Episode 8

“I Hate Myself!” How to handle it when our children have negative and destructive thoughts

November 22, 2021

[Kyle]: Hello and welcome to episode 8 of The Art of Raising Humans podcast. I'm Kyle.

[Sara]: And I'm Sara.

[Kyle]: And today, we want to hit a topic that is all too common, going on in families and in our culture, specifically seeing it a lot in the private practice, and even just in ourselves, you know? We're going to talk about negative self-talk. You know, when people really just beat themselves up. I know we even kind of alluded to this back in “the fear and shame” podcast, you know? You talked about how many of us have been raised in homes where punishment was kind of prevalent, you know? Punishment was the main way-- the main tool used to shift people towards change, you know? And in our culture, in general, that's a lot as used too, you know? A lot of name-calling, a lot of insulting, a lot of putting people down, to then try to shame them into changing, you know, those kinds of things going on; and you see this happening a lot with kids.

[Kyle]: I'm sure a lot of it's exasperated by social media, and the way they see people talk to each other on there, the way people bully each other, all that kind of stuff but, specifically, I want to kind of just have a conversation with you Sara about, not only self-talk that happens with the kids and how you hear a lot of kids kind of: “I can't do this” or “I'm dumb” or you know, “I'm not good at math” you know, they'll say things like that, but then also how we as parents also model that, what to do with that self-talk, you know? Because, I know it's all too common in our brains too! We have a voice in our head that many times beats the snot out of us when we mess up, you know? And throughout the long time I've known you, I feel like it's really successful part of our parenting and our marriage, is talking to ourselves kinder.

[Kyle]: You know? I know so many times it reveals to me when I'm mad or frustrated with the kids, when I talk to them, it's really revealing the words that come out of my mouth, you know? Because obviously it's coming out of me and it really much mirrors how I talk to myself and when I'm honest with it, what I'm doing is trying to motivate the kids with some of that negative self-talk, because I believe it helped me in some way, you know? And I think that's a problem, because inevitably it begins to wear you down. So, just wanted to hear your thoughts on your experience with negative self-talk in your life.

[Sara]: Yeah, I think we all have that inner critic and our inner critic is usually-- knows those spots to hit and that could be from voices from our childhood, just experiences in life that inner critic gets really fine-tuned and it's hard to know what to do with the inner critic. But, it-- we all know it rips us down, I think there's a lot of us that go: “oh, okay, I don't want to be motivated by my inner critic” but yet, it's there. And you can just feel awful, that inner critic can just rip you apart and I've already forgotten your question [Laughs] But I was thinking about how-- with that voice and where-- you asked me what I do with it?

[Kyle]: Yes, yes! [Laughs] How does negative self-talk affected you? Like, what's that experience for you?

[Sara]: I have this memory when I was oh-- I was probably 11, maybe 12, and I was running a projector and my whole job was just to slide, if you've ever seen an old projector, it's a very old projector, you lay this thing on and the light shines through it and you just move it so people can read the words, and I remember one time, I moved it and I went back to my seat being all quiet and I realized it was slightly crooked and I nearly cried, I felt so bad about it not being perfect and I think that-- I mean, now I look back at that and I go: “Who cares? Who was even looking--?”

[Sara]: “Who cares?”, you know? But that's what our inner critic does, it rises up as this giant monster and it makes things really big and we just get smaller and smaller and smaller and we are hoping that next time I'll make that projector line completely straight or I'll whatever it is, I'll be perfect at it, but we're just not going to be perfect and I really started to try, I don't know, I remember when-- but I remember this turn in my life where I realized how critical and how it was just ripping me apart to be so critical to, you know, so hard on myself and so I started jumping into more of self-compassion and giving empathy to myself and that had just never occurred to me before.

[Kyle]: Me neither, yeah

[Sara]: To sit and go if I make a mistake to actually hold myself in that space and have compassion for myself, I thought: “no, that that's not what you're supposed to do, you're supposed to give yourself 50 lashes, so next time you won't make the same mistake” but what we're finding is, that doesn't! It doesn't work the way we think it does. 

