If we were all able to hear the internal chatter that we have echoing in our heads every day, I’m sure we’d be stunned to hear what others are saying to themselves, about themselves. I know that when I give my husband a tiny glimpse into my own self-deprecating narrative, he awkwardly asks me if I really truly believe what I’m saying. Responding to that reaction, that question is incredibly hard. On some days, I don’t really buy it, even when the “voices” are there. On other days, especially when I’m in a bout of depression, I believe it. All of it.
Jenna at Stop, Drop and Blog, bravely wrote about this issue, and went a step further, listing some of the statements she says to herself. As I read her words, I wanted to reach through the screen and tell her, “Are you kidding?!” because absolutely I don’t see any of the things she listed. However, it was my own reaction, the relatability of the words she wrote that caught me off guard. I’d said some of those words, worded differently, but in her own admission, I saw myself.
Years ago, when I was in therapy, my inability to love myself, and see myself authentically was often brought up in session. As we dug deeper into my past, it became incredibly apparent that the first person, my own mother, was the one who initiated the negative stream of thought in my life. When she should have been loving and affectionate, she was harsh, insulting and abrasive. When I would succeed at something, she was always there to take me down a peg, reminding me of my flaws. Eventually, her voice became my own, internally. In the duration of my therapy, I worked hard to correct the language I used with myself, but like anyone who’s been abused emotionally, it’s not a habit that is easy to correct. In all honesty, I’ve just learned to live with it.
I often joke about being self-deprecating, as if it’s a badge of honor. I can and do laugh at myself, but beyond that, often I’m like the person who teases you, but continues on once she’s gotten a laugh. The humor is a tool to deflect from the reality that I don’t actually find some of these things funny at all. Today, I decided that I would actually pay attention to myself, and write down the things I said throughout the day.
By 11am, I was exhausted. I only wrote a few more before I quit. To take the time and actually acknowledge what I was saying to myself? It was brutal. I felt beaten and torn. I felt ridiculously pathetic. But, mostly, I felt so sad. I am vicious to myself, a complete bully. See for yourself:
“A better mother and wife would have folded that laundry last night before they went to bed.”
“Why can’t you get up early and make a proper breakfast for your kids instead of being lazy and feeding them oatmeal?”
“You should be embarrassed that you let people see your handwriting.”
“The teacher is going to think you are a bad parent for bringing your son in late to school tomorrow.”
“You really should put makeup on before going out in public. You look so ugly.”
“Your hair looks so stupid.”
“You are so fat.”
“You are lazy because you don’t get out of the car and walk your son to the doors.”
“You didn’t pay the school on time. Only a bad mother does that.”
“Wow, your blog is getting a lot of traffic today. Too bad it’s not because of your writing.”
“No one wants to hear from you. Don’t bother pitching any ideas. They’ll just get rejected.”
“You don’t get published more because the editors don’t like you. They think your writing is crap.”
“Only a terrible housewife would let their house look like this.”
“You are the reason your son needs therapy. You broke him.”
“No one texts you because they don’t care about your life.”
“Stop messaging her. You are annoying her. She hates you.”
“What’s the point in going? You aren’t a good blogger. No one cares about you or your blog.”
“You haven’t written a letter to your son. Obviously you don’t deserve to be in contact with him.”
“No one talks to you because you are fat and ugly.”
“No one will remember your birthday tomorrow because you aren’t worth remembering.”
“They probably say terrible things about your kids, who are obviously a reflection of poor parenting.”
“You are not a good enough feminist.”
“You’ll never write a novel. Why even bother trying? No one would even read it.”
“No one wants your opinion, just shut up.”
“You sent her to school one day when she had diarrhea, but wasn’t showing any other symptoms. What sort of parent doesn’t keep her kid home for that? A bad one.”
“You are going to eat that for lunch? There goes your diet for the week. I guess you want to be fat forever.”
“Those new jeans look awful on you. All you can see is your fat stomach.”
“Your writing is awful. You should just stop.”
“There is no way you are good enough to write for an entire month.”
“You didn’t respond to your husband right away. Clearly, you aren’t a good wife.”
I stopped there because I was overwhelmed. I already knew that I’m a bully internally. I knew that I had a problem with loving myself inside and out, but for the first time, I had actual tangible proof of just how incredibly awful I am to myself. In an attempt of self-care, I took my daughter and I down to my bedroom, searching for some reprieve from the battle. How, I wondered, as I snuggled with my daughter, was I going to parent her and my son not to think like this, when I could barely make it through five minutes without doing it to myself. How do I fix this?
There’s no easy answer, I think. This thinking holds a level of comfortability with it for me. It’s what I’ve always known, and it’s become a constant companion. Even when I don’t notice it, like I did today, it’s there. Reminding me that I’m not enough. That I’m less than. That I’m nothing. No wonder I struggle with my confidence. No wonder I struggle to believe when people compliment me. No wonder my self-esteem is abysmally low. I’m constantly undoing any work I’ve done to be better to myself by giving space for these thoughts. I know, somehow, those statements that I made today, can’t all possibly be true. I can’t possibly be as hideous as I think I am.
I’m the only one who can change that voice. I know that. It doesn’t matter that the origins started in my abusive childhood. It doesn’t matter if it’s become “normal”. None of that is important. What’s important is that I’m now aware of how bad it is, and that I work every day to try to eliminate even one of those statements. Even just one being erased will change so much.