Pondering Pride

Only now am I making the connection between my childhood and the way I celebrate myself. It’s interesting to think about. When I was a child, I was exceptional. I didn’t realize it at the time, having no perspective on the matter. But now that I work with children every day I understand why so many adults in my life (my teachers, colleagues of my parents, etc.) seemed so amazed and excited about me as a person. I was always able to outperform my peers in nearly every way. I was incredibly intelligent and curious. I was creative and quite talented in my artistic endeavors. I even got straight As all throughout school, even in college.

Despite the showers of praise I got from so many people, my parents and family members never seemed too impressed. Because of this, I assumed the other people were just being polite or kind, and didn’t take their compliments to heart. My parents always treated me like I was a normal, average child. While other kids in my class got money for a report card with Bs and Cs, I never got anything at all for returning home with perfect marks. I was barely even patted on the back. While this was frustrating, I still believed it must just be because that was expected of me and I wasn’t doing anything special or impressive.

I’ve come to find out that, despite my parent’s apathetic reactions to my childhood accomplishments, they were very proud of me and knew I was gifted. In their minds, they didn’t want to make me arrogant or conceited with constant positive reinforcement. While they meant well, this approach definitely had other unintended consequences. Namely, as an adult, I find myself unable to give myself credit for my accomplishments or feel proud of anything that I do.

I never learned how to celebrate and enjoy personal success. Instead when I succeed I merely think that’s what I’m supposed to do, so it’s nothing to be especially pleased about. I find myself looking at other people’s lives and thinking I would be so happy and confident if I were them, but in reality I don’t think I would be. After all, I have a lot of amazing qualities and achievements myself. I just don’t acknowledge them. In fact, I even feel rather guilty when I try to tap into a sense of pride for who I am and how far I’ve come in my personal journey. I guess my parent’s fear of me developing an inflated ego has seamlessly transferred into my own mind.

Today, no matter how uncomfortable it might make me at first, I want to take the time to consciously note all of the incredible things I’ve done and continue to do on a daily basis. With the perspective of an outsider looking in, I’d like to try to adopt an objective perspective of my personal growth over the years. Maybe then I won’t feel so guilty about “doing nothing” or being “lazy” all the time. So here is a list of some things I think I should feel proud of.

  1. Bachelors Degree in Psychology, Minor in Writing: I’ve learned a hell of a lot about the human mind and my own internal biases and blind spots through my education. Sometimes I forget that the general public is not privy to a lot of the information I now use to guide my everyday life and decisions. While society doesn’t seem to value my degree very much, I’m still glad that I chose the major I did. I’m also proud that I graduated at the very top of my class, Summa Cum Laude.
  2. Certified Yoga Instructor: It sounds weird, but I feel so unworthy of this title that I often forget to even think of myself as a yoga teacher. I still remember idolizing my teacher in college and having a pipe dream that maybe I could teach yoga one day. Well I did it! I’m that incredible, beautiful, spiritual person that I once looked up too. And damn it, I deserve to give myself all the credit in the world for accomplishing something I hardly thought would ever be possible.
  3. Healthy Habits: In my late teens/early twenties, I really aspired to form healthy lifestyle habits. I would watch YouTube videos and follow Instagram accounts of people that I saw living the life that I so wanted to emulate. I really put people that could wake up early, exercise, and eat healthy on a pedestal. Yet, now that I’ve been waking up at 5AM and working out before work everyday and doing yoga and meditating religiously for years, I feel like it’s no big deal. It’s helpful for me to imagine how elated my younger self would be with the life I’ve cultivated for myself.
  4. Veganism: Being vegan is another goal that I had for a very long time, but never thought I would be good enough to manage it. Now that I’ve been vegan for just under ten years, it is just second nature. Even though it’s ridiculously easy now, I have to remember that this is an impressive feat to a lot of people, my former self included.
  5. Creativity: Despite not feeling very creative or talented most of the time, it’s still impressive that I manage to find time to dedicate to my creativity and imagination every single day. Even people that loved to write or paint in this youth often have given up these endeavors entirely once they transition into adulthood. My own sister, who is a phenomenal artist, no longer paints because she can’t find the time. I might not be a great artist or ever make anything that will have an impact on the world, but I think it’s beautiful that I make an effort to foster that artistic nature that we all have within.

