Mara had a million ways of verbally beating up on herself. When she got up in the morning she'd look in the mirror and say, "O, my God," as if she'd just encountered a witch. When she looked in her closet to dress, she'd bawl herself out for not having anything decent to wear. When she got to work, she'd beat herself up because her desk was a mess, she wasn't accomplishing enough. She wondered why her boss had hired her anyway-she wasn't smart enough for the job. The litany continued when she got home. She didn't know what to fix for dinner and she criticized herself for not planning meals better. This went on until she went to bed-when she condemned herself for staying up so late.
The nagging self-loathing voices were always the harshest when Mara would lie awake in the middle of the night. Then she would really go at it-recounting all her stupidities and limitations, until she was beaten to shreds emotionally.
When she told me about her relentless voices, and we talked about her past, it was apparent that her inner voices were the reruns of her parents' non-stop stream of brutalizing commentary, judgment, and criticism: "Why are you so stupid; why can't you ever do anything right? Who'd ever pick you for anything? Where on earth did you get that outfit? Who'd want you for a friend? You look like a corpse, wearing all that makeup." As Mara repeated this ream of emotionally devastating remarks, she fell apart in my office. These vicious comments were so deeply embedded in her psyche that for her entire life she'd done nothing but repeat them to herself.
I suggested that since she already knew how to talk to herself, she could change the content of what she was saving-keep talking, but say something different. The first thing I suggested was that when she woke up in the night and the voices started taking her apart she should quietly and firmly say: "I'm not going to listen to that anymore." It was simple, and she did it. She reported that it worked immediately. The negative, self-loathing voices went away. Then I encouraged her to make a list of what she needed to say to herself to displace the violent voices. Here's what she wrote:
Living by these two rules has been a challenging Journey for Mara; but the more she repeats them to herself, the more she values herself, and the more she is able to receive the praise that others express.
To support herself in this process, Mara also used a simple behavior modification tool-buying a circlet of wooden prayer beads she wore on her wrist. She would touch the beads and say a sentence of self-praise after she made an unkind comment about herself. This method may seem simplistic, but it is a very powerful way of regrooving mental attitudes. It worked for Mara. It could work for you.