[Sara]: Was I super nervous to make that projector crooked again? Yeah. But, did it give me confidence? Did it put me in a good space to--? No! Giving myself compassion in these moments of mess up, that's a really silly example, obviously we have things where we've seriously messed up, but giving yourself compassion will allow yourself to grow and allow yourself to reflect on the moment. 

[Sara]: And go: “okay, that's great this is a learning opportunity, it doesn't have to be this doomsday, I'm a horrible person because I messed up” I can stop and go and look back at and go: “what did I learn from that moment? What did I like what went well what didn't go well and how would I change it?”. 

[Kyle]: Yeah. Well, I think what you're saying is, you know, this ability then to really take responsibility for what happened, like even in that situation, the idea of the projector, right? Is, I think, the fear a lot of parents have in doing that to themselves, but also even showing that to their kids when they mess up, is it lets them off the hook.

[Kyle]: You know? When really that's not true at all. It's like when I'm beating myself up, I'm not actually taking responsibility, I'm just punishing myself for messing up. If I can actually show myself empathy and self-compassion, what we know about the brain is I actually then can get into the prefrontal cortex where the ability to take responsibility for the thing and do it differently or better next time actually lies. I mean, how many of us, I mean such a big thing in our cultures: dieting, losing weight, you know-- Becky Bailey, Dr Becky Bailey from “Conscious Discipline” has a great example how people do this all the time when it comes to eating, you know? That what they'll do that inner critic, is first they'll be like: “I'm gonna be strong, I'm not getting any sweets this week” and they'll go to work and they'll sit down in the work area and they'll see somebody walk in, there's donuts there and you're like: “I'm not gonna eat those donuts, they're not good for me” and then that guy will eat the doughnuts and you go: “oh my gosh! Look at him eating the donuts” and you'll immediately instead of criticizing you, you'll criticize them and you start to like go: “look at me, I'm better than that person”.

[Kyle]: So, really, you're just doing the out, but she says: “by the end of the week and we've all been there by the end of the week, you're like-- your ability to hold off on those sweets is kind of a lot, so you eat a bunch and then you beat yourself up and criticize yourself the same way you criticize the person at work for doing it” and that's the problem with the criticism, it never ends, you know? And even if it turns away from me, then I criticize you for not doing it as good as me, you know? And I know I have felt that many times in our marriage throughout the time, where I would start to get really critical of you because I'm really good at something and somehow you should be as good as me at that and it becomes like a really-- I want to say toxic type thing that happens in a relationship, you know?

[Sara]: Yeah, it's just a place of judgment in a place of: “okay, how are you doing and let me compare myself to you and let me compare it”. It's just-- Everything starts breaking down when you're in that place of the critic and that negative self-talk.

[Kyle]: So, I know for me, the way I started to learn this especially is: “I wanted to get better at not being so mad”. So, quickly, anger it was the thing that I could quickly access as a parent and I wanted so badly to stop yelling and get better at that, you know? To give-- And early on, I would make a commitment to a kid, so I would do all types of things, I'd be like: “kids, I'm gonna not yell anymore, I'm gonna work on this”, right? And inevitably by the end of the day, I've already messed that up, you know? Because change is hard and then, I found out what I would do, is I get really mad at myself and I say things like, “you suck, what is your problem?” Like, “you can't even do it for one day, I mean, how hard was it do one day? I mean, your kids are gonna like grow up just seeing you as this mean monster”. So, all of these kinds of things would go on and part of me was like “that's what I need to do to stop yelling”, but then I found I actually was more likely to yell quicker when that was going on, because then I almost saw the kids as like, “oh no”. I just want to-- I almost want to be away from them [Laughter] Like being near them is another opportunity to fail.

[Kyle]: If I’m around them and their sibling conflict or they're not doing things as fast I’d like them to, I’m ready to just jump on it and then beat myself up again and so, what I noticed was shame, shaming myself, judging myself perpetuated the problem. It wasn't actually freeing me to be something better, you know? So, I found I actually got better at not yelling-- Not when I beat myself up, but when I actually gave myself some positive intent, when I actually showed myself some grace, but the fear was if I did that, like I said, I’m letting myself off the hook like, I need to be punished for doing the thing I said I wasn't going to do, because that seemed to be the model I had.

