“You are such a screw up! You mess everything up!
Ever talk to yourself like this? I do. I have become too good at negative self talk. My own words spoken to myself are condemning, crass and severe generalizations. I beat myself up over my mistakes more than anyone else ever has.
I say things to myself that I would never utter to another person. Negative self-talk comes storming through the synapses in my mind when I feel out of control.
These are things I say when I am disappointed in my “you should have known better” and “if only you would have” regrets.
I talk to myself like this even when I know in my head that messing up is just a part of life. Messing up is human. Mistakes are going to happen no matter how old I am. But why do I have such a hard time extending grace to myself?
Maybe it is because I have not understood or come to the full realization of the amazing grace offered to me through Christ.
How about you? Do you struggle with negative self-talk? If you do, I bet you can’t point to a time in your life when a mistake was made that set the tone for your belief system about failure.
I still remember vividly a day in kindergarten when I was coloring a bunch of grapes. I was humming to myself as I often did (okay still do) and got carried away. Do you know what happened?
I colored outside of the lines! What??? I know. Major life critical mistake right?
When I realized what I had done with my chunky purple Crayola crayon, I slyly reached into my desk and reached for my pencil eraser before my teacher made her rounds back over to my desk..
As I took the eraser and rubbed it over the straggling Crayola mark slightly outside the grapes, what once was a small purple line turned to a purple-ish, grey-ish smudge.
When I tried to correct my mistake, to hide what I had done, I made it worse, not better.
And then here comes the kicker. My kindergarten teacher, whom I adored, approached my desk, and saw what I had done. I couldn’t make eye contact with her. I just hung my head.
She shook her head in disgust, and said, “Stephanie, Stephanie. You should know better than to rush through. That is when mistakes like this happen. And now you have made it even worse trying to cover it up.”
Tears welled up in my five year old eyes. I was devastated at her response. I was horrified that my tarnished picture would be hanging on the hallway corkboard for the whole school to see.
I was devastated because I did know better than to rush through, and in fact I hadn’t rushed.
I was taking my time, quite enjoying myself, humming and coloring. Coloring was one of my favorite pastimes. It was simply a mistake. A quick stroke of the hand. One moment – out of control. One moment taking my eye off the ball so to speak.
As I look back on this now the situation surprises me on many levels.
Frist, even at 5 I knew that perfection was THE target to pursue. Instead of accepting my mistake, I made it worse trying to cover it up, to erase it, to shield myself from the shame of the mistake.
I knew perfection was the standard to which I would be held accountable to.
Second, it is hard for me to imagine that in kindergarten classroom mistakes were not more encouraged, expression isn’t praised, and creativity encouraged.
Third, it should go without saying that five year old’s are going to make mistakes. LOTS of mistakes. So why was my kindergarten classroom a “mistake-free” zone?
How different would my experience have been if I did not feel the tug to perform perfectly at coloring? How different my experience had my mistake been met with reassuring words of encouragement?
All I know is from that day forward I lost affection for my teacher, but my drive to impress her grew. I wanted to prove to her I was not a screw up after all. But there was a seed of doubt planted, a seed of believing that I was a screw up.
And for a time my love for coloring waned, my humming while I work was halted. Humming while I work may lead to more mistakes and humiliations.
This small occurrence, a day in the life of a kindergarten screw up, impacted my life for years. When I was in second grade I was given some cash as my allowance. One of the first purchases I made for myself was a gigantic eraser that said, “Mistakes Happen”.
This purchase was almost as if to remind myself, even when the message was not being confirmed around me, that mistakes were going to happen, and it was going to be okay.
Even to this day, I fall into the trap of referring to myself as a “screw up”. No one has ever called me a screw up. No one except me.
Growing up in the USA predisposes us to this mentality of perfection and production. We are made to believe that we have to always be doing and contributing and that our effort is not enough unless our effort is given in complete and total perfection.
Mistakes are costly after all. Or so we are taught to believe.
Winston Churchill said, “failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”
It is not the mistake, but the negative self-talk that follows that is fatal. Failure or mistakes seem fatal because the lie we tell ourselves is that perfection is the only way we can be accepted, loved and valuable.
When I make the statement, “I’m such a screw up.” it implies that I am innately screwed up, and I will screw up everything I touch, and everything I am a part of.
Those lies are fatal, because they keep me in a belief system that no matter what choice I make, even if it is good, and turns out well, and was following in obedience of God, that I will somehow still screw up.
Buying into the lie, buying into the belief that “once a screw up, always a screw up” leaves no room for God to do his work, and demonstrates that I have taken on “screwing up” as a personality characteristic instead of dealing with each mistake as an occurrence.
I am asking, praying and journaling with God over these lies. I am asking God to walk me through, to heal, to transform me from the inside out. I am asking him to give me a new mind and a new heart toward myself.
I am praying and asking God to teach me how to love and see myself the way that he does. And to be able to accept my mistakes as they are, and not to take the mistake on as my character.
I am leaning on God to help rebuild my thought patterns and help me to realize that when I say “I’m a screw up” I am offending my God and Father who made me just as he desired. I invite you to join me if you also struggle with negative self-talk.
Mistakes happen. Failure is a part of the maturing and growing process. We can’t become great at our job, or parenting or conflict resolution without trying and failing.
Robert F. Kennedy said, “Only those who dare to fail greatly will ever achieve greatly.”
When you are pushed up against the wall, and stress is running high, what are the phrases you whisper to yourself? What are the negative self-talk adjectives you toss around pretending they describe who you are?
Jeremiah 8:4 says, “This is what the Lord says: You know if a man falls down, he gets up again. And if a man goes the wrong way, he turns around and comes back”.
The growth and learning of failure comes through the strength to get up again, through the strength to turn around. Next time I fall, I pray God gives me the wisdom and strength to get back up again. Next time I go the wrong way, I pray God tugs my heart to turn back around and chase after him.
It all comes down to grace. God knows we are going to make mistakes. He knows we are going to go our own way. He is not surprised or caught off guard. He just wants us, our hearts, our affections for him.
I want to leave you with a promise from the word of God about the grace he has for us. I also want to leave you with one last question. Are you ready to hand over the negative self-talk and live in freedom believing mistakes are a part of the process?
Are you tired of telling yourself you’ve messed up too many times, God will never take you back? Are you done with the belief that God’s promises are for “good and holy” people, but not for you? Are you done believing you are a screw up?
Here is what God has to say to you:
Psalm 37:23-24 says, “A man’s steps are established by the LORD, and He takes pleasure in his way. Though he falls, he will not be overwhelmed, because the LORD holds his hand.”
2 Corinthians 12:9 says, “My grace is all you need, because my power is perfected in weakness.” Therefore, I will most happily boast about my weaknesses, so that the Messiah’s power may rest on me.”
I encourage you to write a prayer to God. Confess before him the negative self talk (he already knows what you tell yourself). Confess it and ask God to free you from the trap of this false thinking. Ask him to help you see yourself as He sees you, with eyes of compassion, love, mercy and grace.
Looking for more resources to deepen your walk with God? Go to my website and pick up your e-book version or paperback version of Ascent to Know Him: The Quest to Discover More of God.