While these things are not the only things that I’ve accomplished or think are deserving of my pride, they are a few of the most important to me. When I start feeling down on myself, like I’ve never done anything worthwhile with my life, I plan to look back on this list, add to it, and remember that I’m still an extraordinary individual.

Something Worth Giving

Every being on this earth is truly unique. No two people think, feel, or experience the world the same. Therefore it stands to reason that each person in the world also has something unique to offer, whether that be in the smaller scale of people in their lives, or society at large. Each form of giving is equally valuable and fulfilling. I think it comes naturally for us to want to give back to our family, friends, and community. There is an inherent satisfaction in being helpful to other beings. Giving of ourselves is not the hard part. The hard part is knowing what our own special offering is.

Creativity and inspiration come from the deeply held belief that we have something worthwhile to offer to the universe. Artists can often feel compelled beyond all reason to express this powerful urge from within. Even in my darkest hours, a part of my intensified creative energy in this state is a deep longing to reach out and share my personal suffering with others. The idea that my suffering could be a comfort to someone else or an acknowledgment that they are not alone, that someone else understands, is a beautiful driving force.

I think one of the many reasons I’ve been feeling so stuck and unmotivated is that deep down, I really don’t believe that I have anything worthwhile to give. This feeling hanging in the background of all I do makes me want to be as small as possible. I shrink away from the world, trying to get out of everyone’s way. The bitter taste of conceit turns my stomach when I contemplate creative efforts. Who am I to create? Who am I to take up space? Lately everything I do, everything I am, feels like an affront to the world rather than a gift. I am filled with shame by the perceived presumption that what I say, do, feel, or create should or even could matter to anyone else.

Somehow I’ve always been able to hold two contradictory believes in my heart simultaneously: Everyone matters. I do not matter. Everyone has a unique and valuable gift to offer. I have nothing to offer. Everyone deserves to be loved. I do not deserve love. Even though logically I realize both of these statements cannot be true, that doesn’t seem to affect my conviction toward either one.

Perhaps I still just haven’t determined what my unique gift is. Despite all of my varied talents and skills, there are always a lot of people that out perform me in any arena. Once again, I would never proclaim that you have to be “the best” at something in order for your work to be worthwhile, somehow I hold myself to a very different and unrealistic standard. Maybe it would behoove me to get some outside perspectives on this matter. I wonder what those closest to me would say is my special gift. What is my unique value in this world? What I am able to offer in a way that no one else can?

Then again, despite the value you perceive personally, there is beauty in the idea of giving regardless of the “worth” of whatever that may be. Sometimes it is even more moving when someone with little or nothing of value shares the small amount they do have. Part of me believes that it is only our role to give, not to determine the value of that gift. After all we can never truly tell how something may affect or benefit another person. It’s the thought that counts, right?

I may never be able to determine for what reason I matter in this world. But I have faith that there is a reason for all of this despite my limited ability to understand. Maybe it’s not my place to know but to learn how to continue being without that knowing. Maybe it’s my place to give what I have and not worry about whether or not anyone else “wants” it. It’s the intention that matters. It’s the energy behind our actions that determine their worth, not the physical manifestation of those actions. No matter what I have, I can choose to give it with love, and that’s more than enough. And if others happen to think it’s not enough, that is their obstacle to overcome, not mine.

Unworthy

The fear of not being worthy of what my torn and bleeding heart so longed to do was the most frightening fear of all.

David Copperfield – Charles Dickens

Mental healthy is a slippery thing. One day I’ll feel like I’m doing great things, living a beautiful life, surrounded by love and opportunity. Then next I’m silently screaming in the shower as my body crumples convulsively in on itself in an attempt to disappear. The thought that grips me most violently in these moments is that I am alone. I am so alone. I’ve always been alone. I will always be alone.

