Reality Check: Challenging Negative Self-talk

Being betrayed and left for another is a brutal and very strange kind of experience. It leaves you changed and undone. In my case it was a pain unlike anything I had ever experienced and it completely shifted my reality, my world as I had known it. The pain was immense and unrelenting. A pain that swallows you whole. 

This kind of experience also unearths so many old insecurities in us, it makes us evaluate ourselves in new, cruel ways – this idea that our value has been weighed against another’s and we, despite all our immense love and commitment and all we brought to our relationship still came up short somehow. In my experience, it left my confidence in the gutter and planted a self-hatred in me that followed me everywhere. An unwanted companion that was there with me at every turn, behind every new door I was trying to open. 

When we love someone, we wrap up so much of our self and our self-value in them and the way they view us. So, if that person suddenly and out of the blue, betrays you and then tells you they no longer view you as desirable or worthy of their love and commitment, as no longer enough for them, it can feel earth shattering and our perception of ourselves (or the way we thought they saw us) can also die with the relationship. 

I took so much confidence from my husband’s love, his compliments and affection. I don’t know if I ever really had a great deal of confidence to begin with but I do know that his love, affection, and pride in me, bolstered me. I got so much of my self-confidence from him and suddenly having that ripped away without warning, and then being traded in shattered that confidence. His cruel words and actions ever circling in my mind. A continuously painful, and constantly reopening wound, always dragging me back to the brutal realisation that I wasn’t wanted anymore.

I felt uneasy in my skin, I felt there was this dull whispering voice somewhere within me, a voice I didn’t want to deal with yet was always there, taunting me, telling me that I was somehow to blame, that I wasn’t enough, that all the things that make me, me, and made him love me in the first place were now just flaws that had been laying the roadmap to him betraying me and casting me aside. When I looked in the mirror, I felt a level of discontent that I had never felt before, I stopped seeing any goodness or beauty but instead saw problems and flaws. 

I became my harshest critic and developed such a strong and desperate need for transformation. I wanted to be something new, to move out of the skin of that person that my ex-husband could so callously betray and abandon. I wanted to get rid of that version of me too. I had visions of me changing to such a degree that my husband would one day see me, the new being I had become and ache with regret. 

The funny thing is, with time, there has been indeed been a transformation. However, the reason for it has changed as time has gone on. As shock has begun to wear away and a new innate sense of self-worth has introduced herself to me.

True, I now look physically different to when my husband left me but the greatest transformation has taken place inside. Where there was fear and insecurity, there is now strength and a growing confidence. Where there was a person who was controlled and manipulated there is now a person who is decisive, in control and awake. I didn’t have much of a voice before and now my voice is clear and present.

At this point in my journey (I say this point because it’s an ever-evolving thing who we are and are to be) I have become aware of something that I now realise had become a real problem following my divorce and was holding me back from moving into a new future and keeping me tied to the betrayal and pain – the way I speak to myself.

In our minds, we are in constant dialogue with ourselves. It is like breathing. We don’t fixate on our breathing but it’s happening and it’s constant. You only become aware of your breathing if it quickens, becomes short or something is wrong. The dialogue within ourselves is equally there and happening and constant but it doesn’t always raise those warning signs like our breathing can. If we have a thought that’s bad for us sometimes it just flies under the radar with all the other million thoughts we had that day and we don’t pay attention to it. But what if amongst those thoughts, a growing proportion of negative dialogue about yourself is slipping by undetected and, without realising it, our self-perception is being carved and formed from those undetected thoughts? 

I can honestly say, I didn’t become fully aware of my negative thoughts for myself until a year into my divorce but once I did, I was stunned at the level of negativity I held for myself. Now, as a Christian, I am fully aware that we should view ourselves through the eyes of God who made us. I know the importance of the true beauty within us – our hearts and minds and the immeasurable way God loves us and in turn our capacity to reflect God’s love. I have to be honest though, I still couldn’t shake off those dark clouds that hung above me when I looked in the mirror and the discontent and criticism I had about myself.

These thoughts were so subtle, so non-evasive and shallow. They didn’t cut deep enough to stop me in my tracks and halt me but they were there simmering away quietly. 

“You need to make more of an effort.”

“Your skin is looking tired.”

