Speaking to ourselves in a nurturing way can be a challenge if we rarely heard nurturing words in the early formative years of our lives. In fact, if we were highly criticized or neglected, we probably learned to criticize and neglect ourselves instead.
Realizing this, inspired me to create an exercise that helps me to speak to myself in a more nurturing way. And I want to share this exercise with you now, in hopes it can help you too!
Step 1. Make a list of all the influential people in your life, starting from childhood. My list includes my Mom, Dad, sister, brothers, relatives, neighbors, friends, teachers, ministers, therapists, doctors, nurses, bosses, co-workers and spouses.
Step 2. Ask yourself, “What loving words did I need or want to hear, as a child or as an adult, from each person, even if I don’t think I still need to hear those words today?” Write down the statements as you think of them. If anyone spoke to you in a loving and supportive way, write those words too. Write at least three loving statement from each person on your list.
As you write your list, let go of any judgment towards the people on your list because this exercise isn’t about them. It’s about taking the time to listen to the neglected child inside of you and allowing her to tell you what it is that she has needed to hear her entire life.
At first, I wrote my statements in a stream of consciousness without editing them. I kept asking myself, “What words did the little girl inside of me need to hear from others when she was so young and vulnerable? What did the young woman inside of me need to hear in order to feel valuable and confident in herself?”
Allow yourself to take breaks in writing and then return when you feel ready to continue. I find that each time I come back to this exercise, I always have something new to add.
As I was working on my list, I could feel that these were words that my heart still needed to hear. So I switched the giver of the statements to be from me. For example, when I read the statement that I wish I could have heard from my Mother, “You are so creative and smart” and then switched the giver of the statement to be from me, I felt a rise of recognition lift inside of my chest as if I was being seen and heard for the first time. It’s interesting how relevant each statement feels even after making that change.
Here are some of the statements that I wish I could have heard from the influential people in my life: “I cherish you, I believe in you, You can do this, I will always make time for you, I will always love you, I am here for you, I will make sure that you get a proper education, You are important to me, You are a good person, You have a beautiful spirit, I forgive your mistakes and I hope you will forgive mine, I am sorry I didn’t try to understand you, I will always think the best of you, Let me help you find ways to manage your anxiety, I see so much good in you, Let’s spend quality time together, I respect your opinion, I believe that you are telling me the truth, I want to hear your dreams, struggles are a part of life so we need to find healthy ways to cope, there is so much beauty in life if you look for it, I believe in your talent, Is there anything I can help you with during this difficult transition in life, I accept and love you just the way you are, Tell me how you feel, You can cry and I won’t be afraid, You have a lot of wisdom to share, You inspire me, You can tell me your problems, I want to help you, I am sorry for being critical and judgmental with you, I am sorry for ignoring you when you needed me most, I am sorry that my anger scared you and made you feel unsafe, I am sorry I didn’t encourage you to feel self-confident, Forgive me for being mean to you, I want us to have a healthy and loving relationship now.”
Step 3. Once you finish your list of people and statements, change the statements to be from you. For the messages that do not clearly fit, look to see if they have a message of their own that could be worded in another way. Here is an example statement I would have liked to have heard from my high school P.E. Teacher, “I see your potential to become a strong athlete.” My first response was to delete this sentence since I am no longer involved in sports. But then I chose to rewrite it to read, “I see your potential to grow physically stronger” which is helpful to me now because I struggle with chronic illness. I think there will always be at least a seed of something valuable to work with from each statement that has been originally written
Step 4. After you convert the sentences to be from you, delete the names that you originally wished to hear those statements from, now that they have served their purpose of helping you realize what your heart still need to hear. If you like, you can change the pronouns that were used from “you” to “I”. Use which ever pronoun that feels best.
And now you have created a powerful master list of loving words to speak to yourself when you need a boost of nurturing. What a beautiful and empowering gift of love to give to yourself. You have now taken back your power and can give to yourself the nurturing your heart has needed for so long. It may feel awkward at first to speak to yourself in this loving way but the more you practice, the stronger and deeper your connection with self-love will grow.