Self Care: Do you Know What you Want?

Here’s a question that you may hear when you are out getting coffee or something to eat. “Do you know what you would like?” We’re asked this question often enough but if you’re like me I’m willing to bet that you often go on what you are used to instead of what you actually feel like having. Some of this has to do with the degree of importance of the task at hand.

For instance, we don’t have to search our feelings everytime we get to the counter at our favorite coffee shop to find out what our deepest self wants to drink for a morning beverage. If you like mochas, it’s probably a safe bet to order a mocha. But somethings are worth the time to investigate.

If you’ve read my post, “Self Care: Spiritual, Meditation, Am I Doing This Right?” you’ll know that I was raised in a man’s man family. This included most of the macho cliche standards of what it means to be men. Among them, not having feelings, getting what they want when they want it and being vulnerable was a sign of weakness… the list keeps going. But basically what this meant for me was some things men just didn’t do.

This was tough for me, because one thing men didn’t do in my family was raise children. This was a job done by women. So to my chagrin when my mother told me she didn’t know how to raise a man, that left me pretty much on my own. What this meant for me was I had know idea how to pursue and develop interests or even to find out what I liked. I was so focused on whether or not I fit in that I didn’t stop to think, “am I doing what I like?”

On top of that when I found out what I liked ran counter to my learned ideas of what men “should” like and act like, I was confused. In the world I knew men weren’t supposed to like yoga or the Grateful Dead. Men weren’t supposed to be vegetarian or vegan or like running.

They were supposed to lift weights so they could be strong and in charge and hold their own in a fight if they had to. Men weren’t supposed to be about peace and love but they showed anger freely and often. The world I grew up in, men hunted and grilled, drank beer, swilled scotch while watching football. I’m not trying to say that any of those ways of being or personal interests are inherently bad but when your acceptance hinges on whether or not you fit a specific mold or set of criteria, therein lies the issue.

So now that I’ve explored some of the pitfalls of how I didn’t know what it was that I liked I’m going to take a look at how I found where my interests do lay.

It started with knowing how I felt, truly felt, without the influence of drugs or alcohol or the threat of being cut off from belonging by those who “loved” me. But that took some digging.

First, I had to change the ways I was doing things. I had to slow down which meant not drinking so much coffee to force my way through the day. Second, I slowed down on my alcohol intake which was my way of winding down from drinking all the coffee to avoid being present in my feelings as they happened. Then I had to stop and listen to my feelings as they happened.

It was a mixed bag. As feelings usually are but the more I listened the more I understood what my interests really were and why. For example, I love The Grateful Dead. But the more I explored my love the more I realized that it was the culture I loved. The freely expressed emotions of love and acceptance that I so longed for. I like the blues, don’t get me wrong, but they can be tough to listen to if that’s all you’re listening to. You end up, well, blue.

I liked watching football with my friends. We’d get loaded and scream at the T.V. for a few hours and get into trouble or at least have a good story to tell for the next week. But the violence of the game always made me a bit uncomfortable and reminded me of how I never felt like I quite added up as a man. scally to those that held my belonging in their judgements by expecting me to fit in with what’s expected.

Yoga and running were ways of getting in touch with my body in a way that was soothing. I could take care of my physical needs for exercise while pushing my personal limits and grow in a safe way. They also have a meditative quality to them. You can get lost in the cadence of your heart beating in rhythm with your feet against the pavement. Or get lost in your body as you’re flowing through downward dog to plank, to upward facing dog. All of your body parts moving in succinct language, freely expressing itself. And you won’t get a hangover from a heavy night of yoga.

Getting in touch with our wants isn’t always easy. Sometimes you have to pull them apart from others expectations and your own perceived or anticipated expectations of how you will be granted acceptance from others. But it’s worth it to find the things, people and places that bring you peace and a feeling of belonging,.Not at the expense of what you are like but because of what you are like. And to quote someone really famous, “Be yourself, everyone else is already taken.” -Oscar Wilde

Image Credits: “Playing withthe Bombay Mix and asking ‘Why?'” by Supermum1 is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 

Self-Care Emotional: How do You Relate to Your Inner-Critic?

“Bryony” by Trucknroll is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

We all have one. The voice that says we’ll never finish that degree, or I’m never gonna land that job that would be just right for me. I’m never going to find the woman/man who’s my true love or I’m just plain not adding up. I know mine well. It took some digging but when I finally realized who was behind the wheel and where he was steering me, I can tell you it was a real eye opener.

My inner critic has taken the form of my abusers past, and I can actually pinpoint it in my body. Of course this took years of work to begin to unlock my frozen tundra of emotion. And this was after decades of not being able to feel my body or to even know what my emotions Were. Also that I was the one in charge not my emotions. My inner critic will often tell me things about myself that just aren’t true. Such as I’m overweight even though I weigh 185 and am 5’10”. I’m unable to find and do meaningful and fulfilling work even though I’ve excelled in all my positions and graduated Cum Laude from college. I need a another to take care of me because I’m incapable of doing so for myself regardless of my well organized and healthfully curated my lifestyle is… The list goes on.