[Sara]: Yeah. I think my brain just exploded with a lot of ideas, but I think we have some great examples. I was thinking, how do we talk to our kids about negative self-talk? And my son recently read the wright brothers biography and that we have some great people in history; I think it's a practical look at how we do this. The wright brothers failed a lot of times before they got that plane flying and I know if you read Edison, I can't remember how many, he made a lot of light bulbs that didn't work before he got one that worked and if they would have sat there and said “we can't build this airplane, look at us, we're idiots. Why are we even trying this? Who can put something in the air? We're not birds”. You know, they could have gone down this whole road of all their failure and all their mistakes or “it's your fault because you're not doing this good enough” or “I’m not doing this good enough” and then, we wouldn't have-- We wouldn't be where we are today, right?

[Sara]: But they, I know in both cases they look and go “oh, that didn't work. What didn't work about it? What didn't I like about that?” and so, they saw it as “we haven't figured it out yet, but that doesn't mean all pathways are over, we just got to find a different route, we got to try something different, let me look at that”. So, they didn't beat themselves up over it, they instead saw it as an opportunity because they were in that prefrontal cortex and that part of their brain, that's creative, that's problem-solving, they gave-- And so, they were able to move forward with different ideas. So, coming back to you, if you give yourself that “oh, I yelled a lot today. What's my goal? What do I want to do?”, instead of staying in a place of “oh, I’m just this horrible person because I did that”.

[Kyle]: Yeah, you failed again.

[Sara]: You just own it, you own it, you say “okay, that's what I did, this is what I didn't like, this is what I’m gonna try” and then the next day, you start over and you try that different route and you keep trying pathways until it gets you closer to where you're wanting to be and go, and how much more successful is that than “Don't do it! Don't do it! Bad person! Bad person!”?

[Sara]: That doesn't get you where you're wanting to go as quickly as looking at your options and finding new pathways and we can do that with ourselves, in any goal in any area of life and we can model that for our children and teach our children to do that.

[Kyle]: Yeah. Well, that's why I want to start with the voice between-- In ourselves, in our own head, right? Because if I’m not doing it, you know. I think one of the most powerful things, you know, I say this a lot, there's a lot of powerful things that I really like [Laughter]. I was like “man, I think I just said the most”, but anyway. One of the most powerful things that I got with my time with Dr. Becky Bailey at her conference is, when she said “kids don't have an inner voice from like zero to seven”. I mean, that's not like, you know, perfectly there, but about zero to seven, zero to eight, they're not really having this inner critic that you're saying it's in her voice, you know? And she said that their voice comes online about seven or eight years old and the thing that really hit me was, that voice sounds a lot like us. You know, it's really the gift that we give our kids, is that voice and so, part of the legacy we leave our kids is that voice.

[Kyle]: That voice that I hear whenever I mess up, typically was given to me either verbally or non-verbally by my parents, by teachers in my life, by coaches and to me, for most of what you hear from clients and what I feel myself. I don't know how you feel, but is “it's not good enough, Kyle, it's not good enough. You need to get better, you need to improve, it's ridiculous. Stop messing up, I’m sick of it, I’m tired of it”, you know? And it was lots of times, even I remember and I’m sure my dad didn't mean to do this, but I remember even in soccer, that's a fantastic example it was like, soccer, I’d be playing soccer, my dad was my coach and I would mess up and the first thing I would do when I messed up was look to the sideline to see what my dad's expression was and typically, it was disappointment, at least in my mind. He may have been looking at some other player [Laughter] I mean, completely disappointed, but in my mind, all I saw on my dad's face was “again? Are you serious?”.

[Kyle]: And then, you know Sara, with our kids playing soccer, I love soccer, but then our kids would do and I remember even getting-- I was getting so frustrated at Abby, I was getting so mad because she wasn't performing the way I thought she should, which my dad would be like “you were doing the same thing at that age” [Laughter] But most likely what I was doing and this was the light bulb that came on was, I was just repeating the whole thing. That the thing I thought my dad did to me, to motivate me, which actually didn't motivate me, I was trying to do to Abby to motivate her, some way to be a better soccer player by focusing on how much she wasn't doing well and I know one of the coaches even said “the stats show that the biggest reason why kids quit sports is the ride home, it's that whole conversation home”. So, that really hit me of just like “oh my gosh”, like that voice that our three little kids are gonna have in their head the rest of their life, is gonna sound like mine? And part of me says “well, great, because I want to influence them”. [Laughter] But then, I don't want to give them the voice that I have in my head, at least when I’m in a good place, you know?

