In the last few weeks I have been doing quite a lot of psychological ‘work’ with myself.
It feels like I have shaken off a lot of the grey gloom and apathy that has dogged me for much of the last 6 months, and been able to take some steps forward.
You know those women, the ones who are just full of love, empathy & wisdom? The ones who are really calm, boundaried and yet genuinely compassionate; who don’t judge or anger quickly, who are considered and deliberate in their actions ? That’s who I want to be.
I have always known that I don’t ‘like’, let alone ‘love’ myself; that I am harder on myself than I would ever be on anyone else; that I hold myself up against an image of perfection and constantly find myself wanting; that I do not feel “good enough” most of the time. And I have known for along time, that this negative view of myself is unhelpful, probably damaging to me and that it needs to change. It’s just that I have been going about it the wrong way. I have been trying harder and harder to be perfect, to do everything right, to be more productive, exercise, stay slim, socialise, keep the house clean, manage the children perfectly. And that doesn’t work, because NO-ONE can be perfect, so when I inevitably fail in my endeavours, I beat myself up some more.
This is NOT helpful.
Associated with the perfectionism comes a whole heap of Shame (which I have alluded to before) Again I think I have known for a long time, that things wouldn’t change until I stopped drinking, because it’s pretty hard to like yourself when you repeatedly tip bottles of Sav Blanc down your throat, and you can’t control your drinking. The fact that I have not added anything to my list of things I am ashamed of in the last 25 months is a huge thing to me, and it’s much easier to forgive yourself for past errors when you can honestly see that you are unlikely to repeat them. This is why I see my sobriety as a critical first step on this journey; as essential to maintain as it was to start, and I remain mindful of the risk of relapse.
So having removed a big hurdle in the path of self acceptance and self love, what next? I think there are a few basics which I have been musing about over the last couple of weeks.
- asking for help. Like many people I have a huge issues with asking for help. I feel like I ‘should’ be able to cope alone, that needing help and support is somehow a ‘weakness’; yet I am very willing to offer support, practical and emotional where I can see a need. I read something that struck a really big chord with me in Brene Browns work ‘The gifts of imperfection’. She says that when we attach judgement to receiving help we, consciously or unconsciously, attach judgement to giving help. Now I do NOT consciously attach any judgement to offering support – but I can see what she means. I believe the reluctance to ask for support comes from my internal perfectionist, (and the associated shame with being less than perfect) along with a hefty dose of subliminal messaging from my birth family . These messages went something like “Women cope with whatever is thrown at them, their needs can be ignored and they just have to get on with it, not coping or leaving is not an option. If things are hard, you just try harder”. At some later date I will pick this (especially the “women” bit) apart with my therapist.
- Lack of common humanity: By which I do not mean I am a horrible inhuman monster, but that (maybe through arrogance, and super inflated ego- although that doesn’t feel quite right) I often fail to see that the struggles I experience are very common. They are not unique, not special to me (and my stupidity) but shared by many many people, ordinary people who struggle with ‘stuff’, because ‘stuff’ is hard.
- Emotional over reaction: This is something I think is quite common with addicts, and something I have had for as long as I can remember. I am quite cyclothymic (by which I mean I experience periods when my mood noticeably shifts up and down from my baseline.) I tend to overreact to external stimuli, good and bad. I catastrophise quite a lot and take too much on myself – eg trying to ‘fix’ someone else. This is noticeably better since I have been sober – I am calmer and have less “knee jerk” reactions to things. The tendency is still there (see yesterdays post) and its still hard for me to sit with uncomfortable emotions such as anxiety and anger, but its improving.
I recognise that the ‘big’ piece of work I need to do now, is on myself. I want to learn to accept myself as I am, flaws and imperfections and all. I want to be as compassionate to myself as I would be to another person, and I want to cultivate self respect. In looking for help in this area, along with Brene Brown I discovered the work of Dr Kristin Neff, who is an associate professor in Houston. Her website here contains a wealth of resources to help develop self compassion, including a self compassion rating scale here
I took this test … my scores are below (Scored 1-5 : 5 being the best for self kindness, common humanity and mindfulness; 1 being the best for self judgement, isolation and over identification)
Common Humanity: 1.25
Overall score: 1.58
But I reproduce them here because I am going to do something about this. I realise now that self compassion is something that has to be practised, and that self love doesn’t ‘just happen’ you have to cultivate it. And my initial cultivation plan is to work though some of the stuff on this website, think about things I read, and much as I practised developing serenity yesterday, I’m going to practice kindness, compassion and tolerance to myself.
In due course, maybe in six months, I will do this test again, and see where I have got to.
I would be really interested in others thoughts about this !