I’ve been thinking about how I view myself lately. Where I am in life as opposed to where I thought I would be. What I’d like to be doing for a career. How I’d be spending my days, who I’d be spending my days with. Where I’d like to be living… The list goes on. But I’m realizing now that I spend an awful lot of time focusing on where I’d like to be as opposed to where I am.
This isn’t a new story. For example, it’s what the meditation community means when they say, “be here now”. But it’s amazing how much of my time goes to focusing on where I think I should be. Especially since I know that focusing on the here and now would be so much more beneficial for my peace of mind. So why do I and most likely others focus on the future, or where we feel we should be instead of the where we are?
I find it’s because I’m not accepting where I am in the moment. I feel I should be in a different, better place than the one I’m in. So my brain makes plans and fixates on how I can change my current situation for the better in my future. And we need to make plans for the future. It’s an important dimension of how we grow as humans. But when it’s all we think about we’re not allowing ourselves to grow into the future. Instead we remaining stagnant in the past and present.
It often feels like we’re focusing on how nothing is ever good enough in the here and now and we’ll always be working towards some brighter future. And if we ease up and let ourselves enjoy the moment, take our eyes off of our goals, we will be failors. Doomed to live an unfulfilling life, or at least that’s how I feel.
This seems a little dramatic, but that’s often how it feels most of the time when we get hyper focused on where we should be. There’s a psychological term for it that Tara Brach sometimes talks about. It’s called the negativity bias. It’s when your fear of the possible negative outcome of a situation takes control of your thoughts and emotions. And if you’ve dealt with trauma in your past, the negativity bias may be a stronger force for you than most.
I know this is true for myself. Especially when I’m building relationships with friends or new acquaintances. I was made fun of and belittled so often by my caregivers in the past and nothing was off limits. Living under the constant critical eye of my caregivers, I felt like no matter what I did it was never enough. And to make things worse, I had noone to tell me what to do to gain the approval I so desperately needed and was searching for frantically. I just wanted to feel loved and belonging. This was a confusing setting for me to grow up in.
As I said in my post about How we treat our pantries and how it’s related to how we nourish ourselves, one of the ways I was criticised for was being overweight. This was an area of great confusion, since my caregivers were feeding me and criticising me for being overweight at the same time. And all the while with no clear direction on how to properly feed myself, or ways to live a healthier lifestyle. I’ve since learned how to regulate my body weight, but it’s been a bumpy road to say the least.
I remember coming home from a long day at work, running three miles and doing yoga for 40 minutes. And all of that on only a small breakfast I ate at 7am. By the time I got into the shower after my workout at 5:30pm, I passed out. The likely cause was from pushing myself too hard for too long and with too little food to run on.
These were the ways I taught myself how to manage the feelings of being criticized and neglected by my caregivers who were supposed to show me how to love and be loved. I ignored my body’s limits with little nourishment and a harsh exercise regiment. Instead of showing myself love, I pushed myself beyond what I could handle. And I looked at myself with the same critical eye that had been handed down to me by my caregivers. I essentially became abusive to myself in the ways I was abused in the past, all so I could feel a sense of belonging. If I could look thin enough, be attractive enough, maybe then I would finally feel like I belonged. As though someone approved of me.
I didn’t want to “belong” that way anymore. I knew that something needed to change with the ways that I was relating to myself, but I wasn’t sure where to begin. That’s when I decided to start where I was. In the here and now. Taking an active role in finding out the ways I was criticizing and neglecting myself. I focused on the areas where I either couldn’t feel anything because I was so numb, or where I just plain felt bad about myself and who I was.
Turns out there were a lot of areas in my life where I felt this way. I had been punishing myself in the same vein as my caregivers before me for so long, that I realized I didn’t even know how to be kind to myself! And I needed to learn how to attune to my own needs desperately. Essentially I was reparenting myself because I had no one to show me how. I had no map to guide me.
I believe my reparenting started with me saying affirmations to myself during my meditation. If you’ve read my post on affirmations you’ll know that I say them daily. They are like an anchor for me, when I’m feeling adrift. A way to help refocus on what my intentions truly are and the positive I’m trying to cultivate in my life.