My mind scrambles searching for the people that I love. Where are they? Where have they gone? They dissolve into floating masks, colorful fictions. A door slams in the face of my heart. It feels like these people never knew me, don’t like me, don’t care for me at all. Worst of all, I can’t convince myself that this is not true. Even on my good days this feeling is there, I just don’t look at it closely so it doesn’t hurt as much.

Depression and anxiety play tricks on you. Tag teaming tormentors of the soul. They twist and contort the world around you until it becomes unbearable and grotesque. They block out the light and tell you you’ve always been in darkness. Pinholes poked through a shrouded sky reveal only the most painful parts of your reality. Suffocating. All consuming. Looming large on a jet black horizon that seems to be closing in faster and faster.

When I find myself in this desperate state, my already poor social ability breaks down even further. A drowning man violently grasping and grabbing, trying to pull everyone around down with them in a blind attempt at salvation. When my clawing hand is pushed away, it is a confirmation that I’m not worthy of the oxygen I need. The world becomes a funhouse mirror. I can’t bear to look.

I’ve often heard people saying “it’s not you, it’s me” is just a line, a cop out. That no one really means this when they break up with someone. I’ve never felt so sure of that. I’ve felt the truth of these words in my own throat. It is because I love the people in my life that I feel compelled to sever all ties with them. I am nothing but a burden, a leaden weight pulling them underwater with me. I’m a chore, an annoyance, something they would be happier and better off without. When someone ends their own life, everyone gasps, “How could they do that to their family?” Not realizing they probably did it for their family.

I’ve felt unworthy since the moment I conceptualized that was something one could feel. I’m sure other people feel this way, but I wonder if they feel it in the same sense that I do. I wonder if they hold it up to the light of justice and feel these pangs with that additional intensity. The added weight of taking what is not yours, of doing something vile and criminal, something sickeningly selfish.

All the bonds in my life feel tinged with injustice. I don’t deserve to be loved. I couldn’t possibly be loved. I am doing a disservice to everyone I meet by allowing them to pretend for the sake of my own neediness, to dissuade my heavy sense of self pity. The melodrama is thick, but it’s genuine. This is how I feel. When I push someone away, there is never even a moment’s consideration of whether that has hurt them, whether they are sad, whether they might miss me or want me in their life. These questions seem ridiculous to me. I’m clearly not worthy of remembrance or tenderness. You don’t miss a rock that has finally tumbled out of your shoe when you shake it.

When I begin to feel better, when my agitated state of mind starts to settle, I still don’t believe these things to be any less true. I never feel worthy of love. I just feel less guilty about receiving it. I never lose that sense of being utterly alone. Being alone just doesn’t seem to hurt as badly. I’m left with only a sense of embarrassment and shame for showing the world my suffering. For being selfish and conceited enough to think that anyone else should or would care, for bothering everyone by asking them to, for being so ungrateful when I already have so much more than I’ve ever deserved.

I’m just left wondering: How can you move forward, how can you be happy, find love, love yourself, when you feel so certain that you are unworthy of all of it? When you feel guilty for even wanting to?

Shame

Shame is the thief of authenticity
the shadow that steals 
the joy inside your heart
the darkness that whispers 
what makes you unworthy

Shame is the fear of showing yourself
the horror of what it will mean to be seen
rejecting yourself before anyone else can
a punishment for perceived imperfections
a constant reminder that you are not enough

Shame is worse than the reality it threatens
the judgment of others only hurts so badly
when it is a confirmation of what you believe
shame is a mirror we place as a barrier
our own vicious eyes cutting in

Examining Limiting Beliefs

It’s taken me a long time to even recognize the things I say about myself are not objectively true, rather self-perceptions. Even with this realization, it can still be hard to challenge these beliefs. Most of them I have carried with me for as long as I can remember. That’s part of the reason why they feel so true and unchangeable. Today I wanted to list out a few of these limiting beliefs I have about myself and break them down in the hopes that I may begin to see them in a different light.

