Over and over I hear my clients say the most critical and hurtful things. The worst part of this is that they are saying these damning things about themselves.
Amanda is relentless in her critique of what she said or didn’t say. Brian is merciless about his anxiety and fear of the unknown. Sue can’t stand how she looks and makes fun of her body. The list could continue, and the comments make me cringe.
They dismiss my reaction – “Oh you just see the good side of everyone.” “I know you have to say nice things, but if you were telling the truth you would agree with me.”
Sometimes, the difficult things that are said are statements heard from physicians or parents or well- meaning friends. “There’s really no cure for what I have.” “ I have to learn to live with it (pain, depression, lack of mobility, etc.)” “I’m just not any fun anymore.” There are many many variations, but it is someone else’s negative judgment about my client’s life/body/energy level/emotional resources, and my client has taken it in as truth and repeats it to herself.
In her recent novel, Diana Herself, the author Martha Beck creates seven tasks for self recovery. The one that has my full attention is the second task – “Absorb nourishment, not poison.”
So much of what we take in every day – from our environments, and from our own thoughts does not nourish us. Rather, many of our thoughts drain our energy and motivation, and can be dangerous to our emotional, mental and physical well being.
Can you identify your own toxic thoughts? The ones that put you down, or paralyze you? These can sound like a parent, or a wise doctor. They may have a tone that tries to soothe, but the effect is anything but. “I’m a fraud, and everyone will realize it.” “It’s unlikely I’ll ever feel any better, and probably I am going to get worse as I age.” “I don’t need to try – no one expects much of me now.”
This is the opposite of the nourishing thinking we can do, especially when it is rooted in self compassion.
My client Amanda and I worked on her self critique. Raised by parents who yearned for perfection in their only daughter, Amanda learned to put herself down first before anyone else could. It became a reflexive habit, but as she lived into a life that now included an inflammatory disease, she found herself completely stopped by her critical thoughts. She could no longer overachieve to outrun them, and it was time to do this differently.
Together we created a list of thoughts that she might find nourishing. Empathy for herself, and appreciation of all she was – being as well as doing – were the place to start.
It was not easy to slow down and feel some compassion for all she was managing. She practiced telling herself – “you are doing well with all you have to take care of. I am admiring your strength.” This seemed fake to her, even as she admitted that it felt good. Over time, she began to hear herself when she was moving into the danger zone – thinking the put downs, or believing the bad news and repeating it. She could “feel” the poison. In the same way, as she practiced feeling compassion, and noticed when thoughts made her feel grounded, or open-hearted, or hopeful. This moved her into an inner spacious place, and gave her the energy and determination to do all she could to feel better.
You can try this too – make your list of thoughts that will nourish your heart and soul, and practice saying and thinking them. See what might result from being kind and reassuring to yourself. You deserve it!