I touched on an important idea in my first therapy session of the new year. Plenty of my shame-driven negative self talk (and I have a whole lot of it these days) isn’t even my own. It dawned on me in a way that it hadn’t before: a whole lot of the bad things I throw at myself in my own head began with someone else’s shame (my mother’s mostly), which was was transferred to me before I ever knew what to do with it, and I’ve now adopted it as my own.
The negative messages began early; perfectionism, especially.
Though highly intelligent, my brother and school were like oil and water and never really worked. He acted out a lot and hated authority (gee, wonder why), and was regularly abused by my parents for that and his bad grades. I was powerless to do anything about anything that happened growing up, but I got a big message loud and clear: imperfection could be very dangerous. My good grades, staying squeaky clean, being naive and innocent, over achieving, it all kept me safe.
Perhaps it shouldn’t be any surprise, then, that one of the first panic attacks I remember having came after I got my very first B in second grade. Perhaps it shouldn’t be any surprise, then, that my anxiety goes crazy and my negative self talk is at its most nasty and vile when I feel like I have failed in even the most minor way.
It can be debilitating, constantly berating yourself at every turn for every little thing. I am continually working on it in therapy, but lately if I’m not beating myself up about something I think I’ve somehow failed at, how I’m not perfect at whatever it might be, I stop myself only to beat myself up about beating myself up.
Today, for instance. Since it’s a federal holiday and the courts and 98% of law firms in this town are closed, I’m trying to give myself the freedom to take an additional day off from working to process my life, to write, to do laundry, to enjoy my family, to clean my room, to eat well, to maybe get creative and/or take a walk. I have incredible amounts of guilt and anxiety over it, though. I have guilt and anxiety about taking good care of myself on a day when I have the actual ability to take care of myself. I have to repeat it because it’s so clearly illogical – I have guilt and anxiety about taking care of myself.
I am not an idiot (that was my favorite self-insult this last therapy session). I am not dumb either (what I was just calling myself for feeling guilty about taking the day off to continue to care of myself). I am not a failure at business (like I constantly tell myself I am or will be). I am not failing at weight loss surgery (appx. 90 total pounds down). I am not failing at exercise (I got 5 miles in over the last week). I am not a failure. And I don’t need to be perfect.
Now how do I let that go? How do I embrace the idea that I don’t even NEED to be perfect in the first place? Perfectionism doesn’t serve me anymore; I don’t need to be perfect to stay safe, but the message is still there. Still loud, still clear. I suppose I may fight against the message of perfection for the rest of my life (in all kinds of ways), but at least I’m fighting.
Let me try to keep this in mind today as I continue to allow myself the freedom to take care of me before all else…