My Limiting Beliefs:

  1. I am easily overwhelmed.
  2. I am flaky/unreliable.
  3. I am unworthy.
  4. I am broken.
  5. I have poor communication skills.
  6. I’m a bad person.
  7. I am incapable of making decisions.
  8. I am easily angered/upset.

Reframing:

I am easily overwhelmed:

I think it’s important for me to preface this by acknowledging that reframing limiting beliefs does not have to mean that I completely deny these felt characteristics. I don’t have to reframe this to be the exact opposite (I am not easily overwhelmed.) I don’t believe that would serve me either. It needs to be a little more creative and nuanced than that. Rather than feeling badly about being “easily overwhelmed” I may start to view this quality a bit differently. Maybe it’s not that I’m easily overwhelmed, but that I am sensitive and feel things deeply. This isn’t necessarily a different thing, but for me, it’s a more positive and pleasant way to regard myself. One framing feels like a deficit, a weakness, while the other feels like a strength.

I am flaky/unreliable:

I might reframe this narrative to something like: I am spontaneous and ever changing. The first statement makes me feel guilty, but the second phrasing allows me to feel good about myself. There is nothing wrong with being spontaneous. It’s good to constantly shift and reevaluate and go with the flow from one moment to the next. There are definitely benefits to being consistent and commitment oriented, but there are also benefits of handling life differently.

I am unworthy:

This one if very hard for me to grapple with. I can’t recall when exactly I made this determination about myself. I feel this thought lingering over me always. It really inhibits my ability to flourish in life. You can’t enjoy the good things that happen to you or all that you have to be grateful for when you feel unworthy of it. This one might be best reframed as: The good things I have in life inspire me to be better every day. My passion and effort to improve are what count.

I am broken:

This one has also been with me for as long as I can remember. I catch my inner voice repeating questions like why am I like this? or why can’t I be normal? all the time. In some ways, I think this belief stems from my sense of awkwardness and social isolation as an autistic woman. I see my differences and label myself “broken” because of them. But different does not mean broken. I am unique. Differences and diversity make the world a fuller, more interesting place.

I have poor communication skills:

Unlike a lot of the other beliefs I hold about myself, I don’t think I began verbalizing this one until recently. I was often frustrated by interpersonal relationships, but didn’t really understand why they always seemed to go wrong. I think the main cause of my “poor communication” is fear. Therefore, I’d like to change this one to: It’s okay to speak from the heart even if it sounds awkward or embarrassing. I am practicing and improving my ability to connect with others every day.

I’m a bad person:

This one, although I do feel it, I imagine would shock a lot of people. I recognize that they are lots of people that are doing worse things than me, but that does not change the way I perceive myself. I have very high standards for myself and the people in my life. I also struggle with black and white thinking. These two factors lead me to view myself as wildly imperfect and therefore “bad.” What’s more interesting is the fact that I am ascribing this label to myself based more on my inner thoughts than my actions. Even though I don’t often act from anger or jealousy or greed, I know that I feel these emotions often and judge myself for it. However, thoughts are not crimes. Immorality is based on action, not emotions. And doing a few bad things or making the wrong decision from time to time does not make me view anyone else as a “bad person” so why should I apply different standards to myself? I am doing my best. Imperfect does not equal bad.

I am incapable of making decisions:

This belief tends to hold me back a lot in life as well. We are presented with decisions every day, and I make each one of them more stressful than they need to be by berating myself with the belief I am incapable of making them. Rather than thinking of this as a negative, I can see this as another strength. I am a careful, thoughtful, and considerate person. I like to analyze every decision thoroughly before taking action.

I am easily angered/upset:

There are positives and negatives of everything in life. Sure, I might feel anger more easily than other people, but on the other hand, I am a very passionate person. My passion is something I really value about myself. Getting angry is just a sign that I care. It’s how I respond to and deal with those difficult emotions that matters.


The next time I catch myself mindlessly repeating these familiar self-judgements, I hope that I can remember that there are other ways to view these aspects of myself. Things don’t always have to be true or false. There are so many different ways to view the same situations, circumstances, and aspects of ourselves. It will be hard at first. I’ve believed these things without question for my entire life. I won’t be able to let them go in an instant. But with persistence and practice, it will get easier.

