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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?

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

Berhard, Toni. Have you listened to your self-talk lately? Psychology Today. Available at: Accessed October, 2012.


  • Cindi
    7 years ago

    I’m working on this now… trying to take better care of myself, but I’ll admit I will lay in bed berating myself for having to be there, as if it’s my fault. I promise I will try to think what my best friend might say and perhaps I’ll even feel better sooner? If not, it’s still the right approach. Great article.

  • Nancy Harris Bonk moderator
    7 years ago

    It is a constant battle, Cindi, to be kind to oneself. My self care is probably my weakest point. But I’m working on it.

  • Ellen Schnakenberg
    7 years ago

    Wow – you just told my story, just subbing the hubs for the kids. I try to do this, but sometimes I get so angry at myself for being a sickie and letting things go, it’s hard to treat myself better! I preach it to other patients pretty continuously. Time to practice what I preach – eh?!

  • CathyC
    7 years ago

    After a 3 week duration of non stop migraines and some over the top ones too, I got pretty depressed for a couple weeks, besides being drained. A few days ago I looked over at my computer and decided to go check my email, there was one from an online womens group that sends me encouraging things. This one in particular was called “In a Funk ?” I thought”yup”. It talked about how your body chemistry can be off, some others, that sometimes we just need to go to a place and be quiet to listen to re charge ourselves, yet don’t go to the darkness. That these things happen from time to time to all of us, so not to worry, you’ll be back to feeling like you, shining bright in no time. It was signed You are so very very loved xo xo xo xo That was so so wonderful. Of course I cried. This person doesn’t know me, yet somehow knew I needed this. We all do and shouldn’t beat ourselves up for what we don’t have control over. We are all so very very loved xo xo xo xo Thank you Kerrie for reminding us to care for ourselves so in turn we can care for others. : ))

  • taralane
    7 years ago

    Thanks for your post Kerrie. I have just been dealing with this myself, and trying to let myself off the proverbial hook, and just do what I need to do to take care of myself.
    You husband is lucky to have you!

  • Nancy Harris Bonk moderator
    7 years ago

    Thank you Kerrie for this wonderful reminder that I need to be kinder to myself. Count me in!

  • Paulaff
    7 years ago

    Thanks for your article. I am the only one in my family (or my husband’s) who has chronic migraine, so understanding on their part has come slowly. For years I’d pop a pill & continue working because nothing was ‘noticeably wrong with me’. Of course, the pain usually got worse through the day. As my husband began to realize what this syndrome was like, he became my advocate. Now he’ll remind me to stop what I’m doing if he knows I’m in pain. Only now, after 20+ years of migraine am I allowing myself to just crash when the pain becomes severe. It’s always good to have someone remind me of that. Thanks!

  • Julie
    7 years ago

    what a loving, wonderful, compassionate, caring, nurturing caregiver you are to your lucky husband. I hope he realizes how lucky he is to have you in his life and to have you take such good care of him when he gets a horrible migraine. I would hope he also returns he favor. I applaude you for taking the opportunity for taking the approach to treating yourself as you would treat a loved one and a valued friend. You must show yourself love and compassion as well. I hope and pray wih all my heart that you too will find this an uplifting and positive experience. It won’t take away your pain but it will give you some measure of peace. Remember my dear friend that practice and patience will pay off in the end and you will find more peace with yourself. It has helped me after all these years and especially after these past 2 1/2 really difficult years and I feel more peaceful with myself and less stressed. Some stress will pop up from time to time but I have learned to squash it like a little bug immediately and silence it. Meditation CD’s on very, very low volumne help when tolerated to reinforce positive thoughts. Wishing you good luck. You can do this!!

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