#1000 Speak: Step Into Someone Else’s Skin

Categories Growing, Learning, Living, Loving, Thinking, Working

It was a conversation with my daughter that helped me finally decide.

We were talking about a disagreement between her and a classmate. Both parties were upset; neither understood the other’s point of view. As we talked at dinner that night, my daughter began to understand not only what might have caused the other person to act as they did, but also what caused her to react as she did.

We’ve talked with our daughter about bullying and meanness. We want her to understand how to speak up if she or someone else is being mistreated. But we also want her to understand how important it is not to mistreat someone else. The ability to understand what a person might be feeling that would cause them to be mean is an important skill.

It’s not a new idea. In the novel To Kill a Mockingbird, Atticus Finch tells his daughter Scout, “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view… Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.” It’s good advice.

But do we apply that advice to our treatment of ourselves?

Think about it. We have all heard or even said that we are our own worst critics. We are so apt to find ways to bully ourselves about so many things. But what if we stepped back, and stood in another person’s skin for just a few moments? What if we imagined someone else speaking to us the way we speak to ourselves?

You’re fat. You’re ugly. You’re a worthless failure. You’re a bad parent. You’ll never amount to anything in life.

Choose any string of negative self-talk you’ve heaped upon yourself. You know you’ve done it. Recall those words and now imagine someone else saying them to you. Step into that person’s skin. What would make that person speak to you that way? What would motivate them to be so cruel?

Now answer this question: what makes you speak that way to yourself? What motivates your cruelty toward yourself? And it doesn’t have to be limited to words. Our mistreatment of ourselves can come in so many forms – negative self-talk, bad eating habits, physical self-harm…the list goes on.

Ask yourself another question. What If someone mistreated a person you know – a friend, a colleague, a child, or a neighbor. What if someone spoke to that person in words that were intended to hurt? What if someone physically harmed them?

Would you tolerate it? Would you stand by and watch it happen? Or would you try to stop it?

Now ask yourself one more question: If someone mistreated you or spoke to you in words that were intended to hurt, would you allow them? If someone tried to physically harm you, would you allow it to unfold? Or would you fight back?

You know the answers.

So why would you do it to yourself?

Self-bullying is real. People do it every single day. They criticize, tear down, and physically harm themselves. And we minimize it by saying things like “I’m my own worst critic” or “I really beat myself up about that.”

But it is real and it is harmful.

We need to become as intolerant of self-bullying and self-harm as we are when we see it happen to others. The only way to build from that bullying is to tear down the walls. Knock over the structure of meanness and negativity to ourselves. Start to build from there by learning to understand what motivates us to bully ourselves. Then ask someone to work by your side.

Lay a new foundation. Build a better home.

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1000 Voices

This month, 1000 Voices Speak for Compassion continues to work toward a better world with a particular focus on Building from Bullying, as well as the broader topic of compassion.

Write a post relevant to this month’s focus – Building from Bullying – and add it to the link-up right here by clicking the blue button below. Along with me, your other co-hosts this month are:

American Indian Mom, Finding Ninee The Quiet Muse, Chronically Sick Manic Mother, Just Gene’o, Driftwood Gardens,Getting Literal, Head Heart Health, Considerings, Paper,Pen,Pad, Blogitudes, Little Miss Wordy1000Speak

Here’s how to get involved:

Join 1000 Voices Speak for Compassion on Facebook

Visit the 1000Speak blog

Follow @1000Speak on Twitter

Use the #1000Speak hashtag across social media.

Help us BUILD The Village.


Lisa A. Listwa is a self-employed writer with experience in education, publishing, and the martial arts. Believing there was more to life than punching someone else’s time clock and inspired by the words of Henry David Thoreau, she traded her life as a high school educator for a life as a writer and hasn’t looked back. She is mother to one glorious handful of a daughter, wife to the nicest guy on the planet, and reluctant but devoted owner of three Rotten Cats. You can find her adventures and thoughts on living life deliberately here on the blog.

78 thoughts on “#1000 Speak: Step Into Someone Else’s Skin

  1. How did I miss this post? I know how I did, I was a slacker on the reading front. (Not self-bullying, just honest). If anyone treated my daughter the way I treat myself, my claws would be out. For that matter, I’ve seen my daughter pick up my habits when it comes to being a self-bully. That has to change.