Face Value

Maybe no one really seems to be the person that they mean to be.

Conor Oberst

The other day my coworker paid me a compliment that took me by surprise. She told me that she envies the way I seem so calm and present all the time. She said I come off as truly content and mindful. Part of me literally cannot believe this is really the way that she sees me. Perhaps she is just telling me what she thinks I want to hear? I don’t know why she would bother though. The comment seemed to come out of no where.

Although I already think about it often, this really emphasized the idea that my perception of people and their perceptions about themselves are quite likely extremely different. I never feel calm and content or that I’m able to enjoy the present moment. I’m exceptionally pleased that I may come off that way to people, but it’s hard to wrap my head around how that could be. Inside I am in a near constant state of fear, anxiety, and agitation. Often I am even ruminating on thoughts of bitterness and anger, playing the victim in my own inner story.

My coworker’s comment made me realize just how easily we become consumed by the image we imagine of ourselves, that we forget others may not view us in the same way. We’re so familiar with the reoccurring thoughts and patterns in our own minds that we forget others have no awareness of them. In the same way, it’s easy to forget that the information we have to work with on the surface isn’t necessarily giving us an accurate understanding of the full complexity of another person.

With the limited information we have, it’s easy to just write someone off as an asshole or an idiot. However, if I reflected on my own actions day to day from an outsider’s perspective, I’d likely label myself in this hasty, inaccurate, dismissive way just as easily. It’s uncomfortable to see someone doing something that we think is inconsiderate or irrational and just let it go with the acknowledgement that we don’t (nor can we ever) know the full story. It’s easier to construct a story to tell ourselves with the small pieces of information we do have.

As a social worker, I hear all kinds of crazy circumstances that people deal with every day. I really couldn’t make this stuff up if I tried. With that in mind, you’d think it would be easier for me to give someone the benefit of the doubt and assume they have a lot going on and reasons for behaving the way that they do. On the contrary, I still find myself constantly falling into the trap of cynicism and judgement..

Another helpful way to think about this is to consider that, at least in my experience, I am able to find redeeming qualities in just about everyone that I get to know on more than a surface level. When you only see a handful of moments in a persons life, it is much simpler to judge them harshly. The same tendencies in someone we know are more palatable to us than in someone we don’t know. I believe this is because we are able to weigh them against all of the positive qualities of the person we know, whereas we have no other points of reference for the person that we don’t.

On the flip side of this, my interaction with my coworker reminded me just how silly it is to worry about what other people might be thinking about me. I spend a great deal of time worrying about how I come off to other people. I’m terrified that they will think of me in the same harsh, unforgiving manner that I think of myself. While that might be true, it may also be true that they think more highly of me than I think of myself. The point is that I can never know for sure, nor can I hope to precisely shape the way another person thinks of me intentionally. It’s best to just express myself as I see fit in the moment and not worry about the rest.

Fight, Flight, or Freeze – Understanding the Three Responses to Anxiety

The anxiety disorders that we suffer with as a society today are a mutation of the primitive mechanism that once helped us to survive. Our nervous system is structured for attending to sudden, short-term danger that we would respond to by either running away, fighting for our lives, or freezing and camouflaging ourselves from predators. Unfortunately our society and technologies have far surpassed our biological evolution at this point. Our old ways of dealing with the original stressors we faced in nature are no longer translatable to modern problems.

Despite our problems being more long-term and complex, our nervous system’s response still manifests itself in similar forms to address stress. It is not always easily recognizable as what most of us think of as anxiety. I believe we still have the instinct for fight, flight, or freeze, it just looks quite different now than it did for our ancestors. I believe a lot of the behavior exhibited by people today is in fact due to anxiety.

Flight

Our flight response is what I believe most people mainly associate with the modern expression of anxiety. While we may not actually run away, this is the sensation we are used to describing as anxiety. It is easy for me to identify this inner urge to get away from the situation. This is the only mental state that I attributed to my anxiety disorder for the majority of my life. However, recently I’ve discovered that a lot of my other behavior can also be traced back to my nervous, unstable mental state.