And almost as a natural extension of saying my affirmations, I leave them around my personal space as well. For example I make a lot of lists. I use Google Keep which is a great tool for me, because you can make a ton of lists or notes and they update in the cloud. So if you take a note on your phone, you can read it later on your laptop.
And I’ve been in the habit of putting short affirmations in with the titles of my lists or notes. On my todo list I’ve written, “never give up on your dreams”. This helps me to stay focused on the goals that I set for myself on how I’d like to live my life. On the note I keep for my journal, when something comes to me and I don’t have my bullet journal to write it down, I put, “I’m here, I care.” I also have a few more scattered around to help me keep with a positive mindset.
My parents keep a daily affirmation calendar in the kitchen and will often leave pages laying around that strike a chord with them. I took a page from their book and hung one near my night stand that says, “work hard, relax harder”. It’s a little cheesy, but the message is something that I definitely need to heed more often. Read about my exercise regiment above as an example 🙂
I also put the pictures of two of my role models as wallpaper on my phone, Dana from Minimalist Baker and Adrienne from yoga with Adrienne. To remind me of not only what my goals and purposes are, but also that there are healthy role models out there. Growing up there just weren’t any healthy adult role models in my life. Knowing now that I can choose to surround myself with the presence of those who inspire me and bring me comfort is a great source of strength. Feeling that connection, even if only online, is a huge resource for me when I’m feeling low about something. When I turn on my phone I see one of their smiling faces and it brightens my mood almost instantly.
In the same vein as my phone wallpaper, my laptop screen saver is a half dozen or so photos of how I’d like my future home to look and feel. Like the messages on my todo list, these photos help to keep me focused on what my future goals are. They also bring the added comfort of knowing that I’m actively working towards these goals here and now. That I’m not giving up on them no matter how far away they seem.
Pinterest has a similar feeling and approach to affirmations in the ways I use and talk about them. Visualizing what you are dreaming of as a way to bring them into fruition. Visual affirmations, aka vision boards. For example it’s one thing to know that you’d like to live in the mountains some day. But if you keep some of your favorite photos from hiking trips you’ve loved in the past around, you have pictures as reminder of what the hard work you’re putting in toward your future goals could manifest.
A self-care routine is another great way to practice affirmations. When I cook dinner for my self-care sundays ritual, I’m sending myself the message that I’m here, right now, to take care of my emotional needs. To build the emotional support around the areas that I was criticized and neglected for, by myself and others in the past, like food and cooking. And knowing that you’re here for yourself is so important to knowing that you are worth the time and effort you take for yourself. To feel valued as a person and confident that you are not only able to take care of yourself, but worth that time and effort. This is what self love looks like.
Also the relationships we keep are a huge part of the ways we can boost our confidence and feel more supported. And if we’re not careful, a quick way to tear ourselves down as well. As I mentioned above, I was cut down so many times by the people that were supposed to show me how to love, and how to love myself that I had almost zero ability to maintain a healthy supportive relationship. First with myself, then with others.
First with myself in that since I was never shown how to be kind to myself, all I had were the negative messages bouncing around in my mind from past experiences. So I picked up right where my caregivers left off. By taking those messages of criticism and replaying them in my mind. If a feeling of fear came in, I would tell myself “a real man could handle this. Are you a real man?” And when I couldn’t handle the fear, I would turn to some other way of self soothing. Either with lots of coffee in the morning or beer at night.
And when you’re dealing with neglect and verbal abuse, it can feel like you’re being bleed to death by a thousand tiny cuts in the form of negative messages. These small but effective affirmations are akin to fixing a thousand tiny bandages to those cuts. It isn’t always easy and it’s definitely a practice, but the more often you patch up these tiny wounds by way of these small affirmations to yourself, the more your affirmations come together to soothe and protect you. From all the old wounds of the past.
The second aspect of the relationships we keep are those of close friends and family. My caregivers and support system growing up weren’t held together by feelings of love and belonging. There aren’t many times where I can look back and say, “those were some good times”.
