Yesterday, I shared my experience with Positive Affirmations and the changes those brought about in my attitude, allowing me to make positive changes in my life. One thing I mentioned several times in the post was honesty. Before I could begin to see any improvement in my life, I first had to be honest with myself, and that is incredibly hard and scary. But I did it, and it didn’t kill me, despite popular belief that it just might do so.
At the time I started using Positive Affirmations, I was miserable heap of humanity. I was overweight, miserable, hated my job, and my roommate situation was less than desirable. Everything I wanted seemed out of reach. Losing weight was impossible. Everything sucked. Everything! My supervisor was squeezing the very life out of me, like those wretched Skeksis in The Dark Crystal drawing out the Essence of living creatures. My friends were assholes, but they were my friends, and it seemed better to have assholes than no friends. I blamed everyone and everything around me for what was happening in my life, taking no responsibility for my role in it. I was volunteer for victimhood.
I was sick a lot, caught every bug that came my way. I hated my job and supervisor and as a result, missed as much work as possible and only put in the minimal effort. I ate crap because it momentarily made me feel better. (Yay! Twinkies!) Most of the people in my life were connected through our negative outlook. Ever notice how quickly someone will become your friend when you find a common enemy to bitch about and bring you together? Yeah, that was pretty much all my friendships at the time. I wanted things to change, but felt helpless to change them. I was better than this… maybe? That doubt that just maybe I could do better, be better, and have better let a little bit of hope creep in.
I’m not sure if I had a dark night of the soul or just a dose of bravery, but I did come face-to-face with honesty. I was honest about myself. Was I fat? Yes. Who did that? I did. Ok, genetics may give me a predisposition, but genetics don’t cause me to stuff my face. I chose to do that. I didn’t exercise. Why not? Because I’m fat. It’s hard to get going. It’s boring. I hate it. And whose fault it that? Oh yeah, mine. Again.
Did I hate my job? Not entirely. I was miserable with my supervisor. Could I do anything about that? Well, I would never, ever get her approval based on my performance unless there was a blood sacrifice involved, and even then she would find fault with it. I could change jobs, but that wouldn’t change my attitude. What I could do, was produce the best job performance I was capable of and work to please myself, not my supervisor with her impossible standards. My self-sabotage at work was adding to my stress, and quite frankly, I felt I deserved to be mistreated. Fat people should be punished, right? Isn’t that what society tells us?
If I wanted my living arrangement to change, that meant more money. More money meant a different job. Getting a different job meant a good referral from my present job and making a good impression with interviewers which would also mean improving my overall appearance. Wow. What a daunting task. It was easier to be miserable and blame everyone else. That cycle just added to my unhappiness.
I admitted to myself all the things I was doing that made me miserable. No one was forcing me to do them. I chose it, every step of the way. By being honest with myself, I was able to set small, achievable goals. I was able to look at every small decision as an investment in more of the same. It was one thought and one decision at a time, one small step toward a goal that eventually turned into positive self-talk and better habits. My biggest accomplishment from that time, was divorcing my identity and self-worth from the numbers on a scale. Being fat does not now, nor did it then, make me a bad person who was undeserving of love or success or happiness. That is a lie. If you believe that, you are believing a lie. Despite what Billy Joel says, ‘honesty’ is not a lonely word, it’s a liberating one.
I haven’t maintained the fitness level or waist size I had during that period of transformation, but all the other things remained. I deserve good things in my life. I learned to love myself and be gentle with myself, while still being honest. I no longer punish myself with negative self-talk.
If you have negative self talk, think of it this way: If someone spoke out loud to you the way you talk to yourself, would you stand for it? What would your spouse do if someone talked to you that way? Or your parent or sibling? Would it make them angry that someone they love is being treated so badly? I’m guessing the answer to that is ‘yes’ in most cases. (If it’s no, then you might be looking at a toxic relationship.) So if you won’t let another person do that to you, why do you do it to yourself? It’s cruel. Do you accomplish anything by being overly critical and demeaning yourself when you make a mistake? If you do, well, you’re a rare snowflake, because no one else I know benefits from that practice.
I learned honesty is not a permission slip to be cruel, nor is it a criticism, it is a statement of fact, and facts are neutral. It’s humanity that applies an emotional response to fact, and women are conditioned to do it with everything we do. Didn’t get the dishes done last night? Bad parent/wife/roommate. Weigh more than the charts say you should? Well holy crap, you’re as evil as those bastards who club baby seals and the warlords who practice genocide all because your waist and bust measurements don’t conform to the Golden Ratio. Right? No. Me either. So stop doing it to yourself. The world won’t end, you won’t die, and holy crap on a cracker, you just might feel a little bit happier as a result.
