Befriend Yourself to Silence Self-Criticism

Your comments on Wrestling With Self-Criticism and "Shoulds" reminded me of a terrific strategy to cope with negative self-talk, which How to Be Sick author Toni Bernhard describes in Have You Listened to Your Self-Talk Lately?1

It is a very simple technique in concept: When you're getting down on yourself for something migraine-related, ask yourself, "What would I say to a friend in this situation?" You will likely find that you'd have far more compassion and understanding for a friend than you ever show yourself. As with many coping methods, the difficulty is in embracing what you discover and continuing to practice it.

When I first read Bernhard's advice, I thought about how I react when my husband has a migraine. He tells me when he has a visual aura and I spring into action. After making sure he has all the meds he needs and a glass of water, I smooth out the sheets on his side of the bed, fluff his pillows, make sure he has fresh earplugs and the eye pillow, turn on white noise, and set a bucket by the bed. I help him settle into bed and ask him if he needs anything else. I ask if it is OK for me to kiss him or if he's already too uncomfortable for that. Then I close the door and let him rest for however long he needs. After he gets up, I ask how he's doing and if he wants something to eat. I remain solicitous for the rest of that day and the next, knowing how brutal a migraine hangover can be.

These practical actions are a manifestation of my tremendous concern and compassion for his well-being. I know he is not only in pain, but is nauseated, photophobic, phonophobic and has allodynia. He is suffering and I only want him to feel better. With his current medication cocktail, he describes his migraine pain as topping out at a level 5 and remaining severe for two or three hours.

Currently, my migraine attacks are less severe and shorter in duration than they have been in years. For me, too, the pain typically hits a level 5 and stays that high for a few hours. But mine happen nearly every single day. Instead of embracing myself with the same empathy I show my husband, I chastise myself for lying on the couch and wonder why I'm not getting more done. Why I'm not writing or cooking or calling friends or [insert any number of self-criticism here]. What I really need to ask myself is "How would I treat my husband if he were the one with the migraine?" or "What would I say to a sick friend right now?"

Starting now, I am committing to befriending myself for a week. For each bout of negative self-talk I notice, I will answer my criticism as if I were talking to a loved one. I will pay attention to how I feel emotionally and if my attitude toward myself changes. I'll keep notes and let you know how it goes. Will you join me in this experiment of positive self-talk?

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