Fight

I have struggled with anger since my teenage years. I never really considered that it had anything to do with my mental illness though. I felt that it was just a part of my personality or temperament. I’ve come to realize that, in fact, it is my anxiety that makes me so quick to anger. I had heard that underneath anger, there is often fear, but even then I didn’t make the connection. While anger may not always be a reaction to anxiety, I feel mine usually is. Understanding this has allowed me to be much more compassionate with myself when I become angry, as well as have more sympathy for others when they exhibit this violent emotion. When we know that anger is coming from a place of fear, it shifts our response to it immensely.

Freeze

This is another possible reaction to anxiety that I’ve only recently identified. Most people attribute procrastination to laziness or simply not caring. I suppose it can certainly stem from these things, but I believe now that it is primarily another carry-over of our nervous system’s primitive reactions to stress. If we can’t used our increased adrenaline to run away or fight, we freeze, or in other words try to avoid the problem or dangerous encounter. Unfortunately, avoiding a midterm paper won’t result in the deadline disappearing or going away like a predator that hasn’t spotted us would have.


I’m not suggesting that these behaviors are justified because they come from a place of fear, discomfort, or anxiety. However, I do think that it’s important we understand the source of these troublesome habits we or others in our lives might display. At the very least, it can give us some insight into our own behaviors that will be crucial in learning to change them. Many people feel badly about themselves for things like procrastinating or having a short temper. They internalize society’s view of these things and make matters worse by believing they are just a lazy or mean person. Getting a deeper understanding of the root of these issues can help us offer more patience and grace to ourselves as well as others.

Recognise Your Fight or Flight (or Freeze) Responses

Perfectionism

One of the hardest things about perfectionism is determining whether or not you struggle with it. There are certainly people who describe themselves as perfectionists, but I think a vast majority don’t recognize themselves as such. I definitely identify with a lot of the characteristics of perfectionists, but have an extremely hard time describing myself as one. Only recently did I learn that this is quite common.

Even if everyone around you recognizes you as a perfectionist, you might not see it in yourself. For me, it doesn’t feel like an accurate description because I am so imperfect. It feels foolish to say I’m a perfectionist when I am so highly critical of myself and everything that I do. Yet that is simultaneously one of the aspects of perfectionism. I suppose the main issue, in my mind, is that a perfectionist is someone who is nearly perfect in all that they do. But I don’t think I would ever consider anything I’ve done or anything about me to be “perfect.” I wouldn’t even say that I strive for perfection, because I genuinely don’t believe myself to be capable of it. To me it feels like I am just trying to be adequate. My standards are just higher than what a lot of other people’s might be, or so I’m told.

A few of the qualities of perfectionists are: all-or-nothing thinking, being highly critical, fear motivated, having unrealistic standards, being hyper focused on results, sensitive to criticism, tendency towards procrastination, and low self-esteem. I identify with every single one of these characteristics and see how they would apply to a perfectionist, but still I feel too flawed to be one myself. And that’s part of the problem. I don’t believe myself to be a high-achiever or acknowledge in a practical sense that my standards and expectations for myself may be unrealistic. It is extremely hard for me to relax and let go.

From the outside, I would agree that perfectionists need to be less rigid and try to be more easy going, accepting that they are already doing more than enough, I don’t feel that same advice applies to myself. “Well I can’t relax,” I think, “If I stop pushing myself, I’ll devolve into an even worse person than I am right now!” This is where that sense of being pushed by fear rather than pulled by aspirations comes in. When I make a goal for myself, my mind focuses more on the anxiety of not achieving my goal instead of the joy and satisfaction of accomplishing it.