“Your frown lines are deepening.”

“You look like you have a double chin.”

“Why can’t you lose weight quicker, you would be prettier.”

“You’re pathetic.”

“She must have been so much prettier.”

The worrying thing is for a long time I wasn’t even aware of these thoughts, I knew I was having them but they were unchecked, unchallenged, accepted and they were gaining momentum and eating away at my view of myself one cruel insult at a time. My husband’s betrayal only reinforcing and providing evidence for each self-criticism. 

Then one day I read about negative self-talk and about how damaging it can be and it was like a window was yanked open into my mind. I became aware of what I had been doing to myself. I had been bad mouthing myself at a time when I should have been showing myself the greatest understanding, love and care. I had been at my lowest ebb in my confidence and I was only dragging myself down further. 

Isn’t it unnerving how cruel we can be to ourselves? 

Our spouse or partner may have abandoned their love and compassion for us but what on earth happens when we do too? This is exactly what I had done. I wanted to leave that girl too, marooning her to my past. I wanted to disassociate from her with all her flaws and imperfections. No, I needed to change and evolve into someone new, someone who outshone her. Someone my husband would ache with regret over. And if that meant tearing myself down even more than I already was, then so be it.

It’s funny, if we hear a friend put themselves down we are always quick to build them up. It’s because we want them to think the best about themselves and have that self-confidence in themselves because we want the best for them. And yet, wow, we can really rip into ourselves, fixating on our flaws and pulling ourselves further apart. Somehow it seems we also lay into ourselves to an extra special degree at the worst possible times; when others have hurt us, mocked us, judged us, excused their own behaviours by blaming us. 

I’ve come to realise the need to be alert to what our inner dialogue is actually saying to us, about us. The need to try and catch ourselves in those thoughts, those harsh judgements. And when we catch them the need to say to ourselves, “If my friend said that about them self what would I say to them. How would I build them up?” That’s what we need, we need to be that friend to ourselves, building ourselves up again.

It didn’t come naturally to just start thinking positive thoughts about myself so instead I decided to begin by trying to stop the negative ones and challenge them. I knew it would take an active effort to be aware of and challenge the negative thoughts but being passive and leaving them unchallenged would be the biggest mistake I could make. Once I actively tuned into my thoughts and tried to catch myself when I thought something negative about myself, I was astounded at how many times I was challenging these thoughts, at how much had been slipping through the net of my mental filter, chipping away at my self-confidence.

Then, in time, I told myself I would replace the negative with something kind. If I felt badly about my weight, I would tell myself, you are still beautiful, still attractive, no matter what weight you are. 

Then I decided I would tell myself something positive, even if there was no negative to challenge, just for the pure self-kindness of it. I would look in the mirror and say, “You’re looking good today.” I would acknowledge all the facets of my character, my personality and my physical appearance and draw out why they were special and to be treasured in myself.

Now trust me, this doesn’t come naturally to me, it’s taking a very active and alert effort but, in all honesty, it is helping. The image I have of myself is changing and I’m guarding it, protecting it and not allowing the indiscretions of my ex-husband to shape me or my self-image any longer. It’s amazing how the actions of another can make us attack ourselves in such negative ways. It’s bewildering how we can focus our disdain on ourselves rather than put the culpability on them; their character, their behaviour, their choices.

I look at myself today and I see that so much healing has taken place and is taking place through God’s help and I am so grateful. I am so grateful to be in such a different place, not only in my life but in the way I view myself.

The reality is that betrayal, abandonment and cruel behaviour says so much about the person who does it. It speaks of their character. It speaks of their values. It may also speak of their insecurities and the influences and experiences that informed their capacity to hurt someone they loved. But, in all honesty, it says so little about who you are. Please never lose sight of that. Hold on to who you truly are and when you feel the focus of the lens you have on yourself becoming skewed, adjust it and correct it. Don’t let those negative thoughts scatter to the wind unchecked because, without even realising it, they may be building into a hurricane that threatens to tear you down further.

Instead, be that kind friend to yourself. Build yourself up even if it doesn’t come naturally at first. Remind yourself that you are worthy and that you truly are worthy of new love. Remind yourself that you are beautiful and unique and magnificent. Remind yourself that you truly are enough.

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