The postcard in the photo above is from the Etsy shop lovestruckprints.
Last week I introduced a theme for February’s posts: Changing the Stories We Tell Ourselves.
I’ve spent a lifetime gripping tightly to self limiting stories because I knew how they felt and they provided me with boundaries in which I could camp out. Even if I was a permanent resident of “Camp No One Likes You & Everything Is All Your Fault,” I knew the rules and those rules kept me safe during scary and dangerous times. Now that it’s The Tending Year, it’s time to ditch that shitty camp, because I’ve reached a point in my path where I’m prepared to believe new, truer, self loving stories.
In my effort to change my self-limiting beliefs, I shared in last Monday’s post a particularly difficult story I tell myself: I sometimes feel broken, hopeless, and powerless. I woke up last Tuesday and I felt vulnerable. I think I was experiencing what Brené Brown calls a “vulnerability hangover,” and I was deep in my story (if you haven’t listened to her Ted Talks on Shame and Vulnerability, I encourage you to carve out some time to do so!) I didn’t regret sharing with readers that I struggle with chronic pain or CPTSD, because I know that when other bloggers or podcasters or coaches share about their challenges I actually trust them more, I feel a sense of community with them, and I feel less alone. Here’s an example: Kelly Exeter and Brooke McAlary talked openly about their post-natal depression and anxiety on their podcast Let It Be. Listening to these talented, brilliant women share their own experiences with mental illness and hold space for their dark times alongside their successes with such self-compassion was very inspiring for me.
Enter the practice of self-compassion.
Dr. Kristen Neff researches self-compassion, and she sums it up nicely here:
Self-compassion involves acting the same way towards yourself when you are having a difficult time, fail, or notice something you don’t like about yourself. Instead of just ignoring your pain with a “stiff upper lip” mentality, you stop to tell yourself “this is really difficult right now,” how can I comfort and care for myself in this moment?
Due to my constant battle against unrealistically high expectations for myself, I often go down the “ignore the pain” path instead of the “name that it’s difficult and care for yourself” path. Practicing self-compassion is a huge goal of mine for The Tending Year. But, like most things in the self improvement world, I’m only going to get better at it if I flex my self-compassion muscles. So, that’s what I did last week.
Call It What It Is—Then Communicate it: Inner Mean Girl
The “inner critic” is a popular topic in the self development world. Some people, including me, interchange “inner critic” with the phrase “inner mean girl.” The inner mean girl wants to keep you down. She tells you that no one likes you, you can’t do it, you are so dumb. She’s definitely what Dr. Neff would call a stiff upper lipper. These podcast episodes do an awesome job of discussing the inner mean girl:
- Brooke McAlary and Kelly Exeters’s discussion on Let It Be Episode 7: Inner Mean Girls
- Tiff Hall and Cass Dun’s From Crappy to Happy Episode 5: Tame the Inner Critic (particularly interesting because Cass explains how our brain is wired to “default to self-criticism”)
- Kate Snowise’s interview with Andrea Featherstone on “Here to Thrive”: Episode 62: Deconstructing Mindfulness
Andrea has a name for her inner critic: Neville. This sounds hilarious, but…
there’s something important about naming our inner mean girl: it differentiates negative beliefs from reality.
My inner mean girl is called Princess Grump Grump, which is a name that Lisa Ben called one of her 17 cats during the filming of her oral history. Ben’s Princess Grump Grump was feral and wild when she first found her, but eventually the cat came to trust and love Lisa. Wouldn’t it be amazing if my inner mean girl eventually learned to do the same?
I told my Sweetie about the name I gave to my inner mean girl so that when I’m telling myself negative things about myself I’ll be able to name them out loud instead of simmering in them. Saying something like “Princess Grump Grump is jabbering at me” is a simple way for me to communicate a bigger message: “I’m feeling negative thoughts about myself right now that make me feel bad.” It’s important for me to name that it’s Princess Grump Grump telling me that I’m no good, because I am trying to differentiate the negative self talk from the reality that I am feeling anxious/nervous/disappointed. This allows me to acknowledge out loud that I’m experiencing negative self talk, and I can choose in that moment to name it as fear- or anxiety-based instead of reality and choose self-compassion over self-disdain and stiff upper lipping.
Call It What It Is—Then Communicate it: Bunny Holing Your Dissociation
If you have a trauma history, you might experience dissociation. You can Google dissociation to learn more about it, but it’s basically the act of checking out (mentally, physically, emotionally) during a scary situation as a way to cope and survive. You might feel numb, spaced out, sleepy, hopeless, quiet, etc. The thing is… we sometimes dissociate when we experience feelings that remind our traumatized parts of our old trauma, but we are actually safe!
Let me give you an example. I have experienced periods of scarcity (particularly around food, sleep, and money), and scarcity is one of my triggers. In the past, when I was unable to access either of those three things it often meant something bad was happening and I wasn’t in a safe space. I would cope by checking out with negative coping mechanisms (or by literally blacking out from alcohol). Even though I no longer experience the same traumatic events, I sometimes can feel triggered by things that remind me of scarcity—like not getting a job I applied for or worrying that I won’t be able to find gluten-free food at a work travel trip. Although I’m actually safe, my traumatized parts remember the horror of scarcity and they tell me to check out.
I call the urge to dissociate “bunny holing,” because when it happens I feel like a threatened bunny who is trying her damndest to dig deep into a dark hole and check out for a while because reality is too scary to face.
Similar to naming my inner mean girl, whenever I feel on the verge of dissociation I can just tell my Sweetie or a friend—or myself—that I’m bunny holing. Once I name it, it is so much easier to bring myself back to the present moment and practice self-compassion through asking for reassurance, stopping to eat or rest (or plan to eat and rest), writing a gratitude list, or telling myself out loud that I am safe.
When we separate negative self talk from our beliefs about ourselves, we begin to inhabit a new reality. I can thank Princess Grump Grump and my Bunny Holing practice for helping me to survive scary situations, and I can acknowledge their intention to keep me safe, but I can also remind them that I truly am safe and I will be okay now. Doing this both respects my past and celebrates the fact that my current situation is much safer, brighter, and hopeful.
You don’t have to use the phrase “bunny holing,” and you certainly don’t have to use the name Princess Grump Grump, but I would encourage you to come up with names for your inner critic and dissociation practice (if you don’t experience dissociation, you could replace it with feeling anxious, worried, etc.) and start to use them to differentiate negative self talk from reality. If you feel comfortable, you can share your names with your sweethearts or close friends, but you can always use them privately to mindfully call yourself out and bring yourself back to the present.
By holding ourselves accountable for negative self talk as something we do, we begin to nip it in the bud and we practice self-compassion.
*Please note that the original version of this blog post was published here.
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