Updated: Apr 7, 2020
I used to be an absolute bitch to myself. I am now not sure why I thought that this was ok. I knew to be polite, considerate and kind to other people. However, for whatever reason, I would deliberately think and say the most horrible things about and to myself. I thought I was fat and unlovable. I thought I was somehow unworthy of the usual things that most people had -- especially love and relationships. I became deeply depressed. Most of my teens and twenties I spent trying to pull myself out of the sucking hole of depression by working hard and hitting the milestones that the non depressed hit. I danced, choreographed and taught at a ballet company in my small town. I paid for my college tuition by doing that (that was before the price of college tuition was so out of reach). I got a master's degree. Before and after that degree, I moved to Italy and studied art, learned Italian, widened my world view, made close friends. Doing all of this did, actually improve the depression dramatically (especially the close friendships), but I still had destructive self talk. I called myself worthless, fat (thin was tied to my view of human value in a very illogical way), not x enough, not y enough, not z enough -- basically, not enough. No amount of achievement, friendship or experience could outweigh the oppressive self talk through which I constantly berated myself.
At a certain point I started to worry my sister. We would chat on the phone and most of the conversation would be normal, casual stuff about what was happening in each of our lives, things that struck us funny, made us mad, that kind of thing. But, I guess I threw in enough self flagellation to make her aware of the self inflicted wound festering under the surface. She was in her medical residency at the time and I remember her getting teary in a conversation that I thought was normal. She was really worried. She was also in a position to understand how this type of mental state can be dangerous. Her alarm at what was my "normal" made me take a step back and realize that I had to change something.
The thing that I knew, and that she also pointed out, was that no one would say the things I said about myself to anyone they cared about. In all honesty, I was the only one who said them to me. I was basically in an abusive relationship with myself and the rest of my life reflected it. My romantic relationships were disastrous. I dated men who I would've hunted down if they were dating a woman I loved. They were unfaithful, dismissive, neglectful, liars, and/or womanizers -- name your worst nightmare of a son-in-law or brother-in-law and that's who I dated. I moved all the time. I changed jobs all the time. I was transient.
Finally, in my early thirties, I made a tiny change that was the single most important thing I have ever done for myself. I made the resolution that I would not say anything to or about myself that I would not say to or about someone I loved.
Just making that resolution made me feel relief. It was like loosening a noose. I think the trajectory of my life changed at that moment. And, it really did begin to change. It took a little time, but I began to be able to treat myself with kindness and understanding. I eventually realized that I'm someone I like. I just had to act it out first and eventually the actions converted the belief.
The rest of my life followed suit. I stopped going out with losers (a pattern that I didn't even realize existed in my life). I found that all of the meandering experiences that I acquired while I was trying to get away from myself gave me a unique set of skills and perspectives. These were overlooked gems while I was busy being cruel to myself.
It does take a little discipline. When I still thought that I didn't matter enough to bother being nice, I would remember making my sister cry with worry. I decided that I had to act out the self care for her. Eventually, I did it for myself. Habits are very powerful and hard to break. I still notice myself slipping when I get into a funk, from time to time. A former smoker has to change his self view to non smoker to quit. I had to change my view of self to someone who is kind to all -- including me. Non smokers don't smoke and kind people aren't mean -- even to themselves. I want to be a kind person. I am a kind person. That makes life good and full of potential.