Do you remember when you were a little kid on the playground and it felt awful when someone called you something like ‘poo-poo head’? You’d retaliate by calling them something like ‘nose-picker’ or ‘glue-eater’. If the adults in your life heard about it they would admonish you, ‘you’re not allowed to call people names, it’s not nice.’
As you got older you learned to be sneakier, to never say the names in front of an adult, the names got nastier, maybe even containing bad words that made you feel more grown up. If you were called names maybe you tried console yourself that they weren’t true. But the ones that really hurt were the ones that hit too close to home, the ones that you felt had a bit of truth to them. They cut really deep. And hopefully as you matured into an adult you stopped calling other people names because you realised just how juvenile it really was, and how much it could hurt. You didn’t want to hurt people like that any more.
But if you’re anything like me the name calling didn’t stop altogether. It just stopped being out loud. And somehow the recipient changed. I became the name caller and the victim.
More often than not I hear my own thoughts calling me things. It’s not juvenile names like ‘poo-poo head’, it’s not even swear words. Sometimes I don’t even realise that it’s name calling. But it is. Whenever I mess something up I think to myself ‘you’re such a failure.’ When I sleep in I think, ‘you’re so lazy.’ And the problem is that because it’s me calling myself these names I know exactly where to drive the knife to do the most damage to my self esteem. ‘Hack,’ ‘Self absorbed,’ ‘Waste of potential,’ ‘Gen Y bum.’ These are the things I call myself, and I’m sure you know what putdowns you think to yourself.
These names might seem like they come from an external source but most of the time they don’t. The people who love you may vehemently disagree with all of these negative titles you give yourself. But unlike the playground there’s no adult in your mind to point out how inappropriate it is.
But hang on, there is!
You’re an adult now and you’ve got to say, ‘I’m not allowed to call myself names.’ Every time you hear yourself think, ‘I’m useless,’ or whichever variant of putdown flays your self-esteem, stop, remember that’s name calling and you’re not allowed to call people names. You’re not allowed to call yourself names.
Instead try to identify exactly why you feel like name calling: ‘I’m not a failure, I’m just really frustrated with myself for not being productive today, I’ll try again tomorrow.’ ‘I feel like I’m useless because I’m really disappointed that things didn’t turn out how I wanted them to.’ You’re allowed to feel, just not to name call.
One of the upsides of not allowing yourself to name call is that you won’t accept name calling in others who haven’t learnt to stop doing it verbally to you. When someone calls you stubborn you can put a hold on the self doubt and recognise that you’re not stubborn, you just know your boundaries and that person is upset they weren’t able to get their own way.
In my experience nothing is more damaging to self esteem than name calling, so don’t accept it from others and never ever accept it from yourself. It’s a lesson I try to remember daily.
What are some of the names you call yourself? How do you avoid name calling yourself and others? How do you cope when people call you a name that hurts?