But what’s most important to understand about all our critics is, asides from the content being untrue and damaging to our psyche, how often we get lured into its siren’s song. And allow ourselves to be led astray from what our heart’s true aspirations are. If you’re reading this then you’ve probably come to some of your own healthy conclusions. But in case you haven’t I’m here to tell you you are not the contents of your inner critic. And the only control it has over you is the control you give to it.

I know from my own early childhood experiences of trauma that my critic has grown strong from repeated infractions against my sense of self worth. And it may seem as though these experiences are relegated to those who’ve experienced some sort of traumas. But the numbers of those who have experienced trauma are staggering. It’s reported that “nearly 14% of children repeatedly experienced maltreatment by a caregiver, including nearly 4% who experienced physical abuse.” That’s about one in seven! That’s a lot of people.

But even those that haven’t experienced some sort of trauma in their lives, states of being such as peer pressure and people pleasing have real consequences. And not to mention are a real source of frustration for many. This all sounds pretty sad. And it is, but there are ways to identify our inner critic and create a caring cushion around it. To soften the blow when it does strike. This is where the hard work lay. In knowing how your inner critic has infiltrated your day to day routines and the patterns that we’ve cultivated in relating to it.

Do you know the subtle signs of the transition between when you’re behind the wheel and your critic has taken over? Is there a low level of anxiety that is prevalent? Feeling as though you’re not adding up in some way for no reason? Are you believing things about yourself you know just aren’t true? These are just a few examples and they vary from person to person. There isn’t a “one size fits all” approach to knowing how you and your own personal inner critic relate to one another. Or the ways it has taken control in your life. But there is a commonality in coming to understanding who and what your inner critic is and needs. And it starts with listening.

When are the times you feel down on yourself? Or feel bad about a specific behavior or something you feel like you should be doing? Times that you are measuring yourself to another and feel as though you are coming up short? Those are the times and opportunities to listen inward. To feel where you feel them in your body. The places you are trying to avoid. That’s where you’ll find your critic.

Your critic is trying to tell you something but it’s afraid. Underneath that fear there is a protective quality, one that is trying to keep us safe. For me it is, “I had better conform to certain expectations or else I’ll be rejected and unloved”. Listening to the message of what it’s trying to tell us and deciphering it from the fear will yield great rewards.

Because once you find the message that is behind the fear you can relate directly to the unattended hurt. The source of the wound. Though I should say when dealing with traumatic fear this is something that should definitely be done in the care of a professional. And with the support of trusted family members and friends when possible. Tara Brach explains in one of her talks on relating to traumatic fear called, “Healing Trauma: The Light Shines Through the Broken Places” that it may not be safe to take in all the fear at once. It may end up retraumatize us.

I know from my own work with my therapist that learning the art of just this much, finding your window of tolerance is invaluable. Especially for those of us who have been trying to live up to our own imposed and impossible standards. Go hard or go home. The insatiable voice that keeps telling us we need to do more and accomplish greater deeds. And the critic doesn’t only focus on us. Others as well need to live up to our impossible standards or something terrible will happen. Or so we often times feel.

So how do we begin to recognize our critic? And possibly even more importantly, what do we do when we finally come toe to toe with them? For me, it was about slowing down. It wasn’t until I stopped trying to work myself to death, to live up to the impossible standard I had created, that I realized it was never going to be enough. No matter how hard I worked, how I ignored my needs and those of others. No matter how critical I was of the job I was doing or others were doing, I was never going to meet the impossible standard I had in my mind of how things should be.

This took some doing because I was drinking 5 to 6 lattes a day and going hard to avoid coming home (figuratively). It wasn’t until I started meditating and switched to tea, one caffeinated cup a day, that I was able to create the space necessary to slow down and hear what my body was telling me. Instead of telling my body how to feel. It was a shock though. I won’t go into details but it hit hard. I was feeling all sorts of unattended emotion from my past. I had been ignoring not just the attic of my life but most of the useable square footage!

But that brought me to the second step of reckoning with the unfelt emotions. It was crazy at first. But my feelings began to slow down until they were manageable. Small enough to take in without being overwhelming. I needed a lot of support during that time too. And a lot of kindness. Mostly from and to myself. I had been beating myself up for such a long time that there was some animosity for sure. But the more kindness I showed myself, the easier it became. Not only easier to bear but the inner critic began to lose it’s bite. When he would show up, which he still does sometimes, I could recognize him and treat him with kindness. Knowing that really it’s just the product of the ways I’ve been maltreated by myself and others.

So when you’re relating to your inner critic the key is to be kind. Kind to yourself, kindness to and from others as well. Because it’s that kindness that will then create the cushion around our hurt selves. The places our critics are protecting in order to make space for them to heal. And it’s not easy. People will say and do hurtful things and we will do and say hurtful things too. To ourselves and others. But it’s a practice. And the more we practice the better we become at being kind. And the more tame our critic will become. It’s doable, just don’t give up :]

Image credits: “Bryony” by Trucknroll is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0