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How to Accept That You’re Already Perfect. Really!

Yes, you really can replace self-criticism with praise.

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illustration of woman hugging a big red heart
Elena Lacey
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This is the conversation I had with myself this morning before getting as far as my first cup of coffee:

“Oh, those dark circles!”

“My arms look like a flying squirrel.”

“Do gray roots grow overnight?”

I wouldn’t let a friend talk to me that way — not even an enemy — but there I was, standing in front of the mirror, tossing myself to the lions. I bet half the time I’m not even aware I’m picking on myself. It’s like a bad habit that probably started the day my first pimple burst into bloom.

And it’s not just me.

“I always felt good about my body,” says New Yorker Liz Wedlan, 68, who’s spent her life playing sports and is blessed with a fast metabolism. “But these last couple years I stopped looking in full-length mirrors. It’s my stomach and my knees that make me cringe.”

“If only I was thinner … if only I was prettier,” says Debi Feinman, 66, of Lee, Massachusetts. “I still hear that inner voice saying if only this, if only that and it’s crazy because the reality is my life is great.”

In a radio interview last June, host Howard Stern asked Sarah Jessica Parker, now 58: “When you look in the mirror, you don’t see a good-looking human being?”

“I’m presentable,” she answered. “I don’t really like looking at myself.”

Even Sarah Jessica Parker judges herself?

What’s with all this internal trash-talking? Where’s it coming from?

In a 1986 Pantene commercial, the model cooed, "Don't hate me because I'm beautiful.” I'd talk back to the TV: “I hate you because you're obnoxious” — though I couldn’t help admiring her brash confidence.

I grew up being told, Don't be conceited. But what if that translated into, Don't be self-complimentary. If I hear, “You look terrific,” I’m likely to respond, “The lighting is good in this room.” If someone admired my mother’s dress, she’d say, “This old thing? I bought it on sale.”

Maybe I never learned how to celebrate me.

New York-based psychoanalyst Holly Schneier says, “If you’re hard on yourself, it may come from early exposure to critical family members or other fault-finding, exacting people — even if you weren’t the target of their attitudes.”

It’s not just how we look that’s open to scrutiny. Thanks to social media, we have plenty of opportunities to make comparisons to other people’s lives. What fun is it to scroll past somebody else’s home-cooked cassoulet while waiting for your pizza delivery? Who needs to see grinning Celtics fans sitting courtside while you squint at games on a cellphone?

Do you really need pix of parties you weren’t invited to?

“I don't view my life in terms of what other people have or do,” Liz Wedlan says. “But when I see some of the posts online, I can't help but wonder: Who are all these perfect people?!”

In his longtime bestseller, The Four Agreements, Don Miguel Ruiz writes, “You are no longer a child. Now it’s up to you to choose what to believe and what not to believe. You can choose to believe in anything and that includes believing in yourself.”

Maybe it’s time to ask, Who’s in charge here? Me or my chattering, nitpicking mind?

“In order to ease self-criticism, the first thing to do is to acknowledge that you’re too harsh toward yourself,” says Schneier. “Challenging your negative voice allows you to see that it’s unwarranted and unfair.”

Okay. Let’s work on that. What are ways to help cut off an inner criticism binge?

Keep a bowl on your bathroom counter or wherever you’re most likely to say something negative to yourself, and every time you knock yourself down, toss in a coin. After a week you may be amazed at how unkind you are to yourself. Then take that money and buy yourself an ice cream cone.

Add “So what if…” before any critical statement. “So, what if I sing offkey? So, what if I stink at pickleball?” “So, what if I’ll never have a flat stomach.” This perspective can be quite freeing.

Print out the Serenity Prayer. Tape it to your mirror. There’s real healing and power in this message that begins with: “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

If scrolling through Facebook or Instagram makes you doubt yourself — like, geez, your vacation was camping in Wisconsin, not cruising the Greek islands; your kid’s living in your basement playing video games, not graduating from Oxford — fine. That’s the way it is. How about taking a break from all that perfection? No scrolling. No peeking. No comparing yourself to others. Off-screen, their lives are probably far less wonderful.

Say the opposite of any negative comment. “I hate my love handles” gets followed by “I love my love handles.” “I’m a klutz on the dance floor” gets followed by, “Ginger Rogers, here I come!” Maybe you’ll never lose those love handles or learn to salsa, but every time you compliment yourself, you just might find yourself smiling.

Take control. Do something productive. Patty O'Neill, my only friend who was a Wilhelmina model, responds to physical self-critiques with action. “When I was modeling, I believed I’d allow myself to age gracefully — easy to say when you’re 20! But now, any unflattering shift in my appearance, if I can fix it, I do what I can. Lose a few pounds. Get some Botox. Find an exercise workout on YouTube. As long as I’m above ground, I will be in the game.”

Go ahead. Right this second. Take a moment and compliment yourself. Your big smile. Your big heart. Make your next conversation in a mirror be kinder.

Yes, Linda, wow — you look good!

Thank you, inner voice!

Let’s celebrate ourselves. And I promise, I won’t hate you because you’re beautiful.


 Do you often criticize yourself? Let us know in the comments below.

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