[Kyle]: And so, I think that's why we got to be really thoughtful, about the voice we're listening to, about whether we're showing ourselves empathy or self-compassion. Because we're not only modeling it, but we're literally giving it to them, to sit in their head and just talk to them.

[Sara]: Yeah, yeah. I think about that reminds me of the story-- Sometimes our kids leave stuff in places. And sometimes our voices “how come you don't remember that!?”

[Kyle]: “How many times have we told you!?”

[Sara]: And then sometimes we leave something somewhere. [Laughter] So, then it's our chance to go “oh, right”. And we talk about that with our kids, you know? We messed up, our voice in that case we were telling you this, but it's that chance to come back and we mess up, sometimes we do-- We give our kids the wrong voice because we've got the wrong voice and our parents have the wrong voice and their parents have been wrong, you know? So, it's in there, sometimes we're gonna mess up and I’m gonna criticize myself and I’m gonna do that same voice to my kids that I don't want them, I don't wanna do, but we just can also-- That's also an opportunity for compassion and communication, to say “you know what? That voice is in me and sometimes it comes out; let's talk about that. Sorry about that”. Go back and teach them that they can pay attention to that inner voice and rework that inner voice.

[Sara]: You know, even though that may be what came into my head. I see that now and now I’m going to do something-- I’m going to say something else to myself and because I know my daughter, she gets real nervous about leaving things and so, we talk about it, and what's her voice saying? “I mess up” or “I’m a quitter” or “I forget things when I should remember them”.

[Kyle]: Yeah, yeah. “What's my problem? Why do I keep forgetting this?”

[Sara]: And that's actually not gonna help her remember, she's gonna be super anxious about forgetting things and then, what's gonna happen? She's gonna forget things and so, we gotta come back to them and say “all right, let's rewrite that voice a little bit, okay? Let's go in and hug that girl that forgot something, because it's really stressful to forget things and let's make a different plan”.

[Kyle]: I love that picture, hug that girl that forgot something. You know, it's funny you brought up the story because just last night, Abby and I were driving somewhere and we were listening to podcast episode three about fear and shame. And Abby said “Dad, I like this podcast with you and mom talking and just so you know, sometimes you do that whenever I forget things and the other day I forgot something, I told mom not to tell you because I didn't want you to get upset at me and do the whole fear and shame thing”. So, it also even there, she's like less apt-- She was like “it's harder to be open and honest with you because I’m afraid I’m going to get there”. I even know we've had conflict about playing ping pong, as silly as that, playing ping pong, because I get frustrated that she's not catching on with ping pong as much as Brennan’s catching on and so, it's not as much fun sometimes in those moments to do that. Why? Because it triggers something in me and then I start getting critical of her and then, she'll be like “why are you so upset about the--?” and I’ll even tell her, it's because somehow in me, I feel like I got better at tennis and ping pong and all these sports by yelling at myself. [Laughter]

[Kyle]: I told myself “Stop sucking at this! Go get better!” and so, I feel like somebody if I do this with you, you'll somehow get motivated or mad enough at me, that you'll want to do it.

[Sara]: Yeah, we can start to believe that in our critic and it's really easy to believe that that is the way to motivate ourselves, especially-- And our children. We think we've got to come down on them, they've got to know because otherwise, they'll never change and it's a real flip, this was a real hard thing for me to even really buy into or see-- I thought “that sounds too good to be true”. I could move in with love and compassion and people will change?

[Sara]: No, first I have to come in hard and really come down on myself and others and then, maybe you can get nice.

[Sara]: You can't move in with kindness and have people change, but it's blown my mind how many times that actually does work.

[Sara]: Where people are more likely to take responsibility and own what they did and then create a change plan and like you said, Abby felt like she had to hide.

[Sara]: Where that's not gonna change her. If she needs to grow in an area, it's just a skill you need to build, right? But she feels like she needs to hide that she has a deficit, instead of being able to take responsibility and we want people to be able to come-- We want our kids to come to us and say “I don't think I’m very good at this” or “I messed up” and especially when they're teenagers.

