I have always been my own, worst critic. I am coming to realize that the majority of us judge ourselves harshly and hold ourselves to a standard that usually isn’t even attainable. I don’t remember how or when my inner critic became so loud in my head, but at this point, I don’t remember a time when she didn’t exist. Maybe you have that voice too? The one that calls you stupid when you make a mistake, or tells you that you’re no good when you don’t measure up either to the standard you’ve created for yourself, or to the comparison that you make with other people. I’ve said things to myself over the course of my life that I wouldn’t have even said to my own dog.
I believe that this negative self-criticism and the fact that I had a hard time expressing and letting myself feel my feelings when I was a kid, led me to many years of low self-esteem, depression, and eventually, disease. Even as a kid, I was very hard on myself. I always felt such a need to please people, especially my parents and the other adults in my life. Luckily, my Mom recognized this quality about me, and never punished me for things like a C on my report card, because she knew that I would be punishing myself enough for everyone. And boy was she right. Instead of seeing my mistakes as mistakes, and learning from them and moving on, I would internalize the message that there was something wrong with me and that I wasn’t good enough. And years of doing that really weighed heavily on me. I kept my emotions stuffed down deep inside me for years until I got to high school, and became depressed. Over the years, I would wish for my death when something difficult was happening in my life. I never had a plan. I never talked to anyone about it. But I realize now that at that point, because I had not dealt with my emotions about so many things I had experienced in my life, my emotions became larger than life. My emotions began to overwhelm me and I had no idea how to cope with it all at once.
Several years ago, I began to read a lot of books and articles on spirituality and mindfulness. Many of them shared the same core message that our thoughts are powerful and can create our reality. I began to pay attention to what I was telling myself during the course of a day. I realized that in the times that really challenged me, I was not only trying to escape from feeling my more difficult feelings by stuffing them deep down inside of me, but I was also being really mean to myself. There have been times when I had a regret about the way something went and I played that moment over and over in my head a million times, like a hamster running in a wheel, and each time I would be so upset with myself for falling short. This once unconscious habit led to a lot of suffering. My mind would spiral around and around until I ended up in a sea of anxiety on the verge of another bout of depression. For years, this happened, over and over. Life kept challenging me to grow and learn, but my mind was stuck in a perpetual hamster wheel for a long time unable to see the meaning in my experiences, and to experience the growth from my mistakes. That is until I realized that I had a choice. We all have a choice.
Every day, we choose how to treat ourselves and how to talk to ourselves. I started choosing to treat myself nicely and to talk more kindly to myself. When the critical chatter would show up, I’d snap myself out of it by sometimes saying out loud, “you’re doing it again.” Just the simple act of recognizing what was happening in my mind was often enough to quiet the negative comments. Once I started to pay attention, I realized that I had a lot of automatic thoughts that I had become so accustomed to that they were able to slip in and do their damage unnoticed by me most of the time. As I mentioned in my last post, we have all had our struggles and if you’re reading this, then you and I have both lived through 100% of our worst days so far. And this simple realization can be our starting point for showing ourselves more compassion. When I began to look as my life as a story, and could see all of the things that had shaped me as a human, I began to feel real compassion and love for myself. Rather than only paying attention to my perceived flaws or to what I felt I had done “wrong,” I started really focusing on my strengths and all that I had accomplished. I began to focus on the positives.
In a lot of ways, my illness saved my life. When I was sick, I was forced to focus on myself for a change. I no longer had the option to give all of my energy and love away to everyone but myself. I was forced to take good care of myself. I was forced to show myself that I thought I was worth the extra time, money, and resources towards my well-being. And, I learned that stress made me more sick. So, I began to cut things out of my life that caused me stress, one of which being the hamster wheel in my mind.
Just by changing these thought patterns and ending the negative self-talk, I started seeing improvements in all areas of my life. In accepting that I am human doing the best I can, I started cutting myself some slack. It turns out that when I cut myself slack, I cut others slack too. When I’m not judging myself harshly, I stop judging others harshly. And as I learn to accept and love myself more just as I am, I accept and love others more just as they are. After all, we are all humans doing the best we can in this Earth School meant to grow our souls.
Around this same time, I also started seeing the divine reasons that certain things had happened in my life. And friends, when I opened my mind to the possibility that the Universe knows more than I do and that the events of my life have been strategically planned by my soul before my birth, I gained an amazing freedom from trying to control every single aspect of my life. I realized that I’m not really in control of anything but my own actions, words, and thoughts. And with that realization, I finally felt free.
By the time I started working to change my thoughts, a lot in my life had cleared out to make room for this new way of being. My divorce had come and gone, my health had improved drastically, and I was a few years into my new career of nursing. But my new way of thinking was tested when within a matter of months, I lost a relationship with my best friend of 20+ years, and my dog of 14 years died. I thought that surely my spirit would be crushed by these two events and I would again spiral into a depression. But that never happened. While my heart did hurt quite badly, I was able to recognize that I was left with a version of me that could handle whatever the Universe threw at me. I had just lost two of my biggest support systems, and yet I moved on with the confidence that I was capable of living and thriving beyond my losses, and that the Universe was taking care of me. In fact, I believe that both were taken from me when the Universe knew that I was ready to be my own support system.
I continue to have my new way of thinking tested all of the time, both by big events, and small ones. My closest friends and family know my story. They know that I live alone with my son and no family within driving distance (or even on this side of the country). I completely trust that the Universe is taking care of my son and I, and so I will continue to make the best of the situation and to live each day to the fullest. I have fallen down many times, but I choose to continue to get up, always stronger than before. I am driven by my love for my son, my quest for inner peace and happiness, and the love that I have for life. We live this life in the blink of an eye. I don’t know about you, but I plan to make the most of it.
How do you speak to yourself? How do you cope with your greatest challenges? Is there a simple change that you could make that would make a big impact on your quality of life?