"Stupid," the voice is hostile. "Worthless," the voice means it. "Ugly, ungainly, unlovable," the voice is building up speed, intensity and fervour. This is verbal abuse. Who is the abuser? Me. Who is the victim. Me, again. If I was a staff hired to care for me, I'd dismiss him. This kind of behaviour is unacceptable. Why do I treat myself worse than I would allow someone to work in the field of disability.
But it's not just me. Recently I went to a deli and ordered a potato salad. The woman grabbed the wrong size container and I only noticed when she was half done. "Sorry," I said, "Could you switch to the large. I ordered a large."I was really polite because it wasn't a big deal. Woah, I was wrong. The poor woman started a stream of self-talk that amounted to verbal abuse. She called herself names, muttered about being stupid, slammed herself with past mistakes, compared herself unfavourably to someone named Maggie. It was awful to watch. I just witnessed horrible verbal abuse but I couldn't report anything to anyone because the abuser was the abused. I felt powerless. Hmmmm, just like I feel when I do it to myself.
Nicola was like that. As a woman with a disability she absorbed every negative thing ever said about her. She had a set of internal language that was inaccurate, incorrect and abusive in nature. Any staff who did that to her would have not only been fired, they'd have been prosecuted. It's not ok that Nicola engages in self injurious behaviour, it's not ok that we all do it. Nicola has a difficult enough time in the world. She needs to protect herself, not participate in her own abasement.
Our society has taught many of us to be incredibly critical of ourselves. To focus on our weaknesses. To be shamed by comparison to impossible others.
I think we pass it forward. We don't want to praise others, acknowledge others, because we've lost the ability to praise ourselves. Ask me what's wrong with me, what I'd like to change, I could give you a list. Ask me what I'm proud of, I'd get embarrassed and be unable to make even the slightest guess. I tell others to be positive but, in truth, I'm not. When I mean critical, I don't mean 'weigh the good and the bad', I mean ... bad.
Treat others as you would like to be treated, the old golden rules, makes no sense - if you treat yourself disrespectfully. The golden rule assumes that at the core we all have self worth.
I think it's time that we stop abuse. All of it. At Vita, where I work when I'm not on the road (I'm in Powell River river right now.) I am working on designing approaches aimed at creating a safe haven, an abuse free environment, and I'm wondering if this is the first step. Maybe we need to stop the abuser within before we can attempt to control the abuser without.
Next time your inner voice takes on that tone that will disparage you. Fire it. Send it to personnel. And hire a voice that has learned to say, 'Good job' every now and then.