For the most part we were mean, critical and judgemental towards one another. Most of the ways we communicated with and to one another was through making someone feel less than you, or by making them feel excluded, as though they don’t belong. This was a difficult environment to grow up in. And I imagine it would have hurt emotionally if we weren’t so numb from all the alcohol we were drinking to keep ourselves from feeling the extent of our actions and attitudes towards one another.
The friendships I cultivated weren’t much different from the ways I learned to belong with my family. This isn’t too much of a surprise, but it’s one that left me hollow. I would go out drinking with my friends and we would say and do the most hurtful things to one another. But by the time we had another drink, we would have almost completely forgotten about it.
This was fine while we were drinking. But when I stopped drinking to excess and focused on living a healthier lifestyle, I realized that almost all of my friends had vanished. Without the alcohol to hold us together we drifted apart. It’s sad to think about now, but the relationships I was keeping weren’t sustainable in the least.
It’s worth mentioning that I had to sever a few ties I had with friends who were just unhealthy for me. They aren’t bad people, but their way of seeing things as they do and how they live their lives runs counter to the ways I am now showing up for and taking care of myself. I didn’t do this lightly, so if you plan on reevaluating some of your friendships, do it with care. It’s painful to cut ties. My advice would be, for your own peace of mind, make sure there isn’t something you can do to salvage the relationship. But don’t hold on to something that isn’t working at the expense of your self worth. It is definitely not worth it.
As a part of learning how to be in healthy relationships, I’m now in the habit of complimenting people more often, especially friends. When I enjoy something someone took time and effort to put together, I let them know. Or if someone does something well at work, I’ll mention it to them. It may not seem like much, but these small interactions and comments add up over time. These are the foundations of feeling like a trustworthy and supportive friend. Someone who is there when you need them and not afraid to show their affection. Someone who will not withhold their love from you to feel more desired. Especially from those who are supposed to be our support network! I once had a girlfriend who would often say, “pay the compliment”. And she was right, it makes a difference.
This type of support is so important to feeling a sense of self value. Feeling confident in who we are, as friends, husbands, wives, parents, co-workers… We need one another to feel this value, to build one another up. To be the love and support for one another that will help us to be and live the healthiest versions of our lives. But this can be difficult to obtain if you were only ever taught to tear one another down.
Affirmations help, as does finding a healthy, supportive community. Finding your tribe. And it’s worth mentioning that it’s something that takes effort to sustain. It’d be nice to believe that once you’re friends with someone, all they’re ever going to be is loving support. So you have that covered 😀 But the reality is, we all do and say things that rub each other the wrong way. Maybe someone’s having an off day or being insensitive to how we’re feeling.
Those times will come up, and it’s especially important to keep an open mind in those moments. Try not to focus on how you were hurt and think of ways to communicate how you’re feeling to your friend. Most likely they weren’t looking to hurt you. A simple, direct conversation will most likely leave everybody feeling a bit more at ease. And this will also work to build a stronger connection in your friendship. Patching up the cracks together and working to resolve problems usually leads to tighter bonds.
Healing from the ways that our confidence has been abused is not a simple task. It takes a lot of self-care and support to feel like you are valued again as a person. And usually the person that is holding ourselves down the most is ourselves! But it’s possible. With the support and love from friends and family, also showing up for yourself in the form of self-care and positive affirmations, we can learn to give ourselves the value that we never had. It takes time and patients, but don’t ever forget that you’re worth it.
I hope this helps in some way. Tara Brach has some dharma talks on healing self doubt if you’re looking for some more support. Her talks helped to keep me company when I felt completely alone. Knowing that there is a community of people out there doing good work for the sake of helping others feels like a warm hug. Seeking the help of a professional is also an excellent resource. I worked through some difficult emotions with the help of my therapist. And I am grateful for their kind natured ability to listen without judgement. Let me know of any resources you found that work for you in the comments section below. Maybe we can be each other’s resources together 🙂 Peace, and thanks for reading.