Updated: Mar 21
We all have a tendency to be really harsh to ourselves in the way that we talk to ourselves and this is often amplified in motherhood. Fuelled by sleep deprivation and comparison with other mums (either in real life or on social media) we tell ourselves that we should be doing more and/or be coping better. And instead of a kind, wise, gentle voice to cheer us along, the tone is generally critical, judgmental and downright mean.
Think for a moment how you would talk to a friend who is having a hard time. What words would you choose and what would be your tone of voice? Warm, supportive, calm, kind, patient - is that about right?
Compare that to how you talk to yourself when you are struggling with something. Harsh, mean, judgmental, rude, cold - that seems to be the go-to and this inner critical voice is sadly pretty universal. But we're not powerless and it CAN be shifted! With a little background knowledge and some nifty tools, we can coax our inner dialogue in a more supportive, nourishing direction.
Our brains are primed to look out for negative and dangerous things, working overtime to keep us safe from harm. Simply knowing that they're essentially on our side, rather than looking to tear us down, can be really helpful. And luckily there's lots we can do to tweak the way the inner critic sounds and acts, and nudge our brains towards more kindness and self compassion in the process.
So while the inner critic has its place, what we need, especially right now in this ongoing pandemic, is a cheerleader, not someone who's tearing us down. We need building up, rather than tearing down. Through others, as well as our own actions and thoughts. And while we can't do much else, we might as well start thinking nicer thoughts about ourselves, right?
Let's explore a few ways of how that's possible.
First up - finding a loving kindness phrase
Loving kindness phrases are like little gentle wishes for ourselves, designed to give us what we need to feel whole, every day. They are totally personal and look to fulfil universal, basic human needs like love, belonging, safety, respect, health etc, rather than manifesting something specific or material like no longer being tired or for the kids to stop arguing.
They can include things we need to hear from ourselves but, to a degree, also from others. When we're able to provide what we need for ourselves, it makes us less reliant on external validation as a result. And while we should always ask for what we need from others, when we're able to provide some of it ourselves, we're not asking others from a place of complete lack and desperation.
Having a few loving kindness phrases to use can also be a real anchor in unsettling times. Especially right now, when we're not able to receive a lot of reassurance from other people through real life connection. Those will of course always be important and loving self talk will never replace that, but we can create a state of mind that feels more abundant, secure and kind, by giving ourselves what we need.
Here's how to begin to find yours:
Take a deep breath, place a hand on your heart and allow yourself to be receptive and to honestly answer these next questions:
What do I need? What do I truly need to hear every day to feel ok? What do I need to know is true?
Write down what pops into your head, whether that's words or phrases. Repeat the questions back to yourself a few times, maybe closing your eyes to let them sink in for a bit.
Once you have a few words that feel meaningful, you can play around with creating sentences that feel right to you.
The traditional phrasing is "May I". May I feel/be .....peaceful, safe, healthy etc. You might have come across phrasing like this in guided meditations before. See how this sounds to you.
You could be more direct and choose "I am" .....loved, valued, strong, patient, a good person. It becomes more of an affirmation than a gentle wish then.
Or you could make it more fun by using phrases such as sweetheart / honey / darling / any nickname, if that's your cup of tea. "Honey, this is hard right now but you're safe".
And if these all feel too direct and a bit much, you could soften it by adding "begin to" or "starting to". We don't always have to get right to the centre of something. Just dipping your toe in at the edge is a great starting point. A gentle start it better than no start at all.
Have a read over the phrases you've come up with. See how they make you feel. You can try them out for a while, see how they land, and then swap them round or change them until they hit the spot. Then repeat, repeat, repeat. You're trying to exchange or at least balance the negative chatter in your head with these positive and kind statements as much as possible, to bring about a real change in how you feel and care for yourself. It takes a little time and practice but I promise that shift will come.
It's worth adding here that the phrases are not meant to take any uncomfortable or difficult feelings away, but instead allow you to hold yourself with more compassion and kindness so that you can face the everyday from a place of support and softness, rather than lack and harshness.
To make this a double whammy of self kindness - add soothing touch
While self talk can be really powerful, actions often speak louder than words. Our nervous systems respond in a hugely positive way to touch and the good news is, it doesn't have to come from someone else (but please still hug those you're allowed to!).
Have you ever noticed how your hand instinctively jumps to your heart when your child takes a nose dive onto the pavement? Or that you wring your hands when you're nervous? That's your body instinctively trying to calm and regulate itself and we can use this to our advantage when we need a quick tool to calm, connect and centre.
There's a couple of ways to find soothing touch that works for you.
When you're having a physical reaction to something, you can simply use touch to calm that area of your body (rub your tummy when it's full of butterflies, hand on your heart when it's racing, squeeze your upper arms when you really need a hug).
Or you can try out lots of different things and use whatever gestures feel the most supportive and useful to you.
Below are a few to try out. If you have a minute to do this, it's nice to warm your hands up by rubbing them together so you can feel their warmth when you place them on your body. Really take in the kind intention behind your touch, too, to get the full benefit.
Clasp your hands, rest one inside of the other in your lap or massage your hands.
Place one, or both, hands on your heart. I love slightly leaning into my hands here to feel extra supported and held.
Hands on belly, either still or in motion.
One hand on your chest and one on your belly. A lovely way to check in with, and calm, your breathing.
Rub or squeeze your upper arms.
Give yourself a hug.
Massage your earlobes.
Put your hands and on your cheeks. Especially nice when you're all flushed about something.
Rest your forehead into your hands.
There's no right or wrong way to do this so whatever feels good, is good! Maybe just keep it appropriate to where you are - although I have to say I've given up caring whether people in the playground see me giving myself a hug.
Using these two practices together whenever you remember (pushing through the bit where it feels a bit forced and weird at first) will go a long way towards making yourself feel more cared for and supported.
About the author
Silke Thistlewood founded Raise Up Mums in 2018 after her own struggle with post natal depression and anxiety and supports women as they adjust to motherhood - from pregnancy through the many phases of raising humans - with realistic self care and resilience tools. Something that just wasn't around when her kids were little (they're now 4 and 8 ). Raise Up Mums offers a free online community and membership program, self care workshops and a deck of resilience cards.
She's also practiced massage for the last 12 years, with a recent focus on pre and post natal treatments, including scar massage for c-sections. As a strong believer in community, she also facilitates a networking community for women in business in Kent.