I have always taken pride in the fact that I am harder on myself than anyone could ever be on me. I’m coming around to seeing that this isn’t necessarily a good thing.
Recently, in the safe container of a creative community in which I participate, I shared that I often journal and speak to myself in a berating and harsh tone.
I’d be embarrassed for others to see some of the ways I speak to myself. It can be of a tone that I’d never use with others.
How Does It Serve You?
One of my new friends wondered,
How is that serving you?
The question about how it’s serving me is one I ask myself regularly when I notice a behavior that I don’t like.
I know the berating is trying to serve me by kicking me into submission. It’s a voice of discipline. Which, of course, is a pattern learned from how I was spoken to as a child.
As I was reminded byTim Ferris’s conversation with Jim Loehr, the author of The Power of Full Engagement, it isn’t my true voice.
The authoritarian and disciplinarian voice that berates me is trying to keep me in line. Of course it doesn’t actually serve me. But that’s it’s intention.
What Parts of Yourself Are You Nourishing?
My friend also asked a follow-up question,
What parts of you are nourished by this?
That’s a much richer question, one that I’ll steal to use with my clients. I sat with it for a while.
What parts of me are nourished by this?
From the outside, it’s hard to imagine any part of me that would be nourished by such hurtful behavior and words, by a tone that is filled with criticism and condemnation and judgment.
How could someone be nourished by it?
I realized that it could be nourishing in the same way people feel nourished or soothed by medication or opiates or drugs or alcohol … or comfort food.
This was where the light bulb turned on.
Without realizing it, I had stumbled on my self-love languages.
My Self-Love Languages
The criticisms and condemnations are related to the cookies and brownies and the sweets I crave.
These are the comfort foods of my childhood.
They are the language of love and caring that I was conditioned with, the only language of love and caring I have known.
How did I know I was loved growing up? When were the times I felt closest to my parents or even my siblings?
It was either through the attention I got that was trying to discipline me into doing better or connection through sweets and desserts.
The deepest rifts and fractures in our dysfunctional family were smoothed over by brownies and babka, meltaways and M&Ms.
As I reflected, I recalled how a recent conversation about the most random of food behaviors was a topic on which my siblings and I could find unanimity and shared laughter. Standing around the island in my sister’s kitchen, it was us against the world. Our political divide and any other differences faded in our unanimous agreement that bakery cookies are best eaten straight from the freezer, no thawing.
Ah. What a random memory.
I paused for a moment to wonder, How did I even get here?
And, also, seeing the divine perfection of this, fitting into the astrology of the moment.
Seeing the Source
On this day when Venus conjuncts Mercury retrograde, and on the day dedicated to self-love, revisiting and recollecting how love and caring have been communicated to me throughout my life:
We criticize because we care, is dad’s favorite line. Nobody will care more about you than your family, he reminds me often.
Jim Loehr points out that our inner voice is formed by age 5, based on the messages we hear from our parents and other authority figures. This inner voice is the most powerful coach we will have.
It fits something I’ve heard before:
How you speak to your children is how they’ll speak to themselves.
This is my conditioning. It’s the cake tin in which I was baked, the mold that shaped me.
Criticism and cookies as the language of caring. Condemnation and confections as the vehicles of connection.
The part of me that is nourished by my self-berating is the little girl who craves belonging and connection.
She finds comfort in harsh words because she has learned that discipline and censure are the language of care and love.
Honoring and Attending
Standing in the kitchen typing all of this on my phone, I feel the tears welling up. A hollowing contraction forming in my solar plexus and a ball of knots forming in my heart space and moving up to my throat.
Why? What is here?
It is asking me to pause and witness it.
Honor it. Hold it. Hear it.
Can I be with this, this thing that desires attention?
I stand with it, holding myself with a hand on my belly and heart. Still in my trampoline clothes from this morning, intentions for a quick shower and other work fading to the background as I give myself over to this.
I hardly notice as the light outside fades and the room darkens around me. Time doesn’t really matter in this moment.
The desire to run is strong but I hear the inner whisper that tells me to stay.
The real work is here. Hold this. Be with this. A doorway is opening. The darkness around you will give way to light if you can be with this and see it through to a healing place. It’s time to stop doing. Release your agenda and look at what is emerging here. This is the gift for you. What you desire is right here.
My mind knows that there is not enough whipped cream in the world to fill the inner void created by constant castigation. And, also, it knows that this habit is deeply engrained. This patterning won’t shift overnight; it will need constant tending.
Toxic chemicals invade the body equally through food and words, through drugs and emotions. I need not source from this well any longer.
I can choose to lather myself with the rich butter of acceptance and to create a new language of love and caring that is centered in compassion, rooted in reverence, and holds space for a deep honoring of what is.
This is the work. This is the practice.