For a very long time, I struggled not so much with low self-esteem, but a completely distorted self-image. It’s a story of growing up with verbal and emotional abuse, a turbulent adolescence with alcoholism and other self-destructive behaviors, a couple of major depressive episodes, an unplanned pregnancy and, perhaps the most relatable, a bunch of heartbreaks. I heard some terrible things being said to me in the guise of advice and concern for the most part of the last 30 years. Up until recently, those painful opinions became my nasty Inner Voice.
The Inner Voice – we all have it. That’s the voice that keeps you awake at night, repeating all your worries. It’s the voice that we hear ninety percent of the time we are alive. The School of Life points out that, “we internalize [these] unhelpful voices because at certain key moments in the past, they sounded compelling. The authority figures repeated their messages over and over until they became lodged into our own way of thinking.” I wanted that to stop.
On my 30th birthday, I decided to change my Inner Voice. Actually, I decided to heal and let go of negativity, period. This decision involved getting out of Manila and moving to La Union to raise my seven-year-old daughter with my partner. Being out here has opened not just my eyes, but also my ears, to what I really want and who I am. I had been telling myself: “You’re not good enough,” or even, “Puwede na ‘yan, that’s going to be the best you’ll be able to do.” The founder of Analytical Psychology, Carl Jung, calls this our Inner Saboteur: the part of ourselves that sabotages our own attempts at attaining happiness. It’s not easy, but I have been changing the way I talk to myself in my head. At different times of the day, I’ve chosen to say these five things:
1. YOU MADE IT.
When I look back at my career highs from the past decade, I no longer say, “Not bad.” I exclaim, “Hell yeah, you’re awesome!” The truth is that we can always do better, but I’ve stopped focusing on things long gone and done. I now take credit for my talent and my contributions. If you think back and clearly try to identify even just five times in the past 10 years that you did an amazing job, own it. Whatever it is, tell yourself that’s yours. Maybe other people noticed, maybe not – but cheer for yourself. High five yourself. Replay that in your mind before you fall asleep at night.
2. NO ONE IS REALLY LOOKING (THAT CLOSELY).
From forgetting to wear earrings to the smallest stain on my shirt, I used to get so self-conscious that I fail to enjoy myself or relax when I’m out. Living by the beach has helped ease this aspect, perhaps because there’s less clothes and hardly any makeup involved in my day-to-day. But I realized, too, that no one is actually paying that much attention. Everyone is too absorbed in their own thoughts, projecting their own self-image to even bother, so people really only notice what you decide to bring interest to about yourself. So don’t sweat the small stuff and focus your energy on your best angles, traits, and values.
3. JUST START.
No more excuses, when I want to get something done, I take action. Waiting for the stars to align before I set out for my dream is just a delaying tactic. I’m teaching myself to be okay with the mistakes that come with beginning, and realize that there is achievement in that by itself. In an age of instant gratification, we forget that the really beautiful things in this world take time and hard work. It’s important to get started now.
4. OPEN YOUR HEART.
I mean this as physically as it can be. I only started practicing yoga recently, but the experience has put me in a lot of poses that required me to open my heart by pulling my shoulders back and raising my chin off my chest. It’s allowed me to not only mind my posture and stand tall, but also remember that my body is strong and my heart is ready. It can accept what life will bring it.
5. LOVE TAKES WORK.
Last but not the least, I’ve come up with a personal mantra. I love this love. I thank this love. I forgive this love. I fight for this love. This is what I’ve been repeating to myself most often. I say it with my loved ones in mind, my friends, myself, and even just looking out at the beach. Any chance I get, I say it, with “this love” referring to this life, this day, this moment.
Since I started on this, I’ve become more patient with my partner and my daughter. We spend so much time together, but it can also drive me crazy. In those moments, I tell myself that my seven-year-old will one day not hang out with me this much, or ask for so many hugs. I remind myself that there was a time in our relationship when my partner’s and my only wish was to wake up beside each other everyday. Especially at their most annoying, this mantra has saved me from a total meltdown.
I also make it a point to tell myself these things even when there seems to be nothing happening at all. In the quiet moments, the unexciting times – I fill it with my Inner Voice reminding me that, above all, I have love.