It was a sunny day in early spring. Cold enough to still be wearing my winter coat, but bright enough to appreciate the light streaming across the tiny, well-decorated office.
We smiled and chatted. I hugged my tea. I’m a glass-half-full, rose-tinted glasses type person most days, and this was one of them. Life was good that day.
But life does not feel good every day.
Some days are drudgery.
This day, we were drilling down into the ever-present anger that seemed to bubble just beneath the surface.
I was sitting in the office of a seasoned, well-respected, professional counsellor. Psychotherapist actually.
She handed me a piece of paper with dozens and dozens of short sentences on it and asked “which of these do you say to yourself?”
They were awful things – things I’d never say to anyone, let alone myself. Or so I thought.
I couldn’t answer her question that day.
Because I didn’t know.
This happened before our country, and our world, went into crisis mode in the battle against COVID-19. Before we were all small islands in our homes. Before we were more alone with our thoughts than ever.
What do you tell yourself?
You have a relationship with yourself. What’s it like?
What if we are talking to ourself in a way that makes life harder, not better?
We think we know best… but do we really?
Would you ever talk to someone you love the way to talk to yourself?
Do you even know how you talk to yourself? I didn’t.
My life has changed a lot in the last 4 years. Namely, I became a parent.
In the most unexpected ways, parenthood turned who I thought I was inside-out and upside-down. Huge life changes can do this to us. Relocating to a new city. Starting a new career. Getting married. Grief and loss. Being told not to leave your home or see your loved ones.
And man, some life changes can can rock us.
I thought I was a kind person. I thought I loved people well. I thought was fairly selfless. I thought I knew who I was.
Life pressures have a way of revealing character cracks.
The Day Life Held Up An Ugly Mirror
It was an evening within the realm of “normal” in our family.
The floor was filthy after feeding a toddler and a baby just learning how to hit his mouth with food. Toys littered around my steps. The bedtime routine was almost complete. And the last time I slept more than 2 consecutive hours was… a distant memory.
Our 9-month-old was on the change table and he relentlessly trying to escape the inevitable diaper change. I tried all the tricks. The songs. The toys. The eye contact. The “peek-a-boo.” But nothing was more interesting than flipping around on his belly while I tried to contain his – literal – crap.
One more failed attempt at keeping him belly-up and I couldn’t do it anymore. I couldn’t do it.
It was although the universe was turning against my weak, exhausted mental state and was determined to make me crumble.
Exasperated, I let out a long loud “Rrrrrrr” and stomped my foot. 3 Times. Hard. The walls shook. The doors shook. The boy never even noticed.
But in the next room, I heard it. A whimper.
Then the whimper turned into a full-blown cry.
“Mommy do dat, make Iya (his version of his name) yad.” He sobbed.
My anger had scared my toddler.
He was crying. I was crying. I told him how I felt and that I was sorry. We hugged and kissed and all was well.
He settled into bed peacefully with a snuggle. And then came the silence.
The thoughts that flooded in afterward made me feel one thing and one thing only. My own anger had scared my child.
I can’t do this.
I’m a terrible mother.
I’m a terrible wife.
I’m a terrible person.
Thoughts like this crushed me.
They have a way of patronizing the best of us. They make us feel alone and feel worthless.
In the company of error, lies like these can be relentless.
But thoughts like this are also lies. I’m telling myself lies. Not only that, but I’m accepting lies.
Then I start wonder, “Is it just me? Am I the only one who freaks out? Who gets overwhelmed? Who can’t do this? I’m a terrible person.”
This single episode was just one of many more that followed of me learning how (not) to talk to myself, how to navigate feeling continually overwhelmed, and how to embrace the chaos of life as it is right now.
I still do counselling for this. And it’s gold.
You’ve Got to Know – You Are Not Alone
Since this whole COVID thing hit, our cities saddled social distancing and we stopped seeing our loved ones, this issue only intensified.
You have a relationship with yourself.
Do you know what you tell yourself?
For me, this crisis has meant navigating a 3rd pregnancy in a bizarre medical world, losing our “village” of support, moving our family into a new home on our own, and juggling working roles without childcare.
What has it meant for you? Learning to work from home? Are you a front line worker? Are you trying to save your business? Or expecting your first child? Or did you lose your job or have you basically started homeschooling?
Life as we know it has changed — for the foreseeable future at least. We’re all under strange life pressures.
And you still have a relationship with yourself.
Do you know what you tell yourself?
The more I talk about how I feel, the more I realize I’m not alone. And if you relate to any of this, neither are you.
Whether your frustration and overwhelm comes from parenting, from professional pressure, from unexpected changes or elsewhere, your thoughts can (and will) lie. They may vary slightly from person to person, but they will lie and steal and destroy the joy of life.
For some reason, we are quick to accept the lies in our mind, even though we would never in a million years breath those words over someone we love.
So – What Do You Tell Yourself?
Do you know what thoughts you are quick to accept of yourself but would never dream of telling someone you love? I didn’t.
All I knew was I was frustrated and overwhelmed. All. The. Time. It was right under the surface of my smile.
The thoughts born from frustration and overwhelm are an excellent doorway for shame.
The lies we say to ourselves shame.
Brene Brown describes shame as “The intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging – something we’ve experienced, done, or failed to do makes us unworthy of connection.”
She differentiates it from guilt; “Shame is a focus on self, guilt is a focus on behaviour. Shame is “I am bad.” Guilt is “I did something bad.”
See the difference?
The lies we tell ourselves are about our self not our behaviour. For me at least.
We could even take this a step farther and wade into the depths of shame delivered from the one whom Jesus called “the father of lies.” (John 8:44) I happen to believe that there is a spiritual influence that intends to steal, kill and destroy and it doesn’t stop at our mind. (I realize, if you’re not a spiritual person, this idea might sound extreme to you — but I won’t go deeper than this, for now.)
The point is – you have a relationship with yourself. Now more than ever. What is it like?
Do you know what you tell yourself?
I deeply believe identifying the lies you say to and accept of yourself is a critical step to personal growth, healing and health.
If you only take two things away from this, know you’re not alone. There is help and hope.