This weekend I took out my journal and wrote a kind of letter to myself. I started with these words: I forgive myself…
I wrote down the things I am ready to forgive myself for (and a few things I am not). Maybe you, too, want to focus on forgiveness, and write about what you’re ready to let go.
My whole life I’ve leaned toward all-or-nothing thinking. Black or white. Binge or restrict. Terrible day or terrific.
In my mind I was either the energizer bunny or a sloth. I was either beautiful or blah. And how could I be beautiful if I was only pretty sometimes?
If I ate too much, I’d think F that, my diet is ruined! and pile on the extra helpings. I didn’t ask myself if I really wanted more, if I genuinely wanted to enjoy extra bites. No. Instead, I was focused on the fact that tomorrow I’d need to be perfect.
Tomorrow would be the day. The day I’d follow that diet flawlessly. And then in a week, a few weeks, when I lost some weight, I could finally start taking better care of myself. I could show my face at the gym. I could finally appreciate my body. I could feel better about myself.
I think one reason we have an unhealthy relationship with food and ourselves — eating ’til we’re uncomfortably stuffed, restricting ourselves, hurling insults, not practicing compassionate self-care — is because of judgment.
Specifically, we judge ourselves for all sorts of things. We judge our appearance. We judge our mistakes. We cling to shoulds that fuel self-judgment and keep us stuck.
I should weigh less. I should wear a size 4. I should eat less. I should never eat dessert or pizza or pasta. I should be able to do this with zero help.
This week I talked about creating a safe space to listen to ourselves, without judgment or criticism. Because it can be scary to explore our needs and wants. Because for many of us we’re doing this for the first time.
For the first time, we’re shining the spotlight on ourselves. We’re asking questions like: What do I need to feel better? What do I want to do today? What makes me happy?
We’re exploring — territory that might’ve gone unexplored, abandoned for years. We’re putting ourselves third, second or maybe even first. We’re actually listening.
A few years ago, I was walking out of our then-house to meet Brian for his birthday dinner. I was distracted and looking down at my feet, walking toward my car. Suddenly, I saw a thick, long multicolored snake in the grass.
Anyone who knows me knows that I have a palpable fear of snakes. I can’t even look at their pictures. (Seriously.)
I stopped, and started walking, slowly, back toward the door. But I kept stopping and hesitating.
I remember trying to will myself to step to the side of the snake. I remember berating myself for being so silly. You’re scared of everything! It’s just a snake! The car is so close! Only you would react this way!
Years ago I assumed that the critical way I talked to myself was simply me being realistic, and accurate and candid. I was simply a truth teller, who could see myself — my faults, flaws — clearly.
And yet I didn’t talk to others in this way. I wouldn’t dream of it.
But for some reason I thought I deserved this tough love approach, barren of compassion. Mistakes were the end of the world. My body was grounds for constant bashing.
Some of us might not even realize the terrible way in which we talk to ourselves. It’s so automatic, so common. It might feel like another part of your daily routine. Like waking up. Like brushing your teeth. Like walking.
Or we think we deserve the harsh words. We’re too big, after all. We made a huge mistake, after all. We tend to overeat, after all. We can’t stay on a diet to save our lives, after all. We’re lazy, after all.
I just finished writing an article on strategies for staying curious and why curiosity is so vital to our lives. (I featured tips and insights from Ian Leslie’s fascinating new book Curious: The Desire to Know and Why Your Future Depends on It. Stay tuned for the piece on Psych Central next month.)
So I have curiosity on the brain. And, naturally, this curiosity pertains to our bodies and ourselves.
Many of us are hesitant to accept our bodies because they’re “flawed.” We have stretch marks, cellulite, too-big thighs, too-small breasts, too-round bellies.
We assume all these traits are terrible imperfections which preclude us from appreciating and loving our bodies.
How can I accept something that is flawed? How can I be positive when there is negative surrounding me, part of me?
In Heart to Heart, my eBook with Anna Guest-Jelley, we focus on cultivating kindness, because we don’t heal ourselves with insults, judgement and body bashing. We heal ourselves — our bruised body image, our sinking self-worth — with compassion.
I like Sharon Salzberg’s definition of kindness in her book The Kindness Handbook: “Kindness can manifest as compassion, as generosity, as paying attention.”
Most of us have a mean — maybe even cruel — inner voice that says everything from “You’re too big to wear that!” to “You’re so stupid!” Understandably, we may grow to dislike — maybe even despise — this inner voice.
We might dislike it because it sounds like someone who used to bully us. Because it sounds like a parent, past partner or so-called friend. Maybe it sounds like the younger you, who regularly received hurtful remarks about your appearance in school.
I like the approach in the book Mindful Compassion, written by researcher Paul Gilbert, Ph.D, and former Tibetan Buddhist monk Choden.