This week’s post is written by Karin Peabody at Karen was a speaker at the Fall Women’s Summit.

It’s 2020 – the year of Unprecedented Times – and we have heard a lot about Self-Care.  But there are wildly different definitions of what self-care actually means. Because I believe that Self-Care is a moral obligation for those who work with the public (and ANYONE in 2020!), an accurate definition of self-care is crucial. 

Self-Care cannot be a privilege for those who can afford it.  It can’t be a once a year vacation.  Self-Care has to be daily, and do-able in order to be something that will sustain us.  I really like this quote;

True Self-Care is not salt baths and chocolate cake.  It is making the choice to build the life you don’t need to regularly escape from.

Brianna West

This definition feels both adult and connected to reality.  It’s not about escape or fantasy.  It’s deeply rooted to real life.  And when that is happening, there is hope. 

Self-Talk is a really important part of self-care. Self-Talk is that voice in your head that is trying to keep you in your place.  It is a running commentary on your worth and your work.  It can be mean. And it’s usually old.   If our self-talk is undermining, we won’t practice self-care because it will feel selfish. No wonder self-care feels unwieldy.

A few years ago, I was teaching Social and Emotional Learning lessons at a local elementary school, and I was asked to visit a Kindergarten class. Because they had already been talking about the subject of bullying, I asked the question, “have you ever had a voice in your head that is saying mean things about you?

Immediately a Kindergartener jumped up and said, “I have a bully in my head and it says, “You’re stupid! You’re ugly! And nobody is gonna play with you at recess!” 

For a moment, there was a stunned silence.  And then her classmates went to work.  They started saying “That’s not true!”  “You’re smart!” and “Will you sit with me at lunch?”  Her fears were quelled by the huge response from her classmates. The beauty of children is that they actually externalize their thoughts.  And then there’s a chance for truth to get in. 

Very often we aren’t even aware of how mean our self-talk is.  And as adults, we stop externalizing those accusations.  Instead, we just listen.  The thoughts are so old that they feel like the truest truth.  It’s one thing to feel like nobody will want to play with you at recess when you’re 5 years old.  It’s an entirely different thing when you’re 35, or 55 – that feels scary and disorienting and young.  Self-Care is being kind and curious to that young self. Self-Care is being the adult you needed when you were little.

Why is this important to talk about right now?

40 percent of adults have 2 or more Adverse Childhood Experiences and when there is trauma in your background, old issues can feel really fresh right now.  Because of unpredictability of future and the authority figures in our lives, and because of the isolation we are experiencing, old trauma feels present.

So, it’s important that we are aware of the following Self-Talk Traps.

Self-Talk Traps

Comparing Pain. Comparison is the thief of joy.  Maybe in your family of origin you had a steady diet of hearing, “well at least it’s not as bad as…”  That response keeps us from being able to stay in our own pain and grieve the way we need to.

Cognitive distortions. When we are exhausted, our thinking becomes rigid and binary.  Things are good or bad. We have either friends or foes.  Viewing the world through a simplified, extreme, and negative lens.   When you start using words like “always” and “never” to describe your family, friends or work, that’s cognitive distortion at work.

Self-Talk ABC’s

Here are some basic strategies to put into practice to improve your own self-talk.

A is for Awareness – take the next two weeks and just practice awareness.

What does your self-talk sound like?  These are oftentimes accusations we don’t want to be true, but deep down, we believe that they are.

Fear of failure is worse than failure.  Some of my best growth has happened when my worst fear came true.  I made that person mad, and I did not die.   I did mess up on that project, and nobody had to go to the hospital because of it.  I did act like a jerk, and I said I was sorry and we worked it out.  When we can be honest with ourselves and quit fearing our failure, we find out a beautiful thing; It’s ok to be a human being.

Have you ever been to an AA meeting? There is a beautiful spacious humility about it.  Nobody is shocked that you make mistakes and have to try again.  What a gift to find people who really know you and love you anyway.  What a relief to quit performing your life.

B is for Bear.  Sometimes thoughts are valid but not true.  If you believed there was a bear standing behind you, you might run or freeze.  It would make sense that you would feel scared to death.  Your response to that belief would be valid.  But the belief would not be true. 

When our children have self- talk that is full of lies – if they believe they are ugly or worthless – we must take their suffering seriously.  Instead of dismissing it, we must acknowledge it.  As parents who love our kids we want to say “THAT’S NOT TRUE!!” We panic at the lies they believe about themselves.  We’re heartbroken.

But if we can address the impact first, it makes all the difference. We can say “I’m sorry.  I know that feeling and it feels terrible.  I wish you could see you like I see you…”   It’s helpful to talk about the bear.  A response can be valid, but not true.  Even naming that difference can be the beginning of change.

C is for Coach – Bullying illegal in Washington State.  Some of us carry a bully in our heads, and it’s time to start talking back.  If someone was saying those demeaning things to a precious child that you love, what would you say instead?  Start talking back. Get a good adult coach onboard in your brain.  

Raise awareness around your self-talk.  Determine to remain kind and compassionate, just like you would to a dear friend.  And when a big feeling comes up, stay with yourself.  Be the adult you needed when you were growing up.  That will be the beginning of healing, which is the best kind of self-care there is.


Betty Lochner is a human resources consultant, business coach, and expert in workplace communications. She is the author of two books on communication, and a newly published journal, Intentional Gratitude.

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