The Child Check or: How to Be Nice to Yourself

There’ been a lot of talk about self-loathing on here, since it’s the mental monster that’s plagued me the most in life. I’ve also shared a couple of strategies for fighting said monster, and I have several more strategies that I’ll share in the future. It’s good to have a variety of strategies, since self-loathing can attack you in a variety of ways, in a variety of situations. But the topic for today is not so much a strategy as a fundamental principle. It’s the grand plan from which all my strategies are derived. The home base to which I always fall back when the monster seems to be winning the battle.

I call it the Child Check. When self-loathing takes me over and I begin to mercilessly shower myself with criticism, be it about my looks, my health, my ethics, or even this blog, I stop to ask myself the question:

Would I say these things to a child?

If the answer is no – which it almost always is – I shouldn’t say them to myself either.

Let me explain. As infuriating as children can be, there are some lines we know we can’t cross with them. We can’t tell them they’re bad people. We can’t roll our eyes at them to imply that they’re dumb. We can’t teach them that they don’t deserve happiness. Children absorb what adults tell them, like very gullible sponges. If they get to absorb love and encouragement, they’ll grow up into decently stable individuals. If they absorb enough scorn, ridicule, and vitriol (and “enough” is often less than one would think), they’ll grow up broken. It’s thus engrained in most of us, that children can be disciplined, but never humiliated. And even the discipline should come from a place of warmth.

Here comes the fundamental principle. Those lines which you must never cross with a child, you must never cross with yourself, either. Why? Because there’s a child in you. When you say mean things to yourself, you’re doing damage to that child. You’re hurting the core, the foundation of your identity. You don’t deserve that.

You might be saying: “Well, inner child or not, I’m still an adult, and as such, I should tolerate criticisms.” And that’s true, of course. I’m not saying you must never criticize yourself. Just like how you need to sometimes scold a child, you need to sometimes acknowledge your own mistakes and your flaws. But take care to do exactly that, and nothing more. It’s dangerously easy to slip insults into your criticisms. It’s even easier to forget the purpose of self-criticism altogether: to improve what’s already very good, not to tear yourself down for the sake of it. For example, after failing an exam, you might be tempted to say to yourself: “God you suck. You didn’t study hard enough and now you got what you deserved, you lazy, Mandalorian-binging cretin.” Now, run that through the child filter, and all that would remain is “you didn’t study hard enough”, with an added “but don’t feel bad, you’re still really good at what you do”. Both examples are criticisms, but one is constructive and the other destructive. Try to absorb both, and feel the difference. So, the Child Check isn’t about sheltering you from any and all harshness; it merely ensures that your inward scold contains nothing that will mess you up, and that it’s done for the right reason. You’re worth that effort.

I admit that The Child Check might appeal especially strongly to me because I like kids so much. I work at a school and every day, I leave work very happy, if exhausted. You might not have that fondness – you might downright dislike the wee ones. But even so, you’re still hardwired to take care of them. If you came across a lost child in the supermarket, crying for a parent, you would help, no matter how smelly or snot-nosed the little pipsqueak was. Children trigger some of humanity’s best instincts.

Redirect those instincts towards yourself. Hack evolution, if you will. It will help you even if you’re not struggling with particularly intense self-loathing. View yourself as that insecure wee one that must be told it is loved. Obviously, if you are struggling with intense self-loathing, that’s enormously hard to do. It’s in the devious nature of self-loathing to convince you that you deserve to be loathed. But I recommend that you think of the Child Check as a rule you should simply follow. The good thing about rules is that you don’t have to think for yourself, just obey. Okay, that’s also the bad thing about rules, but my point is: with a strict recovery plan such as this one, you won’t have to constantly stop and ponder whether you truly deserve to feel better. There won’t be any doubts for your mental illness to hijack. You’ll have a method to adhere to. A mantra to mindlessly repeat.

Don’t tell yourself anything that would mess up a child.
Don’t tell yourself anything that would mess up a child.
Don’t tell yourself anything that would mess up a child.

Keep at it, and genuine self-love will come in organically. Probably sooner than you think. And that, my dear child, is the most wonderful surprise imaginable.

One comment

  1. I have tried the Child Check för some weeks now, and it works! – Well, most of the time, at least. There is a small problem with my kind of self-loathing in relation to the rule, I find.
    Self-loathing comes in different shapes, and I think my variety is a rather common one: it has to do with shame. One of the most powerful negative emotions we are subjected to, it is fundamentally social in nature. Picture Raskolnikov ambling around the streets of St Petersburg, busy with his thoughts and trying to ignore his hungry belly; suddenly his stops in his step, hits his brow and exclaims: “You miserable, cringe-worthy wanker!” (only in Russian, of course). That’s when he has stumbled upon a memory of something he has done or said, of which he is ashamed. (It is ironical that this compulsive behaviour naturally draws the attention of other pedestrians and will just boost his self-loathing further.) I can identify with poor Raskolnikov; I do exactly the same thing, though I would perhaps refrain from doing it in the middle of Nevskij Prospekt.
    Here is the rub: shame, social in nature, is an all-encompassing emotion. If you care about a person, whether a child or an adult, your shame will embrace them as well as yourself – their behavoiur as seen by other people, that is. Shame has nothing to do with morals or any inherent qualities, it is pure surface. – So, if you are subjected to this kind of self-loathing and try to do the Child Check, there is a risk it will fail. The logic is: “I love the child, and that is exactly why I am so ashamed of their behaviour in this instance”. What I now try to do every time shame hits me is to counter its hateful words, which I can’t help uttering, with an immediate objection. Like: “you are a worthless, embarassing and horribly awkward idiot!” – “No, that is not true, you are actually a very nice, loving and reasonably smart person”. – Future will tell whether the monster will in fact be subdued by this gentle remonstrating.

    Liked by 1 person

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