trash-talking scenario one:
You’re sitting at the corner of the table with ten faces looking at you, curious to see what you have to present. They appear unfriendly. You start talking and can hear the tremble in your voice. You feel yourself losing control of the room as the heat rises up the back of your neck in waves. You’re desperately trying to make it to the end of your presentation – four more slides and then you’ll be on shore. People are beginning to fidget. Then someone interrupts you. Discussion starts. It turns into a debate. You attempt to speak but no one hears you, not even yourself. You becomes smaller and eventually become invisible. The hour passes after an eternity. You leave the room.
I watch you leaving and see the bubble over your head. Here’s how it reads: “Can’t believe how stupid I am. Should’ve spoken up. Mumbled like an idiot. I just wasn’t cut out for this. Couldn’t control the room. What the f*** is wrong with me. I’ll never succeed. Was meant to be a failure. Pathetic. Finally everyone knows what a fraud I am.”
Over the years, this trash-talk erodes your ego. Eventually you accept your role in life as an unseen, unheard wallflower and you continue to escalate the harshness of your inner monologue in a desperate attempt to beat yourself into being your ideal self.
trash-talking scenario two:
You’re out on a first date. He asks you a question. You begin to answer. Your voice sounds monotonous to you as you notice his eyes wandering to the person behind you. You start rushing through your story to get to the end and fidget with the neckline of your dress. The rest of the conversation is spent deflecting attention by asking him questions. You get smaller in your chair. The awkward non-committal goodbye confirms your fears. You pretend to be busy on your phone as you leave, walking at a frantic pace, trying to get away from your shame.
I watch you leaving and see the bubble over your head. Here’s how it reads: “Probably thinks I’m boring. And fat. Why can’t I lose weight! Did I say something stupid? What the f*** is wrong with me. I’m always going to be alone. That’s what I deserve. I don’t need this anyway. What’s the point!. I don’t need a man.” When you get home, you medicate yourself by filling up your schedule with meaningless activities, stuff your face (which you will regret in the coming days), work out obsessively, throw yourself into your work (and tell yourself you’re too busy for dating) – pick your poison. But when no one is watching, I see your sadness, your disconnection, your starved soul.
I see these bubbles because I’m a super hero and my super power is self-loathing and trash-talking 🙂 It’s only now that I’ve popped some of my bubbles that I have the emotional acuity to see others living in their private hells as I have in mine – co-workers, friends, family. I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to discuss this with them and together we’ve discovered some valuable insights that I hope to share with you.
Succinctly put, we need it! just like we need food and good dessert. The power of such love is known to us at a visceral level. When we’re in the embrace of love, we’re supported, fully seen and understood as our true selves with no fear of judgment or rejection. Our culture (movies, stories, songs etc.) teach us to look out in the world for this love. And that’s a great pursuit. Unfortunately, the part of the training manual we seem to have skipped as a society is the pursuit of unconditional love and acceptance within ourselves.
It begins by asking a simple question – Are you there to love yourself in your failures, in your moments of weakness and doubt, in the moments when love is hard to come by from the outside world? My answer for the longest time was No. In time I realized that the betrayal and disconnection I experienced from myself in those moments was far greater than the deepest betrayal I would feel from anyone else. The way it played out in the world was that I had little bandwidth to receive constructive criticism because it triggered the trauma I had inflicted on myself through years of trash-talking. I was also afraid to try new things and learn new skills because the fear of failure and how ruthlessly I would treat myself. It goes without saying that such negative internal dynamic is not conducive to a life of growth, development and joy.
If you’re still with me, we’ve covered that unconditional love is a need, it can be served extrinsically but the only guaranteed and durable source for it is from within. Yet two of top offenders that prevent us from experiencing this love are lack of empathy and the toxic habit of trash-talking. So how to get from here to there?
to Love and be Loved
The goal is to love and be loved by oneself – an Inception version of a love story where you are the object and the subject of Love. While there are many paths to Love (just as there are many paths to success, enlightenment etc.), I’ve shared one that’s worked for me. The only tools required are a pen, a journal and fifteen minutes at the end of each day. If you find yourself not having enough time, it’s not about not having enough time 🙂
I find it easier to be empathetic and kind to children because I perceive them as lacking in self-defense (which makes me protective of them), lacking in agendas (which makes me feel safe and open around them) and lacking in experience (which makes me want to help them grow). So I’ve taken a picture of myself and pasted it on my journal. This helps me visualize myself (internally) as a defenseless child who has no agendas and is trying the best she can.
Each night, I look at this picture of my six year old self and write her a letter. I bring up scenarios (just like the ones above) that have happened that day and have a conversation about them with the pen as our proxy. The language is simple as you would expect when you speak with a little child. I name the emotions that were felt (glad, mad, sad, scared) during those scenarios. I allow and validate feeling those emotions. I put things in perspective. This often involves making the horizon bigger than it is and recounting all aspects of life and not just the one scenario – the love, comfort, support, family, friends that are all around and anchor life in beautiful ways. I provide reassurance and Unconditional Love. I sleep at peace. No rehashing or re-living of trauma required. It’s processed, internalized and let go.
Having done this religiously for the last two years, I can share the transformative ways it’s changed my inner monologue and how I show up in the world. Not only do I look forward to the last fifteen minutes of my day, I find it difficult to be cruel to myself during the day. As soon as the nagging/hating voice shows up, I have a visceral reaction to it much like you would if you saw someone kicking a puppy or an adult yelling at a little child. It stops even before it begins. I find humor in my mistakes and feel more empowered to correct them. I’m more resourceful in new and unfamiliar situations because there’s a voice in my head that’s cheering me on to do more and be more but from a place of complete acceptance. Any external feedback is good feedback and just another data point to consider. I’m not driven by fear of myself. I’m driven to soar higher because I feel anchored within myself. And my super-power has changed as well. Now I see the six year old in everyone around me. Not only is that a really amusing way to experience a stressful meeting with adults (to see them as their little selves gathered around a table, figuring out the best way to build a castle), it’s also remarkably insightful because it gives me a truer sense of what’s driving them, and gives me more authentic empathy for them. It’s like having the sub titles on to a foreign movie and finally understanding the plot and relating with the complexity and humanity of the characters.
If you’re an E.E.Cummings fan, or have watched Cameron Diaz in In Her Shoes, you may recall a little poem that ends with “I carry your heart. I carry it in my heart”. For the longest time I thought this referred to two lovers and perhaps it still does. However now the mystic in me wonders about the deeper truth of this poem.
I hope this has inspired you pay attention to your inner monologue. Find your own way to Love. If a six year old can help along the way, don’t be shy to accept the generous offer 🙂
Side note: If during the course of reading this, the images of self-love coming to your mind are lots of selfies that get posted on Facebook, obsessive talking about yourself, having a fan-club etc., there must be some distortion in the signal 🙂 I find those to be symptoms of narcissism which (to me) is just one more variation of self-loathing (another topic for another time).