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.
I'm Not Doing Anything Right
My copy is 13 years old, and I still refer to it, even to this day, this morning in fact. Synchronicity guides me. I know this, I trust this. (It can for you too if you allow it.) So, it’s no surprise that I read the above passage this morning (while looking for something else) when I knew I wanted to be sharing with you, a most recent opportunity to see an old pattern.
Many of our patterns of thought and behavior are deeply unconscious. It’s easy to say, “well that’s just who I am”, or point a finger at society and say something like, “that’s how we’ve all been raised”. Yes, the collective plays a role and it’s true that over time we can identify more deeply with what we’ve been taught to believe about ourselves. It’s only when we can step outside of ourselves and look objectively, when we can begin to take full responsibility for our lives, that true, honest change can begin. When we can step fully into owning who we currently are, and who we prefer to be.
A few weeks ago, we had a nor ‘easter bearing down on us. I was busy in the kitchen preparing comfort food, hoping we wouldn’t lose power as the winds howled outside. I received a text from a friend and that text included an opportunity that excited me. Within a few minutes my energy shifted, and my focus went from the preheating the oven to how I was going to respond to her. My behavior became erratic, and I noticed stress in my body. That’s when my disciplines of awareness, curiosity, and honesty kicked in. In that moment I became the witness of myself.
My OG thought (my intuition) was to respond later because I needed to cook before the power went out. (It never did, and I really don’t like to cook) I knew I wanted to be more fully present in my response to her, yet this gnawing voice crept in and took over telling me I needed to respond immediately and together, this voice and I, went over all the many ways we could respond. The voice told me that if I didn’t respond right away, and in a way that would make her happy, then I would lose out on the opportunity, and she wouldn’t like me. I had to say the right thing and do it quickly.
I allowed myself to feel the tension and from it, a new awareness was born. The experience gave me a golden opportunity to recognize, and begin to change, a pattern of thought and behavior I’ve been carrying around for the better part of 50 years. I honored the voice by picking up my phone and sending the response of, “Sure!”.
I continued to stay curious as I slipped the eggplant parmesan into the oven.
Life is a 100% mirror reflection of our strongest beliefs, our strongest definitions, and our strongest programming, or conditioning. An event happens and we immediately form a story about it. (Whether positive or negative) Meaning is attached, the feeling forms, and then we “live through” that and respond, react, or behave through that. Here’s the thing … we cannot have a thought, feeling, emotion, behavior, pattern, or experience without the belief, definition, or programming coming first.
Knowing this, I recognized my need to fit in, or feel that sense of belonging in my friendship with her. I unnaturally placed an extreme level of meaning on our friendship, (something I’ve often done in many relationships) and momentarily sacrificed my authenticity for again, that sense of belonging. I didn’t want to upset a member of the tribe by responding later.
I was able to recognize some childhood conditioning which sounded like, “She likes me! She likes me!” (Visualize a little girl jumping up and down) “I have to respond right away!” “I have to do what she wants.” “Why haven’t you responded yet?” “She asked you! You say yes!” “Don’t you dare disappoint her!” “If you don’t respond quickly, she’ll be mad at you!” “I need to be liked.” “The needs and happiness of other people are more important than my own.” “I’m a bad girl if I do it wrong, or if I put my needs first.”
Can you see how I defaulted to a pattern of thought and behavior that is more in line with the values of my inner child?
As I peeled away the top layers, completely aware of the fact that they are simply reinforcing something much deeper, I came to understand my core negative, fear-based belief. I’m not doing anything right. It's not safe to be me.
Event: I received her text.
Meaning attached / feeling forms: She likes me / happiness. I must respond immediately / fear.
(Beliefs come before the meaning or feeling)
Behavior: Dancing in excitement. Erratic nervousness, need to control my environment, projection, worry.
Outcome: Because of this awareness, my outcome was favorable. I found my truth and responded in a way that was more in alignment with the person I prefer to be, not the one driven by fear, negativity, and limitation.
I invite you to give this a try in your life.
Allow yourself to become more present and aware of what is happening in your day and in the events that unfold. Use this technique, and your willingness to change, to help you understand yourself more truly and more deeply. Use this method to know yourself, your True self, from a new perspective so you can move closer to being the person you prefer to be.
Choose to see your old patterns calmly and objectively in your willingness to change and in your intention to set yourself free.
Self-Awareness and Transformational Coach, Inner Child Advocate, and Yin Yoga Teacher.