[Sara]: The stakes are high, if they mess up you want them coming to you. So, you want to lay that groundwork, “we make mistakes, don't let that inner voice beat you down, come to us, talk to us” and that has to start, we have to model it with ourselves, we have to model it with them. “Come to us and then we can make a plan” and it's just, it was crazy to me, to buy in or start acting on the idea that I could come with compassion and empathy and that would actually yield the change and help them with that inner voice and help them with the hiding of, you know, the secrecy “I don't want to tell you because of the shame” and that inner voice beating them down.

[Kyle]: Well, that brings me to two points. So, one, what you were saying is, when we are criticizing and using a negative voice with ourselves or with our kids, we're not taking responsibility, you know? So, literally when the kid, when Abby would mess up, forget and I would use that critic, I’m not actually allowing her to take responsibility. I am saying “I will take responsibility to motivate you to do it differently by criticizing”, you know? And so, the ability to actually have the empathy is a switch, it reminds me of an example Dr. Becky Bailey used of a car coming on the sidewalk, that we could look at that and say “what an idiot! What an idiot drives on the sidewalk!?” like as we're walking. They shouldn't be on the sidewalk, but she's like, “you can do that all day long, the car's still gonna kill you, it's gonna run you over”.

[Kyle]: The only way change can happen is through acceptance, it's not through resistance. I have to accept the fact that that car's there and then decide what I want to do with it. So, for instance, with the forgetting things, except the fact that that's a challenge, it's something that's hard for me to remember stuff and then implement ways to remember that stuff, right? So, that's the first point. The second point is that I want to end our podcast with is, I think a lot of parents and specific we can do this too, we can get triggered with “I can't do this!” or “I’m just too dumb” or “I can't even--”, because typically there'll be a tantrum involved and there's something in us triggers that. I was like “oh, come on! Stop!”. You know, lots of people will call it whining, lots of people will say like “well, you can't if you keep saying «can't»”, you know, there'll be a lot of like, we'll come back at it, we'll resist their negatives talk, because we don't want it, we don't want to hear all that, it's gross. We instead will resist it and sometimes tell them to not show us that, right? “I don't want to hear all that, I’d rather you just change that. Just say this, just talk to yourself like that” and not to say there isn't some power in changing how we talk to ourselves, but I think, first we need to receive it and accept it, you know? So, what does that look like for you when the kids are being really negative? You talked about us showing self-compassion to ourselves, how do we then give that to the kids?

[Sara]: Yeah, because I definitely want to say-- I want to say, I don't know, if my child says “I can't clean this room, it's too overwhelming” or “I can't, this math problem is too hard”. You do want to say “no, it's not” or “yes, you can”.

[Kyle]: “You just cleaned the room last week, give me a break!” [Laughter]

[Sara]: I just want to like, meet that reason, you know, that that place where they're at with equal force back and hopefully shove them over, right? [Laughter] But then, everyone just gets, you know, digs in.

[Sara]: So, and usually they don't believe you. Even if they start “okay, yeah. Sure, I’m really smart. Yeah, I can really do this”, you can see that they're not really buying in. So, the first thing is, I just want to hear them tell me about that, what feels overwhelming? I want to meet that with empathy and I want to put myself in their shoes. I want to think about something-- Maybe it's not that exact thing, but there's a place in my life I felt that same feeling.

[Sara]: So, I want to get there with them and I want them to know “I hear you”, because there are places in my life that feel like real big mountains. I don't know how to get over that mountain and I might want to look at them go, “there's no-- I don't-- I can't do it” and just telling me I can't, I’m like “okay. Well, you're not the person to talk to because clearly you don't understand how big my mess is”.

[Kyle]: No, that's what I see a lot of times, is parents will counter it and the kids will learn “I’m not going to come to you with that story”, right? And that's kind of where I wanted to like, switch that and our ending is just, there's a story they're believing and I want them to share that story and they're sharing it with you because they want you to hold it with them. They're not asking you to agree with it, you know? They're saying “can you hold this with me? I don't like this story either, it feels gross inside, it's hurting me inside”, right? And so, too often we say “I don't like that story, get that story out of here, here's a different story”, you know? And even though the story you're offering them may be better, they aren't going to receive that story if I don't first receive theirs.

