The voice of toxic self-condemnation can still get loud in my head, even after years of “knowing better”.
This toxic voice says:
—”It’s selfish to consider your own wants and needs.”
—”It’s wrong to cultivate your talents or pursue your dreams.”
—”You should never consider yourself in any decision you make.”
—”You should always sacrifice. If you don’t, you are bad.”
When that voice of toxic self-condemnation gets loud, I now know to slow it down and pay attention. (It helps to think of my wise mentor who tells me, “Beware of the ‘shoulds’ in your mind. They’re often not from God.”)
I start to get curious: Where is it coming from? How does that voice think it’s helping me?
A highlight reel of old, formative sermons and Bible studies flash through as I stay curious. ‘But didn’t Jesus tell us to deny ourselves?’ a young part of me stuck in twisted thinking digs in. Doesn’t God want me to “hate” myself?
In some cases, I know what I latched onto from pastors or mentors was not their intended message. In some cases, perhaps it was. No matter, that message of self—no, soul—killing took hold and can still masquerade as God’s voice in my head.
As I stay connected to this young, stubborn part of me with compassion, light breaks in and I catch my breath:
What if that voice, the loud one angrily hammering me is. . . not God’s?
Tears come, and the rest of my soul kicks in—the steady core that knows the Good Shepherd. ‘Oh yes! That’s not the Jesus I know from Scripture, the one who spoke of talents, of rest, of asking, of receiving, and of being with him!’
Why do so many of us hear Jesus’ call to deny ourselves in a way that distorts his intent? Why do we struggle so much to take the true Voice of Love in?
I have wrestled with this question much of my life. What I do know is this: When Jesus said to deny yourself, he understood the difference between denying your “selfishness” and denying your God-given, imago-bearing “self”. . . your soul made to shine who God is through your life.
If you struggle with toxic self-condemnation—a critical voice in your head that masquerades as God’s voice—write down what it says in one column, and then write a holy re-frame right next to it.
—Understanding and stating my needs helps me forge healthy relationships.
—Developing my God-given talents is one of my most important responsibilities.
—I consider both my needs and the needs of my loved ones when I make decisions.
—God invites me to rest and to receive care.
“A thief is only there to steal and kill and destroy. I came so they can have real and eternal life, more and better life than they ever dreamed of.” (John 10:10)