Punishing Ourselves is Wrong
Wildcard weekend had ended. It was Monday morning, and even though my team hadn’t made the playoffs, I still felt a sense of disappointment because the teams I was routing for, lost. We began planning the games the week before, excitingly anticipating the unfolding of the playoff picture, and of course, what food we would cook and eat. The NFL season is a fun time for me as it gives me something to look forward to.
As I took my first sips of morning coffee and reflected on the weekend, I became aware of the thoughts and the feelings and the sensations in my body of “not having something to look forward to”. This certainly wasn’t the first time I had a solemn experience of, “what now? I need something.” Typically I let these kind of moments run my day and I end up feeling depressed and unmotivated, swimming around in a pity-party and projecting my unhappiness onto those closest to me. In other words, moving through my day unconscious to what is really going on, unwilling or afraid of taking a closer look.
As I mentioned, the menu for the games is equally as exciting to plan and look forward to. It’s similar to the idea of a Nor ‘Easter bearing down on New England and stock piling my favorite comfort food in case we’re snowed in for a week like during the blizzard of ’78. I, like many other women, use food as a much-needed protective mechanism to fill a vague, uneasy sense of emptiness within me. Moments like this bring me temporary feelings of security and happiness, and never fill what I’m truly crave.
By the end of my coffee, I knew exactly what to do. I grabbed my journal, became still, got quiet, and turned my attention inward with a heart-felt curiosity to understand myself more clearly, more deeply. I began by asking what stories I create around endings and how that is followed by a need to have something to look forward to. My body and my feelings told a story that the only way I can be happy is if I have something to look forward to. So I got curious about that. What could that mean? What story is that telling? Going deeper still, into emerging memories of my childhood, there was a belief that if I don’t have something to look forward to, I will be sad and lonely. I was happy when my parents were happy and, in their happiness, there was some kind of surprise for me and my siblings.
It could have been a trip to get an ice cream cone, a visit to my cousin’s pool, or a stop at McDonald’s after church on a Saturday afternoon. In these memories, I became more curious. The continued unfolding told a story that as long as I was good and behaved, as long as my parent’s weren’t fighting or arguing, there was a surprise. The idea of something to look forward to, became conditional. If “this” happens, if “this or that” are in a certain way, if all the components come together in harmony, if everyone behaves, then and only then will a surprise, an excitement, or something to look forward to, be offered or given to me.
The big AH-HA moment came with the realization that I am always, and I mean always, beating myself up or berating myself for eating foods I’m not supposed to eat. Boom. Mic drop. There it was. I did something wrong. I ate food during the games, that keep a woman fat and unlovable and unattractive. I wasn’t a good girl. Conditions were not ideal, so I had no right to give myself something to look forward to. I could not give myself permission to look forward to something because I did something wrong. I ate foods that are “bad for me” the day before, so I had to punish myself and in those feelings of hurt as I chastised myself, I longed to find anything in my life to bring a sense of joy. Interesting thing is, I do have things to look forward to, but I couldn’t allow myself to see beyond my self-degradation.
I recognized my vulnerable inner child. The naïve, sheltered, scared, intimidated, and fearful little girl who yearned to please her parents so they would be happy and offer happiness in return. Even though my parents no longer have the ability to take away, I continued this pattern of behavior into adulthood all on my own. I was putting conditions on my own bright future because of punishing myself for something I ate the day before.
Much of our dysfunctional childhood programming remains in our unconscious, hiding in the shadows and it shows up, in adulthood, in ways that is not our preference of who we really want to be and what kind of life we really want to live. This one deep dive within myself opened up a vision of how I’ve been berating myself my whole life and it shed light on why I feel angry all the time. (that’s a whole other blog post)
In my willingness to sit with my thoughts, feelings, stories, and memories, and in my discipline of honest self-investigation, I came to understand my need to be more loving, kind, compassionate, and nurturing toward myself. And to stop punishing myself. And to cultivate a deeper and more meaningful relationship with my Great Mother, my Nurturing Inner Parent so that every day, no matter what, I can give myself something to look forward to.
Sitting with feelings and thoughts and memories is not always comfortable. We shy away, distract ourselves and perfect the art of avoidance. Yet how can we heal ourselves, how can we heal this planet, if we’re not willing to look at what is wrong? I wasn’t wrong by eating what I ate. I was wrong in punishing myself for it. There’s nothing wrong with me, but there is something off, or not right, about the beliefs I have that keep me in a pattern of self-punishment.
I invite you to watch yourself. Become increasingly aware of your thoughts and your habits and what is out of alignment with who you prefer to be. I invite you and encourage you to become still and quiet and be with your feelings. And for goodness sake, leave your phone in another room. Get curious. Be honest. Let your feelings flow. Follow them to a memory or a new awareness. Let them peel back the layers and illuminate a path of understanding and healing.
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Self-Awareness and Transformational Coach, Inner Child Advocate, and Yin Yoga Teacher.