    1. You didn’t miss a thing, Lisa – this is my newest #1000Speak post. And I don’t think you fit into the slacker reader category at all – there were SO many to read. I’m still discovering new ones. But I think that’s OK because I get a little dose of compassion any time I need it.
      I’m with you on this – we would never tolerate behavior like we heap upon ourselves. It’s an interesting perspective. And yes, our daughters are watching. That stops me more often than I can tell you.

    1. Hey, I’m profound! That’s pretty cool. 🙂
      The thing about that voice in your own head is that you can’t get away from it. So much more difficult to walk away than when it’s someone else. Complicated is a good word.

  2. Well said! I certainly need to cut myself some slack at times – fine line between pushing/challenging myself to do better and putting myself down for never achieving unrealistic goals I set for myself.

    1. Thanks, Louise. It is a fine line, isn’t it? It’s so easy to tip over the line into the realm of “you’re not good enough” and “you’ll never do that” from a much more positive way of reaching for a goal. Maybe unrealistic goals is part of it – I can kick myself for not losing 50 pounds or working out an hour a day or I can congratulate myself for losing 10 and taking a 20 minute walk every day. We wouldn’t ask our children to set such over-the-top goals, so why do it to ourselves? Baby steps.

  3. You are right.

    …I tend to be my worst critic, and strangely, I’ve been somehow proud of it. In reality, ‘self bullying’ does not help me improve myself, and it doesn’t make anyone happier.

    1. That’s the thing, Romi – why are we so proud of ourselves when we beat ourselves up? I think it’s because we have somehow decided it’s not OK to speak to ourselves kindly or positively, that it’s not OK to say we are good or kind or beautiful or whatever. And that’s just dumb. You’re also right – it doesn’t help us improve and it doesn’t help anyone else, either.
      Here’s to better self-talk!

  4. My, my, my is this a great post!! Thanks for writing this. It’s amazing to think about the self-talk we tolerate when you compare it that way. I was reading it like; ‘Wait a minute. Yeah. That’s right. How dare I speak to myself that way.’

    I’m gonna have to stow this link and re-read every so often before it takes. And I suspect I won’t be the only one.

    1. Thanks, Micah. That’s a great compliment. I think the topic of self-compassion and self-bullying is much more prevalent than we are all willing to admit. I wrote about self-compassion last month and I’ve been thinking about it a lot ever since. I read more and more posts and comments from people saying they are so hard on themselves, so not compassionate with themselves that I have to wonder about it. I think this is an important thing to consider when we look at how we relate to the rest of the world.
      Thanks for coming over – again I have to say I’m so glad we re-found one another!

  5. Oooh this got me right in the feels. One practice I like to do is when self-doubt and negativity creep in, I try to imagine how it would make me feel to know my daughter felt badly about herself. Of course there is nothing in the world that could be worse than that, so I then think that someone out there probably feels that way about me too. It helps to know that you are valued by others at times. And not to diminish the strength of that clip from TKAM, but thank you thank you thank you. Gregory Peck as Atticus is my idea of the perfect man. Swoon.

    1. Jen, that’s an important thing to remember – someone out there would be crushed to know we felt so awful. I like that practice.
      No worries about the clip – Peck’s Atticus is kind of perfect. Reminds me of my Grandfather in many ways. Atticus, I mean. Not necessarily Gregory Peck. 🙂

  6. Good pointers, Lisa.
    I agree we ought to treat others how we wanna be treated. But many a times, we forget that basic motto and be harsh more so cause of the circumstances or the situation.

  7. I realized recently how abusive I am towards myself, and have been more mindful in treating myself better, but it’s a challenge. You get used to it, and are often blind to it, because it’s you. It doesn’t even occur to you that you’re mistreating yourself.

  8. I LOVE this post Lisa. Yes to everything you’ve said. I’ve been actively practicing self-compassion for nearly 2 years now, yet I can still catch myself self-bullying. It never helps – instead of making us do the things we think it should, it just makes us miserable. I was looking forward to reading your post when you said its theme and I was not disappointed!

    1. Yvonne, that means a great deal coming from you. I just read your post and I made notes about so many resources you mentioned. What I am seeing is that so much of what falls under the “bullying” umbrella stems from our treatment of ourselves and what we believe is true about our own self worth.

  9. Great post, Lisa, and very important. I hope lots of people are able to see the ways in which self-criticism can turn into self-destruction, and that they’re inspired to be a bit more mindful about the way they treat themselves 🙂

    1. Thank you, dear Lizzi. We’ve talked about this sort of thing and I know we are on the same page about self-compassion and love. I do hope what you said happens – that we all think a bit more carefully before we choose negative words to speak to ourselves.

