wear the wrong thing, and do the wrong thing. We never measure up to ourselves. We look at other people with envy or awe and believe that they know secrets that we don’t. We compare and come up wanting.

If you marked down throughout one day how many of your thoughts about yourself were negative and how many positive, it would probably depress you. We are mean to ourselves. It’s an epidemic in my practice! We seem to feel that if we believe positive things about ourselves, we are conceited or vain. It’s not okay to praise ourselves, ever. It is okay, however, to doubt our abilities, punish ourselves for mistakes, and accept other people’s opinions of us as more important than our own. We are not on our own side.

A client said to me recently that she was participating in a church group, and as a part of it, group members were encouraged to do affirmations at home. Affirmations are positive self-statements like “I am a valuable person.” She found that she couldn’t do them and said she was surprised as she is usually open-minded about trying new techniques. When I asked her what the problem was, she said, “They’re stupid . . . aren’t they?” To her surprise, I replied, “No!”

I asked her which message would be a better way to raise her daughter, to praise her or to call her fat and stupid. She understood then immediately. We always understand when it’s about someone else, especially someone we love. We don’t treat our children or our friends or even our pets the way we treat ourselves. Why not? Because we know it’s not okay. We know it hurts them. Yet we hurt ourselves constantly.

Anyone who saw the movie What the Bleep Do We Know was probably drawn to the scene with the water exhibit, where simply writing a negative statement changed the water molecules to be grotesque. In the movie the heroine writes positive statements all over herself to counteract all the negative self-talk that she does. Maybe instead of getting tattoos of skulls and hearts with daggers, we should be marking ourselves with affirmations. It might inoculate us from the self-criticism.

Are affirmations brainwashing? Well, maybe our brains need a little washing! They seem to be filled with ugly words and images. Could we possibly be as bad as we think we are? Nope. We are all, all of us, just right. We are doing the best we can—and that is always good enough. We are not to blame for our early wounds; we have nothing to be ashamed of. Shame, in fact, is the problem.

Shame keeps us from being authentic. Terrified that others will see the real us and declare us hideous, we hide away our real beauty, convinced of our own unworthiness. We are all ugly ducklings who feel different, lonely, left behind. Other people seem more together, smoother, smarter, cooler than us. If only we could learn to believe in ourselves, to be on our own side.

The first thing we can do is to view ourselves with compassion. We are not perfect. We will always make mistakes. That’s okay. In fact, that’s the way it’s supposed to be. Unconditional love is hard, and unconditional self-love is even harder. We want to attach strings, to love ourselves if we just lose a few pounds or quit smoking. We will approve of ourselves as soon as we earn a little more or meet the perfect mate. But it doesn’t work like that. The mark keeps moving, and we never get there. It’s a trick.

What if we are already everything we need to be? What if we are part of God? I believe that, I just don’t believe it all the time. I slip in and out of knowing who I am. I get sucked back in by shame and self-doubt. Do you?

I have found that believing in myself means that I need to slow down, to trust my instincts, to wait and see. When I wait instead of evaluate, I can see the rightness of what happens. When I judge myself harshly, I feel ashamed, and I stop looking and listening. I don’t want to know. It is in this way that I become disconnected from myself and from everyone. I am so busy being ashamed and hiding myself and my shame that I don’t have time for anyone else.

Loving ourselves helps us to be open to life and available to others. If we stumble, maybe we were meant to. If we forget, maybe it wasn’t right for us. If we drop it, maybe it was time to let go. Having faith that things are the way they are meant to be helps us believe that we are just right, too. We are all God’s children, or children of the universe. We have a point and a plan, and we are supposed to be here just the way we are. Do you believe that? Try!

At least one thing is clear: negative self-talk never helps us do anything better. It just wastes our time and energy. So say those affirmations, change the criticism to self-praise, and stop putting yourself down. Push the bad mood out of your head. Don’t stay in a state of shame or fear. When you find yourself there, get out! Have hope, and have faith. Be loving. Stop the negative self-talk!

** This article is one of 101 great articles that were published in 101 Great Ways to Improve Your Life. To get complete details on “101 Great Ways to Improve Your Life”, visit

Author's Bio: 

Anne K. Crothers, MEd, is a therapist in private practice in Allentown, Pennsylvania. Her mission statement for her business, Healing Works, is to eliminate fear and shame and increase love of self, of the Higher Power, of each other, and of the earth. An expert in trauma and sexual abuse, Anne has a gift with children and adolescents. She uses expressive therapies and a spiritual focus. She also provides invitational-style interventions for addiction and training on play therapy, childhood obesity, and more. For more information on Anne, see her Web site at