I got a message from a reader the other day who asked a poignant question: “I have been eyeing a ring because I want to celebrate how much I’ve healed. I think looking down at it will remind me of my progress. Is it weird or somehow selfish of me to gift myself? My husband and two kids will give me presents for Christmas, after all. Why does the idea of buying this ring make me feel so guilty?”
Her question got me thinking, of course, about the whole idea of buying yourself a present. My personal guess is that her feeling of guilt has to do with her childhood, and not the present; she still thinks, deep down, that somehow she doesn’t deserve this ring. Daughters whose emotional needs weren’t met in childhood usually internalize all the things that were said to them and about them and accept these statements as inviolate truths about their essential character. Those can include being stupid or lazy, sensitive or difficult, unlovable or unworthy, and just about any other negative attribute you can think of.
The question about the ring got me thinking about healing and all the obstacles—mental and emotional—that can get in the way. Wouldn’t it be great to gift yourself with some obstacle removers this holiday season, along with whatever bauble you might be considering?
As I explain in my book, Daughter Detox: Recovering from an Unloving Mother and Reclaiming Your Life, recovery depends in large part on being able to change the behaviors you adapted in childhood; these defensive survival mechanisms are part of the unconscious baggage you carry with you into adulthood. A large part of healing involves unlearning these behaviors once you’ve identified them, and beginning to act and react in ways that support your thriving and happiness.
The gifts that don’t need wrapping that you should give yourself
- The benefit of the doubt
Yes, this is the perfect antidote to your habit of always tearing yourself down and doubting your thoughts and perceptions. Instead, begin by trusting what you’re feeling by running a check such as asking whether you’re responding to something that was said or happened in the present or one that simply echoed the past. Think about the interaction as a third-party might and ask yourself whether your response was automatic or appropriate and measured. If you do this often enough, you’ll learn to give yourself the benefit of the doubt.
- Seeing yourself clearly
Most unloved daughters see themselves through a warped lens bequeathed by childhood experiences; their vision is also skewed by the persistent habit of self-criticism which attributes missteps, disputes, and failures to fixed character flaws that cannot be changed. The inability to see the self doesn’t just involve the daughter’s personality and character but also her physical self as well. When you find yourself caught in a spiral of self-blame—telling yourself that you’re stupid or thinking that no one will ever care for you because you’re worthless—take the time to talk back to the voice. This doesn’t mean that you can’t acknowledge your flaws—we are all decidedly imperfect—but you shouldn’t routinely lose sight of your strengths either.
- Heaps of self-compassion
This too is an antidote to the habit of tearing yourself down and is key to healing; you must love yourself and consider yourself lovable in order to believe that others can and do love you. This is often hard for a daughter to learn because she has to turn off the self-critical voice and the negative tape inherited from childhood first. Self-compassion is very different from self-pity; unlike the pity party which focuses on poor you, self-compassion involves extending the same kindness and understanding you would give others to yourself. It also involves seeing your experience as being part of the human experience generally which is hard for someone who understands herself as occupying an outsider position. Finally, self-compassion requires you to acknowledge your painful feelings without identifying with them or re-experiencing them; frankly, this requires emotional regulation that is often hard for the unloved daughter to muster.
But it can be learned one baby step at a time. Having real empathy for that little lonely and much maligned little girl you once were is a big turning point in truth. At that moment, the only side you’re on is yours.
- The peace of not reacting
There is an “off” button you can reach for when you’re stressed and freaking out but it takes some time to find it. Research shows that insecurely attached people can learn to destress and self-calm by doing what securely attached people do automatically: visualizing comforting and caring people in moments of tension, recalling places that made you feel calm, and moments at which you were able to resolve an issue or problem. This takes a bit of practice but if you work at it, you will learn it. Feel free to use photographs of people and places as prompts too.
Paying attention to the bodily signals that indicate heightened reactivity will also help—heart pounding, tightness in your throat, clenching your jaw, tension in your back and shoulders—especially if you counter them with both even breathing and visualization.
Yes, the time has come to shine a light on you! Instead of focusing on what’s wrong with you, let’s take a look at what’s right. This makes a nifty journaling exercise that will also help you see yourself with greater clarity; write down ten words that describe your strengths or qualities you admire in yourself and then write about them in detail. If you are having trouble even generating a list of words, ask someone close to you to help. Keep in mind that this isn’t about puffing yourself up but really seeing who you are without the distorted lens of self-criticism.
Then there’s the matter of the journey of healing itself and here’s where you need to take credit as well. It’s a long and hard road you’re on and it’s time you served as your own inner cheerleader. I think this mantra from my new workbook, The Daughter Detox Companion Workbook: A Year of Guided Journaling, Inspiration, and Tools to Heal, pretty much sums it up.
The holidays can be a source of tension but gifting yourself is very much allowed. Some of the best gifts we can give ourselves have no physical presence under the tree. For those who’d like a path to healing, please consider reading Daughter Detox.
Photograph by Roberto Nickson. Copyright free. Unsplash.com