Why putting yourself down is never a good plan.
I am a woman of substance and just fine with taking my space. I have raised children without body issues, so I figure I am doing something right.
Yesterday we went to the hot springs. It was glorious. For the first time in a long time, there was no pain. No joint pain, no bone aches, just soothing warmth and mineral bliss. Lovely. I wore my beautiful swim dress, modest with scalloping and embroidery, I swished purple into the pool and lolled. Warm, smiling, floating, lolling. I didn’t even notice if people were staring because….I didn’t. I was warm. I was pain free. I was swishing in my swim dress but more than any of that, I liked being me.
My friend however, spent much of her time complaining about herself. Now, I have other friends who do this, some more intellectually than others, but never have I been faced with a constant barrage of self abuse. Unflattering comments about her self, her body, her swim suit, until I gently pointed it out. “Oh, I know I put myself down a lot.” Indeed, but what really got to me was the not so subtle invitations for me to join in. “Maybe,” my young daughter said much later when we were musing upon it, “Maybe she just wanted you to tell her that she wasn’t so bad.” Not my job, though. I will not join in the self-flagellation and I feel that any acknowledgment validates the abuse. It is a puzzle to me.
I realised long ago that if I was self-critical it simply gave others permission to join in. Why would I do that? It was such a struggle to learn to like and love myself. Self – verbal – abuse does not lend itself to self love. (Ironic, yes? No.) Yet, so many indulge in it. Obesity itself is only one measure of a lack of wellbeing. There are so many forms of self-abuse, so many ways to self-mutilate and humans appear to indulge in them all.
So, what made the difference? What allowed me to curtail the self-abuse? What revelation opened my heart to loving myself? First, I understood that other people do not generally do things to us. They simply live their lives and sometimes there is crappy fallout. Whenever we do not take responsibility for the impact of our actions and behaviours, whenever we blame others for how we feel, we forget that we are not the centre of the universe and that sometimes life just happens. After all, it is not what happens in life but how we respond to it.
How did that help me? Stepping away from egocentricity saved my sanity. If I assumed that someone’s bad mood was the result of their own lives and nothing to do with me, I was free of paranoia. In turn this allowed me to understand that there are times when I need to ask someone how they are doing and if they are alright. Maturity helps and a broadening of your world beyond your own thoughts. Then what? If I allowed that I was a likeable person who showed care for others and was not horribly self-involved, then what was the next step to loving myself?
I pondered this for a long time before the answer occurred to me. I decided. I decided to love myself and then practice it. Here is the key. Whenever we wish to establish a new habit, new behaviours, we need to practice them. I decide to love myself. How do I practice loving myself? Well, it is not self-indulgence. It is not spending all my money on myself and then not having enough to pay my way in the world. It is not always doing only what I want irrespective of others. It is about responsibility because when we take responsibility, we are free. So, I practiced loving myself. I looked after myself, I stopped the negative self-talk, I chose clothing I love to wear, I created an home for myself and my children, I learnt what I could manage and what my limits were.
I decided and then I practiced. What has this to do with a day at the hot springs? Not only did I not join in the negative self talk, I found it foreign, odd and sad. I took my space and did not notice anyone staring critically and smiled at everyone. I walked the entire length of the reflexology creek for the first time and celebrated every little success. I swished in my purple swim dress and explored every pond and pool, steam room and sauna I came across.
In short, I had a wonderful day.
(c) CLHHarper 16 June 2014