I consider myself a kind, loving person. I care about the lives and interests of others and I genuinely want the best for those closest to me. Because I grew up in a household where I was reminded daily of how much I was loved, supported and cared for, I have no problem expressing affection and compassion for others. I give compliments when they’re owed and on any given day you can catch me telling my friends how amazing, smart and beautiful I think they are, and how anyone who thinks otherwise of them should eat shit.
If only I spoke so highly of myself. Instead, many days I indulge in negative self-talk. We all do it. If you’ve ever criticized, blamed or ridiculed yourself, then you’ve done it. Although it mostly happens subconsciously or so often that it sounds like a perfectly acceptable thought, saying not-so-nice things to ourselves negatively impacts our life far more than we think. According to the Mayo Clinic, negative self-talk can lead to physical as well as emotional stress, harming your cardiovascular health, and immune system. In other words, talking shit about yourself gets you nowhere in life, and can make you worse off.
As someone who’s recovering from an eating disorder and managing the ups and downs of body dysmorphia, my head chatter comes in the form of body shaming, and body comparison. Some days I’m triggered by trying on clothes and not being happy with how they fit, other days I could simply walk past a mirror and become upset for not looking how I think I should. Without a second thought I’m telling myself how gross I am, or how said body part should be smaller, more fit, or more toned.
Finally I’d had enough. After opening up to friends about these super unproductive thoughts and hearing their similar stories, I vowed to replace negative self-talk with loving affirmations that only bring good vibes, for one month. Here’s how it went.
First, I had to decide what affirmation resonated best with me. I once heard someone else who was suffering from body dysmorphia say that whenever they fell into a downward spiral of hating their bodies, they would recite to themselves ‘I love and accept my body as it is today.” This resonated with me in so many ways. The statement was loving, kind and gentle, so in the spirit of my experiment, I borrowed the phrase and committed to saying it not only everyday for 30 days, but while I was looking at myself in the mirror. Awkward. Like most people I tend to talk outloud to myself every once in awhile, but it’s different when you’re consciously making an effort to stare at yourself in a mirror and talk. Luckily most of the awkwardness subsided after the first week. Pretty soon, every morning I stepped up to mirror to recite the line I felt less and less like a weirdo, and more like someone who was giving herself a nice pep talk.
Week two was a bit challenging. A few days I forgot that I was doing the experiment, and attempted to make up for it by reciting the affirmation whenever I remembered. As you can imagine, being present is important for affirmations and dedicating time to do it versus rushing to do it in the car or at work doesn’t have the same effect. I also noticed that because the affirmations became more of a habit, I tended to rush through them. I was nearing my halfway mark with the experiment and second guessing whether I should continue or cut my losses.
But, around the third week is where the magic happened. No, I didn’t walk around praising how amazing my body was or how I great I looked, but I did notice my head chatter lessening. I couldn’t remember the last time I said something mean about my body, nor was I triggered by the usual outside factors. I even lost the desire to compare myself to others, which would’ve sent me into an even deeper spiral in the past. For the first time in ages, I gave zero fucks about my body.
By the end of my trial I noticed the effects of affirmations seeping into other areas of my life. Overall I became less judgemental (a hard feat for a Virgo) and more compassionate for myself. And because I wasn’t obsessively talking negatively to myself anymore, I had more mental space to focus on things that did matter to me, outside of what I looked like. Surprisingly, I also experienced some fear. What would happen once I stopped the affirmations? Would I fall back into the negative self-talk? Or would I continue to feel peachy and less self-preachy.
Although I haven’t completely reverted back to my old ways, I’m not perfect. For a good portion of my life I’ve unknowingly participated in negative self-talk, so I don’t expect it to disappear overnight. What I can do is continue to be aware of the thoughts, understand that they hold no value and consciously replace them with words that are loving. Today, I give myself permission to be kind to myself.