  10. It just amazing that most of us would never speak as cruelly to another person as we do to ourselves! Great post, Lisa!!! I knew you would write a stellar one!!

    1. Roshni, thanks so much! I knew what I wanted to say and as usual, I struggled with it until I just stopped fretting and then the words flew onto the page. I do tell others not to worry, that the words will come when they are ready. I should listen to myself more often, I guess! 😉
      There is a great video I watched sometime in the last week and I wanted to include it here, but I can’t find it! It illustrates exactly what I’m talking about. I’ll have to share it when I come across it again.

  11. I love the calm introspection you posses. Often when I read your words I have these thoughts that you are Yoda like, and I love that (hopefully you like that cute little guy). I feel I can learn so much from you, so I will be returning often. 🙂

    1. Christina, I think I love you! Calm is not a word I would have used to describe myself for most of my life. But that is something that I have been working on! I hope to have more calm and peace within. The last few months have definitely been a period of progress for me in that regard. To be compared to Yoda? Well, that’s something! 😀 I think he is quite wise.
      I am glad to know that you will be returning here – as will I to your space. Always.

  12. Oh, Lisa, what an excellent perspective on self-compassion. Your post certainly helps me look at “building from bullying” in a new way. Because I say those negative things to myself almost every day. If I find myself saying kind things to myself, I am surprised. And delighted. And so I will grow from this perspective you offered.

    1. I’m happy to know that, Val! The more I read others’ stories, the more I see how much self-compassion is important. So many are so harsh with themselves and it doesn’t help anyone in the end. Keep saying beautiful things to yourself, Val – you are absolutely beautiful and should! Truly, you just made my day with your comment. <3

  13. I agree with all… this is an excellent perspective (on something that perhaps is permitted, at least in part, because we do not allow us the perspective*) and isn’t that the only real tool we all have? perspective (all too often we forget that there is more than just ‘the real one’)
    good, thought-provoking post

    * I especially liked the idea of taking a self-negative statement and ascribing it to another, a loved one to see it as it really is… very perceptive

    1. It’s amazing how horrified people are when they hear their own words directed at another. I have to find that video. And yes, perspective is a very key point – things look very different when we consider them from another angle.

  14. I just want to write #truth in response to this post! One of the things I try really hard to do is to believe the things about myself that other people believe about. When I am feeling down on myself I remember my mom’s words, my best friends’ words, and the words of so many others. It’s useful to ask ourselves: “If someone asked my best friend how she would describe me, what would she say?” When we think of the answer, it should make us smile!

  15. Lisa, it is eerie how closely our posts are written. The same ideas, the same thoughts, the SAME NEGATIVE SELF TALK. I’m a little bit creeped out right now and wondering if you and I have a case of “same-brain”.

    I love your point of view on this, beautifully written.

    Well said!

    1. Starr, I kinda thought the same thing when I read yours earlier. If we do have a case of “same-brain,” I’ll just say I can think of far worse people to think like!
      Toss out the negative crap and re-write the page. Always.

  16. You make such a valid point, something that we all ignore. Self bullying. We all do this every single day. And it is doing us more harm than we know.

    This is my first time here and I must say I admire your eloquence.

  17. Sometimes the lines between being self critical and self bullying get blurred… And we fail to recognize when we have crossed that line…I think we need to be sensitive and realize it’s okay to be different, to not be perfect in everything and to even fail..Maybe then bullying as a whole can be tackled…

    1. Yes, Nabanita, exactly. And it is because that line is so blurred that we slip so easily into such negative self-bullying. We are so willing to tell others that it’s OK to stumble, to fail, and to keep working toward a goal. But with ourselves, we immediately resort to stripping down. That doesn’t help anyone.

  18. Ohmygoodness, this is SO important! Thank you so much for taking this angle, for bringing this to light, and for being so direct about it. It IS true, we would never let people talk to our loved ones the way we talk to ourselves. Aak! This hits close to home–thank you for that. Necessary, important.)

    1. It is important, Galit. And I think direct is the only way to go here – too many of us would not listen if the message were subtle. It’s just so illogical that we would turn compassion outward and not toward ourselves.

    1. That’s just it, Michelle. We do it! And it really makes no sense at all. The practice of treating others as we would like to be treated ourselves is a good one. But I really think it has to be turned around, too – treat yourself with as much forgiveness and compassion as you are willing to show others. We wouldn’t tolerate cruel talk directed at another, but yet we do it to ourselves.

