You’ve only got to turn on the TV, listen to the radio or go online for a few moments these days to find plenty of poison in the air as different factions — political, religious, environmental — argue that their opponents are despicable people, unworthy of the public’s trust.
That’s bad enough for humanity, but what’s much worse for most of us isn’t the poison spread by other people. It’s the poison we tell ourselves…about ourselves.
This is a well I’ve drunk from very deeply over the years, but I’m not unusual in that.
Many of us think we’re not good-looking enough, or not talented enough, or not smart enough. We tell ourselves that’s why nobody loves us or cares about us.
Toxic though public discourse is at the moment, it’s nothing like as toxic as the things we tell ourselves to undermine our own self-confidence and self-belief.
The Alice Cooper song “Poison” isn’t about that, however, nor is it about the daily experience of watching politicians hurl insults at one another. It’s about love gone wrong (albeit I don’t think Alice Cooper’s definition of romance is quite the same as mine, but whatever floats your boat…).
But what about the love you need to have for yourself?
Alice Cooper’s song might not be about that directly, but it could be…
Your cruel device
Your blood, like ice
One look could kill
My pain, your thrill
Most people wouldn’t talk to another human being the way they talk to themselves — not in person, anyway.
It’s thankfully rare for people to tell a stranger, never mind someone they cared about… “you’re a loser”… “nobody will ever love you”… or “you don’t deserve to be happy”…
Yet that’s what plenty of people tell themselves every day. Several times a day. Twisting the knife every time something goes wrong…often, whether it was their fault or not.
Eventually they stop trying. They lose hope. They learn to live in the expectation that the future only holds more pain for them, and that any upside they stumble across will be only fleeting and temporary.
In time, it becomes easier to turn your back on any potential upsides that come your way.
The short-term high you get from an unexpected hit of self-esteem just isn’t worth it compared to the sudden crash that always seems destined to turn up shortly after.
I wanna love you, but I better not touch
I wanna hold you, but my senses tell me to stop
I wanna kiss you, but I want it too much
I wanna taste you, but your lips are venomous poison
You’re poison running through my veins
I don’t want to break these chains
Just like Alice Cooper’s tale of love gone wrong, it can be hard to break the chains of being really hard on yourself. As the heartbreak Alice Cooper sings about becomes a way of life, so does self-destruction, if you let it.
With a broken heart, you wake up every morning and your first sensation is the empty space in the bed next to you, where someone else used to be. The day tends to go downhill from there.
With a broken spirit, you wake up every morning and start talking yourself down.
I usually run through several wounding self-criticisms between my bed and the shower, a few steps away, within seconds of my alarm going off. That way, I figure, at least I’m limbering up for some of the things I’m going to spend most of the day telling myself anyway.
By starting the day on an optimistic note, I’ve learned, is just setting myself up for a fall. It’s better to align my expectations nice and low early on, I’ve found. That way there’s not so far to fall later in the day.
And that’s what goes on at the interface of logic and emotion.
Logically, I know this isn’t a good thing for my long-term well-being. I’ve read plenty of books about this, attended seminars and had support from different people over the years.
But emotionally, I know logic doesn’t stand a chance against my own catalogue of experience. The logic seems to work for other people, to varying degrees. But it doesn’t reflect my life.
So, like most of us, I’m a lot more inclined to believe something I’ve directly experienced over an idea I’ve read in a book or something a seminar leader has told me.
After all, what do they know? They don’t walk those eight steps from my bed to the shower each morning when I’m making an early start on my self-criticism for the day.
Most days I’m exhausted after 8 hours of pretending to be reasonably cheerful at work…nobody likes working with a glum, downbeat colleague…
By the time I get home, I’m drained by the effort…where, of course, I tell myself that’s nothing more than I deserve for trying to be happy when I don’t deserve happiness.
Alice Cooper was right about the drip-drip damage that can cause inside your head…
Running deep inside my veins
Burning deep inside my brain
I don’t want to break these chains
This stuff does burn deep inside your brain. It etches ways of thinking about yourself into your grey matter.
In time, it convinces you that you don’t deserve anything more than you have now. The quicker you get used to that idea, the easier that’ll be for everyone.
That’s why the way you talk to yourself does a lot more damage than listening to people arguing on TV, the radio or social media.
You can switch all of those off. You can’t switch off what goes on inside your head nearly so easily.
And if this article resonates with you, while I’m sorry to say I don’t have any quick answers, I’ve found that I feel better when I remember to be kind to myself.
I try to talk to myself the way I’d talk to a work colleague who hasn’t quite performed up to standard. I don’t always remember…and admittedly the early morning eight-step walk to the shower tends to drive my instinctive messaging, rather than the more positive version I’d give to a work colleague…but when I do remember, I tend to have a better day.
And I try to forgive myself when things go wrong, rather than criticising myself. Again, I don’t always remember to do this, but I figure if I can remember to forgive work colleagues who have done some pretty daft things over the years, I can forgive myself a lot more than I normally do.
I’m not an expert, a doctor or a therapist. I’m a work in progress. I find this helps…perhaps you will too.
As for the Alice Cooper song, “Poison” has been one of his more enduring records…alongside “School’s Out” and “Elected”. Back in 1989 it reached Number Two in the UK singles charts and Number Seven in the Billboard Hot 100.
I like it, not just for the words, but the Guns ’n’ Roses-like, Bon Jovi-esque guitar solo played by John McCurry, who gets a co-writing credit on “Poison” alongside Alice Cooper and composer/producer extraordinaire Desmond Child.
“Poison” is a song about love gone wrong, but give it a listen and imagine it’s a song about the importance of being kinder to yourself.. You might find the lyrics more therapeutic than you immediately expect.
And you’ve got a big advantage.
With love gone wrong, you’ve got to convince someone else to change their mind about leaving you. With how you talk to yourself, only you decide how to do that. You don’t need to convince anyone else, just yourself.
Be kind to yourself. If nothing else, you deserve that.
If you’ve read this far, thank you for spending a few moments in the company of one of my favourite songs. The video is below, but if you prefer listening to your music on Spotify, you can find today’s track here… https://open.spotify.com/track/5XcZRgJv3zMhTqCyESjQrF