one thing in life that I don't let people get away with, and
that's talking down about themselves. No, I don't punish
them or chastise them, but I always correct them--I won't let a
self-deprecating comment go by without countering it with some
sort of positive reinforcement. This annoys my step-children
to no end--they always say "But I was just joking," or
"I didn't really mean it." And that's probably
true--they didn't really mean it. But I don't let the
comment slide for several reasons.
all, I know the power of negative self-talk. Saying bad
things about ourselves can lead us to believe them, even if we
start out "just joking." What happens if we make a
negative comment about ourselves and no one disagrees?
There's a part of our minds that will tell us "Hey--no one's
arguing! Maybe they agree with the comment!" This
seems to be the case especially with young people who are in their
"developmental years" (though aren't we all always in
those years?). Especially in our culture, though, we're
taught to learn things through indirect methods ("Ask Rob if
he likes Sally"), and we come to expect to learn things about
ourselves more through what other people say--or don't say--than
through other more direct means.
I see such comments as an opportunity for encouragement. As
an adult, I am a role model. Period. I can choose to
accept that role, or I can choose to reject it. As a role
model, it's important to me to provide young people in my life
with a healthy, encouraging, helpful way of being, and most of
what people learn from me or of me has to do with what I say and
what I do.
But there's also the more subtle side: what
do I let slide? What do I let go by without comment or
action? Even among people my own age, I know that it's important to encourage whenever I can,
and not to let an opportunity to encourage go by. I don't
know if that particular person needs encouragement at the
moment--yes, they may be fishing for a compliment, but they also
may be in a very needy time of their lives. I'm not
concerned with judging why a person is needy, but I do want to
recognize it when a person is needy.
way, this can only go so far--after the third or fourth repetition
of the same negative comment, I'm much more likely to tell a
person to knock it off than to encourage. There's a certain
point when the concept of hard love kicks in.)
want anyone else who might have heard the comment to know that at
least one person finds such comments to be completely
inappropriate. I don't want to let someone talk themselves
down and have someone else think that it's normal or acceptable to
do so. Someone has to say something, and this is another
role that I'm willing to assume. If our 13-year-old hears
her 15-year-old sister make a comment insulting her own physique,
for example, and no one says anything about it, she just may find
the same or similar flaws in herself and start to worry about
them. If she hears someone tell her sister that she
shouldn't make the comment because she's fine just the way she is,
she still may find the same "flaws," but she also may be
much more accepting of them just the way she is.
about other people--loving and helping and encouraging them.
Doing that will give us meaning and fulfillment in life, and
neglecting it will harm us. We have to be aware, though,
that the only people who can counter another's self-sabotage
through deprecating self-talk are those who hear the talk.
We have to counter it--I know that I would have been spared years
of negative self-image if anyone had bothered to counter my
negative ideas about myself when I was younger. Now that I'm
old enough to do so for others, I counter it every chance I get.