[Kyle]: So, as I’m talking over this [Laughter] I’m holding my hands out towards Sara open and it's a symbol of open hands like, “I want to receive your story, tell me about the story you're believing” and the kid is looking to you saying “help me shape this narrative, I don't want to live my life believing this crap either. Can you help me with it?” and so, I want to come with open hands and just receive it. Even if it's preposterous, even if it's ridiculous, it doesn't matter, I’m just going to receive, because in that moment what I’ve noticed is, kids will either shut down and stop telling you or they'll double down and say “yeah, you really don't know it all” and the most common complaint kids have is “you don't understand me! You don't get it!”. I just had three teenagers in my office yesterday, who just none of their parents understand them.

[Kyle]: So, the point is the parents aren't receiving the story that the kid is trying to tell them, because the parents think “that's a harmful story, so I want to so I understand why they want to--”

[Sara]: Yeah, yeah, you don't want your kid believing this, let's just sweep that away.

[Kyle]: Yes. So, I want to be able to receive it, so then I can start helping them change it and one of the ways I helped change the story of mine, just an idea of what I tell a lot of kids and so, end with just this technique is, I just started labeling some of these story things. These story things that brought me a lot of anxiety and fear, I just started labeling those lies and so, I would just get into the habit of when I was feeling very anxious or there was a lot of negative self-talk, I just wanted to put them in a different jar in my head, because I felt like there was this really strong pathway called “these statements might be true”, you know?

[Kyle]: “You might be incompetent Kyle. You might be a failure as a father” and these things were driving too much of what I was doing and I noticed they were because of the anxiety, the anger, all those things that were coming out of it, that's the fruit that came out. So, I thought “I’m just going to label these and see what happens”. So, I started just, anytime I start to feel that, I just put on my notes section, my computer, “lie” and then write the statement, you know? “Lie” and then just go and I keep doing it until I felt some relief of those thoughts. I could actually receive my own story, look at it and go “that's gross. I can't believe I believe these things about myself, no wonder I’m yelling at people, no wonder I was so upset at the kids yesterday, no wonder I’m so anxious about this thing at work”, right? [Laughter] So, I just think that's one technique that I found very helpful. Is there anything that you would share at all before we end?

[Sara]: Yeah. I think, kind of similar to what you're saying, you've gotta-- I look at it and go “this is all made up”, these scenarios, what I’m saying, it's what I’m creating and I can choose to create something else. I can choose to say something else, create something else and one thing I always tell myself and I say to our kids and stuff is “your brain believes you”. So, if I tell myself “I can't do it” or “I’m a bad mom” or I, you know, whatever it is.

[Kyle]: “I’m not good enough. I’m not capable enough”.

[Sara]: Your brain starts to create that because you're building your reality and it moves in that direction. If I, like you said, if I say “it's a lie” or if I say “okay. Well, that's one option, but I can also say I’m a very patient person” and I can say what I am with intentionality, with conviction. Because I’m saying the other thing with some pretty strong conviction, so I have to equally hold the other words and the other things and say “that's what I’m moving to, that's what I am” and your brain will move you in that direction. Our brains are very powerful and it's the same thing with our kids, we start with ourselves, build that in ourselves and then model that for them and help them to recreate that, help them to do that for themselves and their lives.

[Kyle]: Yeah, it's fantastic. So, I’d love for you, for all the people listening, if you are enjoying this content, would love for you to go and rate us on iTunes or Google, whatever platform you're using and definitely, leave some comments. You know, once again I’ve been mentioning this lately, if you have specific situations you'd love for Sara and I to talk about or address, we want to start filling up some of our content with listeners and their questions they have about their kids or even the dynamics in regards to parenting with a spouse, because that's a big part of what we're doing. So, I hope you're able to glean some information on this, on how to approach this negative self-talk differently within yourself and also within your kids, because it's such an important part of helping them form their identity and helping write their narrative. So, thank you for listening today and I hope you have a great night.

[Kyle]: The Art of Raising Humans podcast should not be considered or used as counseling, but for educational purposes only.