In fact, no matter what I accomplish, I never feel much satisfaction from it. If I finish 9 out of 10 things on my to-do list, I don’t pat myself on the back for the majority being finished. I fixate on the one that I wasn’t able to get to. And I feel like I could have done a better job on the other 9. I notice this a lot when I’m cleaning my house. Vacuuming and sweeping the floors feels pointless (even though I still do it every other week) because all I think about as I’m going through my house is all of the other things I don’t have time to clean and organize. I feel overwhelmed by the mountain of things I can’t find time to address rather than giving myself credit for what I am doing well.

It is this very desperation for perfection and control that led me down the road of disordered eating. My body is one of my main areas of distress. Despite all of the wonderful, attractive qualities I have, they mean nothing to me in the face of my perceived flaws. It feels impossible to change them or accept them. Instead I try to avoid and disassociate from my own body most of the time.

I don’t know where this toxic mindset began. Often it stems from having high expectations placed on you by family when you are young. Some children grow up believing that if they are not perfect then they will not be given the love and support that they need. Deep down, I do feel unworthy of the love and consideration I receive, but I don’t recall anyone besides myself ever making me feel that way. My parents were always very supportive and did not pressure my sister or I to perform at any particular level. I am harder on and more critical of myself by far than any other person I’ve encountered in life has been. It seems like everyone in my life has always been very impressed by me and what I’m capable of, except me, that is.

I’m still learning how to obtain that one most illusive love, my own. I hope I am finally able to find it in 2022. I feel closer than I ever have before at least. I just have to keep reminding myself that flaws and mistakes do not disqualify you from happiness and love. I don’t need to wait until I prove myself in order to give myself those things. I deserve them just as I am now. We all do.

Ever feel you're not good enough? Overcoming perfectionism - ABC Everyday

Get Excited About Being Kind to Yourself

A few days ago, I woke up feeling sluggish and sick. My stomach was tight. I felt queasy. I wanted to throw up. This is not the first time I’ve woken up in this awful condition. In fact it’s been happening more and more frequently in the last few months. It was getting to the point that I would worry as I went to bed whether or not I’d have to push through this discomfort as I got ready for work the next morning.

It wasn’t as though I didn’t know why this was happening. The discomfort I was experiencing was indigestion from stuffing my face immediately before falling asleep. I knew that this wasn’t in my own best interest for many reasons apart from the physical symptoms I would occasionally experience the following morning. I was becoming particularly worried about this unfortunate habit after learning more about my gut microbiome and the fact that the body is not intended to be digesting food while we sleep.

For some reason, on this particular occasion I finally decided enough was enough. I was going to make sure that I showed myself the respect and kindness I deserved. No more waking up sick when I was able to prevent it. It certainly wasn’t worth it. I didn’t even get much enjoyment out of my little late night mini binges. It was just a habit that formed in the aftermath of the uglier stages of my eating disorder. Perhaps a necessary stepping-stone at one time, but now I was ready to do better.

Part of me is always extremely fearful when I set an intention to alter my eating habits. The whole topic is tinged with toxic thoughts for me. Yet this time it felt slightly different. This was perhaps one of the only times that I was changing my eating habits for my own wellbeing, not as a weight loss tactic. I really tried to steer clear of thoughts about this causing me to eat less or lose weight from not eating so late at night. I reminded myself that these things were not important to me. This change was about being kind to myself, not “self improvement.”

With this loving kindness in my heart, I have been following through with my new goal for the past few days. To my surprise, it has been a lot easier than I anticipated. It has even helped me get back into mindful eating again. Food is not a reward, nor is withholding it a punishment. Eating is just a normal part of my day, something natural that helps me make my body and mind a more comfortable place to be, like going to the bathroom.

The best part of this change in my routine, apart from feeling light and energized when I wake up, is all the extra time it allows me to have in the evening. Now instead of spending the whole day looking forward to a meal, I look forward to my cozy, contented, full bellied self-care afterward. My favorite part of the last few days has been making a cup of tea, smoking a bong, and reading a book as I cuddle up with my furry babies in my extra comfy Christmas hygeekrog. I can’t imagine anything more pleasant, except perhaps sharing this space with my partner as well.