  19. I’ll admit it: this post snuck up on me. . . I didn’t expect it to turn into a “quit bullying yourself” kind of a post. . . I have to admit, though — it’s what I needed to read. . . & I am sure I am not the only one. Thank you for that.

  20. So true! And I’ve noticed that those who bully themselves and set impossibly high standards for themselves also often bully others. Making a conscious choice to notice the way I speak to myself in my internal voice has been a first step in changing the record and made a big difference to how calm and centred I feel.

  21. Oh this is GOOD, Lisa!!! Brilliant. How often we do this very thing, act/be/speak to ourselves with cruelty that we would NEVER allow others to do. Oh, how easy it is to treat ourselves with no respect. Such a great insight, my friend!

    1. Thanks, Chris. I’ve been thinking a lot about our treatment of ourselves and self-compassion – since before last month’s #1000Speak. I think it’s at the root of so much and perhaps if we start with ourselves, it’s possible to change so much more.

  22. Damn Lisa! This was an awesome post. I really never thought about it before – but I do bully myself. Shame on me. And I LOVE the To Kill a Mocking Bird tie in.

    1. Thank you, Allie. I think we all do, to some degree. And yet we don’t stop ourselves!
      To Kill a Mockingbird is one of my favorites and just such a quintessential compassion piece. It fits. And you can’t beat Gregory Peck as Atticus – no argument there.

  23. Okay, so you have read my blog and know that I have a very unhealthy load of depression. I don’t only beat myself down, but I tend to tolerate a lot of beating down on me, from people I love.
    People tell me I have nerves of steel.
    However I don’t tolerate someone beating down on someone I love, being a friend or family member. And I guess this is where your point is. It comes to self love. 🙂

    1. It does come down to self love, Serins. I know depression is a constant uphill battle. When you get in that cycle of negative talk, it makes you feel bad, you tolerate more form others, and the downward spiral continues. If you wouldn’t tolerate it directed at someone else, why you? Something to think about.
      I have much catching up to do on your blog with the A to Z blogging series – I have them marked! But I’m jumping over later today to see your #1000Speak post because I haven’t hit it yet. 🙂

  24. Oh Lisa this is like opening a window! Or switching on the light in a dark room. Of course. Put myself in someone else’s shoes and think about them saying it to me. I often catch myself talking out loud on a daily dog walk. I’ve been going over stuff in my mind and if I remember some time that I think I’ve been foolish I’ll hear myself say “You’re so stupid.” Can’t tell you how often I do that! If anyone said that to me I’d be furious. Ok – it’s stopping today. Thank you for the flash of insight!

    1. Oh, Kelly, I am happy this shed some light for you! Yes, please, stop today! It’s not that simple, of course, but awareness of the habit is the first step. (See what I did there…step…dog walk. Never mind.) 🙂

  25. Wow! I never thought of myself as a bully – until you turned the tables on me. Of course, I’m going to love anything that has to do with Atticus Finch, and you are so right. We need to speak kindly to everyone, first and foremost ourselves. Thank you for this wonderful post.

    1. Thanks, Julia. My intent is not to make anyone feel bad, but if it makes us stop and think about how we treat ourselves, then I’m OK if it gives you pause. Thank you for thinking my post is wonderful. 🙂
      And Atticus Finch just equals awesome.

  26. Love this post! So much truth and value to all of it. Self-love and self-compassion is a daily practice. One I am getting better and better at after 2 years on this path. What I have realized also is that the way we treat ourselves teaches our children how to treat themselves too. The benefits of self-love are greater than we think!

    1. Hi, Jackie. And thanks. Your word is spot-on – it’s a practice. And you are so right that the way we treat ourselves is what our children learn. I stopped myself today in the car when I was about to say, “wow, I feel so fat today.” That is NOT how I want her to learn to speak to herself. I thought for a minute and found a better way to describe what I felt – uncomfortable. Because, really, that’s all it was. It ripples far beyond us, yes. I haven’t been to your 1000Speak post yet, but I will get there!

  27. Self-bullying is only too real, and unlikei other forms of bullying, we are not aware of it and do not give ourselves chances to heal. We have to take note of the words we say to ourselves.

    1. Michelle, it’s true that we are often not aware. We can’t really know what is in the heart of another and we can so easily convince ourselves that the words we turn on ourselves are somehow OK. If we are emotionally beating ourselves up, nobody else sees it and that’s a sad and scary thing.

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