I don’t remember where, but I read that if you treat your feelings as if it was a separate entity and talked to them like you would a friend, it would be a good way to manage/lessen them.
I’ve been working on self-acceptance, trying to purge the voices in my head that tell me I’m not good enough unless someone tells me I am. Being rejected has always been a huge fear. Maybe, it’s because, as Helene Brenner says in her book, I Know I’m in There Somewhere, that my parents defected instead of mirrored my “wonderful sparks of life that announce, ‘This is who I am.’ “. It doesn’t really matter, what matters is that I’m aware of it and how it’s constraining me. I want to let it go.
So while I was stuck in traffic, I decided to have a talk to my ego by imagining that she was sitting in the back seat. (My ego is a little spoiled child and she speaks in a high pitch, whiny voice…if you have kids, you know the voice…)
The conversation went something like this:
Me (M): Why are you being all pouty? I’m trying to concentrate on work and you’re diverting my time and energy on something irrelevant and you’re making me feel like crap. I need to focus.
Ego (E): I want everyone to like me!
M: You have lots of friends, lots of people who love and adore you.
E: But you don’t love and adore me. Have you heard how you talk to me?
M: I mean, sometimes I get down on you…
E: Do you ever have anything nice to say to me? NO! You have no faith in me. You don’t think I can do anything. You’re constantly doubting everything I do, comparing me to other people, worrying about my weight…
M: Wow, is that really all I ever say to you?
E: Feels like it…
M: Are you telling me that all this acting up and diverting my focus is because you need to feel loved and appreciated?
M: What would I need to do to make you feel loved and appreciated?
E: I don’t know. Remember when we were kids?
M: Yeah. As a matter of fact, I was just looking through some old photographs. I love the picture of us on Grandma’s chair. It must have been some sort of holiday. We’re wearing a party dress and our hair is curled. I love our smile. It’s one of my favorite pictures. Why can’t we take cute pictures like that now?
E: Because you’re all judgy, that’s why. “No, don’t take my picture, I’m not photogenic.” (read with a mocking, sarcastic tone, again, if you have kids…)
M: Well it’s true
E: So not only can’t I do anything right, you don’t like the way I look…
M: That’s not what I said.
E: That’s what I heard!
M: O.K., sorry, I feel like we’re getting a little off track. What about our childhood?
E: I don’t know, it just seemed like we were friends back then. We played and laughed and now it just feels like you’re always criticizing me. I feel anxious and unloved.
M: Well, we were kids then. We were carefree. Life isn’t like that now. I have responsibilities. Don’t I take care of you? I exercise, eat right…
E: So the only thing you care about it how I look?
M: No! I’m doing this for your health. We’re not young anymore and I want us to be active and healthy for however much time we have left. It’s not about looks.
E: You are such a liar!
M: OK, it’s kinda about looks. I’m not going to lie, I like being thin.
E: Kinda? Pfft. You wanna know why I’m so needy? Wanna know why I’m in a constant state of anxiety, wondering what other people think of me? Hoping I’ll get some sort of appreciation? DO YOU WANT TO KNOW WHY?
M: (in a very small voice) I know why.
E: SAY IT!
M: (at this point I’m crying and hoping the other drivers didn’t notice) Because I think the only thing special about us is being thin. Sometimes it feels like that’s the only thing I’ve ever gotten any attention for.
Dear readers, this is a very deep and personal revelation for me and it wasn’t easy to share it but if telling it resonates with just one person and helps them, it was worth it.
We all have stories we’ve told ourselves. Some expand us and some keep us small and trapped. It doesn’t matter where they came from, but over time we’ve reinforced it to the point that it becomes buried in our subconscious and when triggered, we react. The problem is, this habitual pattern of behavior keeps us trapped in the past. Our reaction is not a reaction to the present moment, where we are always free to choose, we are reacting to a story from our past.
Here’s my takeaway from this “conversation”. While in reality I am a fairly well-rounded/balanced person if you consider the “life” wheel (family, work, spirituality, personal growth, etc), in my mind (the things I say to myself) I’ve been hyper focused on only one thing – my weight. It’s like everything else I’ve ever done was insignificant. I clearly remember the events in my life that created this story, pivotal moments that sent me down this unfortunate path. As a child who felt invisible, having people comment about my weight suddenly got me attention. Now that I am aware of this, I’m making an effort to restore some balance, to focus on the other things I’ve accomplished as well as my talents and gifts – my creativity, my compassion, my sense of fun and play, my discipline, my mad cheesecake making skills…
I also realize I’ve built up a protective wall around myself. But I can see now how the only thing it was protecting was my self-limiting story. I’ve been told I’m hard to read and I always thought that just my introvert personality. And maybe that is a part of it, but maybe it’s because I never felt safe sharing my feelings. That people would judge me, see me as “less than” so I just buried them, walking around with this poker face. Slowly I’ve been letting my guard down. And no one’s run away screaming yet.
I’m trying to pay attention to how and where I dishonor myself. Every time I do something I really don’t want to do or don’t speak up for myself, avoid a conversation and continue to bury my feels only validates, in my mind, that what I think, feel or believe isn’t important, leaving my ego on the constant search for someone “out there” to make her feel worthy and appreciated. It’s about taking care of myself – not just physically, but emotionally. To bring myself peace and joy.
The fact is sometimes our pain can be our greatest source of strength. This personal discovery has cracked me open, as Rumi would say. It’s given me perspective, understanding and compassion for myself and others. We don’t know what stories other people are telling themselves but we always have a choice on how to respond in the present moment. We can choose to give them the benefit of the doubt, that they’re dealing with demons we can’t imagine and to show some compassion.