The best way to make new healthy habits is to focus on the real reason that we want to change. Even if our goal was weight loss, behind that goal is still the thought that this will make us happy. So skip the middle man and just make the goal being happy right from the start. And what is the surest way to make ourselves happy? It certainly isn’t making strict rules and beating ourselves up for not meeting our own expectations. All we need to do to make ourselves happy is to act from a place of love and compassion, to offer ourselves unconditional acceptance, love, and forgiveness. With this driving us, any new habit can become something we look forward to rather than something that causes us grief.

Small Acts of Unkindness

Take a moment to think about all the little ways in which you withhold tenderness and compassion from yourself on a daily basis. It may take you a while to even register what those actions might be. We have become so used to disregarding our needs, that we lose sight of how cruel we are actually being to ourselves sometimes. When you stop to reflect, you can begin to see how you might be reinforcing thoughts of unworthiness and self-hatred without even realizing it.

For example, I caught myself being unkind the other night as I prepared my dinner. I was heating up leftovers like I often do after work. As I took the hot plate our of the microwave, I noticed that instead of getting pot holders or making sure I didn’t burn myself, I just rushed to set the plate back down in the other room before the pain became too great. Now this is something I do all the time. I guess I can’t be bothered to add on the extra step of finding something else to grab the plate with besides my bare hands. I don’t know what was different about that day, but as I hurried to set the hot plate down, I realized how unkind I was being to myself in that small, unconscious gesture.

Would I allow a family member, friend, or other loved one to risk burning themselves in that way? Of course not. I would insist that they protect themselves and avoid any unnecessary pain or discomfort. Yet I never felt the need to offer myself that same grace or consideration. How sad, I thought. How unkind I have been. Am I not to be included in the category of “loved one”? Why not? Do I not claim to love myself? Why was I not behaving as if that were true? How had I so easily been overlooking these opportunities to be gentle with myself?

After realizing the subtle cruelty of that common occurrence, I started to wonder in what other ways I had been neglecting myself. I began to notice small acts of unkindness everywhere I looked. There are many times when I’ll force myself to wear an article of clothing that is uncomfortable just because it looks good. I’m also guilty of things like: forcing myself to workout even when I’m feeling sick, biting my nails until my fingers are hurting or even bleeding, aggressively picking at my skin, mentally berating the reflection I see in the mirror, shaming myself for feeling confident, being silly, or even just dancing, etc.

The more I think about it, the more ways I notice I’m being unkind to myself on a daily basis. I’m saddened not only for all these things I’m realizing, but also for how long it took me to realize them. Looking back, I’ve done these things for as long as I can remember. As a teenager I remember not wearing sunglasses or sunblock, white knuckling through injuries in order to keep up with my 8 mile daily run, even performing intentional self-harm. The craziest part is knowing that I would never put up with someone else treating me this way, nor would I stand idly by and allow my loved ones to treat themselves with the same disrespect.

I’m slowly working towards becoming more mindful of these small, hurtful gestures. It helps to imagine how I would feel if someone else was in a similar situation. Then I offer myself the same consideration and kindness that I would offer them. I think without even being aware, a lot of us are the most abusive person in our own lives. What a difference it would make if we could bring a soft, loving intention to the little things we do each day.

The next time you notice yourself experiencing discomfort, anxiety, sadness, shame, etc. Ask yourself, am I contributing to the state I’m in right now? If so, how might I offer myself comfort instead? Instead of thinking “what a pain” when I have to take the time to protect my skin from a hot surface, I will think “here you go, dear, I love you, and I want to protect you.” Just because it’s us doing it to ourselves, that is still no excuse to cause suffering or be neglectful. The way we treat ourselves is just as important, if not more important, than the treatment we receive from other people. What are some of the ways you might offer yourself more love and compassion where you’ve been withholding it? How might that make a difference in the way you feel as you move through your day? Make an effort to be kinder toward yourself in small ways as well as in larger ways. Because you are worth it. And even if you have a hard time believing that, think of it as practice. Practice self-love and self-compassion so that you might more easily be able to extend that same energy to others in your life. Or even better, do it for the people in your life that love you. Treat yourself the way they would want you to be treated.

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