I hear the talk of women with low-self esteem say it’s impossible, they can’t do it. Bullshit. That’s believing the lie. Stop wearing that Low Self-Esteem Badge like it’s something you worked for in Girl Scouts. One of my favorite quotes from Louise L. Hay is: It’s only a thought, and a thought can be changed. Add to that one of the quotes attributed to The Iron Lady, Margaret Thatcher, “Watch your thoughts for they become words. Watch your words, for they become actions. Watch your actions, for they become habits. What your habits, for they become your character. And watch your character for it becomes your destiny. What we think, we become.” That line of thought is show just how we learn to have low self-esteem. We aren’t born with it, which means it’s something that can be changed.
My son, The Hobbit I write about so often, he’s five now. He was planned, wanted, and loved even when he was no more than a dream. His entire five years on this earth he has been cherished, encouraged and told he was loved. I have used what is referred to in early childhood practices as “scaffolding” to provide him with support so that he can achieve things with my help that he wouldn’t be able to do on his own, and as a result, he’s pretty confident about his abilities. He may hang back and analyze things instead of blindly jumping in, but in most instances, when he encounters something new, whether it’s a food or an activity, he’s willing to try. Yoda may claim “there is no try”, but for those of us who aren’t Jedi knights, giving something a good old fashioned try is the way to go.
The Hobbit has been told from the very beginning that he’s smart and handsome and funny and loved and we’re proud of him. He hears it daily. He will tell you he is all these things, and he believes it, because we believe it. What a child hears in everyday language helps shape their self-talk, and my five year old is secure and confident and asks for help when he needs it without fear of failure or rejection. I’m tremendously proud of that, because I know how hard I had to work in my own life to be able to do that for him.
I think it’s safe for me to assume that if you’re reading this you’re probably an adult, and as an adult you’ve probably moved past the point where your parent(s) are responsible for your daily well being. So if you’re an adult, carrying around baggage and dealing with “issues”, just take a moment and let your imagination run wild. Imagine that for the next five years, your inner dialogue and what the loved ones in your life told you every day was that you were handsome/pretty/cute, smart, fun to be around, funny, and they’re proud of you. Imagine if your reprimands, whether handed out by your inner critic or by your boss, were gentle reprimands of factual honesty, not a self-flagellation. What would you be like then? What would your life be like? What would you see when you looked in the mirror and what could you accomplish?
Maybe life has beat you up a bit and positive self-talk feels unnatural and honesty is unbearable because what you see in yourself is so repulsive (it’s truly not as bad as you imagine, I promise). I understand that. I was teased as a kid because I was different, and by different, I mean tall and smart and shy and played cello and piano. Kids teased me, some even crossed the border to harassment, but thankfully I had a couple good friends and the love of my parents to see me through. But no one believes their parents when they’re 12, they believe what they hear at school. One boy persisted in calling me Nell Carter throughout grade school and middle school, another referred to me as The Russian (a reference to Bridget Neilson in Rocky IV, which wasn’t nearly as insulting as it seemed back then), and a third that stands out in my memory was a boy who sat beside me in 7th grade English and would make paper balls and use my cleavage for target practice. Having a C-cup when you’re 12 is hell.
As an adult, I was shamed and controlled through manipulation by someone I thought was a friend, my closest friend. Sadly, I let that toxic “friendship” go on for fifteen years because I believed that friend knew me better than I knew myself. I was convinced I had some critical flaw that needed to be corrected, and if I just did everything this person told me the way they told me to do it then I would be normal. When I failed to act normal, I was mercilessly teased and shamed in front of others, punished for my failure to comply. Yeah, I know – why did I let that go on so long? It was like boiling a frog. Most emotionally abusive situations are like that, you don’t know how bad it is until the water is boiling and getting out takes tremendous effort.
Maybe someone from your past teased you or told you on a regular basis that you were something negative, that you were ugly or stupid or fat or worthless or any of the other cruel taunts that get tossed around. Maybe you heard it so often you started to believe it was true. Then it became a thought carried around and repeated. It’s a thought becoming word, becoming action, becoming habit, etc. If you can learn to be hard on yourself, you can also learn to be neutrally honest and in turn, kind. It takes practice, but it starts with honesty.
Just for today, try being honest without being critical. Be kind and forgiving, not only to others but also to yourself. And just in case you need a permission slip to make it official, here you go:
So why have I gotten all Life Coach on here the past couple days? Well, I read something that spurred the thoughts, and I think it’s important to share our stories. I promise to get back to books and crafts and Geek Love and amusing stories about the adventures of Team Fakefish, but this one was knocking at the back of my head to get out there in the world. Thanks for indulging me. One more thing, be nice to yourself, you deserve it.