Becoming My Own Cheerleader
What if I spoke to myself the way I speak to my best friend?
You know that little voice inside your head? The one that's so mean. Yeah, her. Always watching. Always judging. Non-stop. Everywhere you go. Just waiting for you to screw something up. Thinking she's being super helpful. Mine has no filter. She's loud and bossy. She's unforgiving. She doesn't miss a beat. For every little misstep, there she is. Pointing it out. Laughing at me. Shoving it in my face. Taunting me. Who do you think you are? You're not good enough. You don't measure up. You'll never be anybody. Why even bother?
If I had to give her a persona, it would be Benny from Pretty in Pink. You know, the girlfriend of Blane's rich friend, Steff. She's awful. Super pretty. Super popular. And a major asshole. Rolling her eyes and saying whatever's on her mind. Putting Molly Ringwald's character down just for fun. And just like that little voice inside my head, I hate that bitch. I mean, who talks to people that way? Making them feel small. Making them doubt themselves. Who does that? Well, me actually. Except instead of people it's directed at myself. Yup. Guilty. For as long as I can remember, I have shit all over myself. (Not to be confused with shoulding on myself, which is my second favorite sport). I give myself no credit and cut myself absolutely no slack. I'm pretty harsh.
I've been told that I'm like a really mean boss. I have one employee (me) and I show no sympathy. I have no tolerance or patience either. No mistakes allowed. I give no awards and offer zero words of praise. High expectations all around. There's no room for error. No second chances. There are no promotions or certificates for a job well done. I only point out flaws. I am super critical. When I make the tiniest mistake or am the slightest bit forgetful, I catch myself mumbling idiot under my breath. Now let me clarify. I would never (ever, ever) call anyone an idiot to their face. Even someone who was acting like a complete idiot. But for some reason, I find it totally acceptable to say it to myself. Do I actually think I'm an idiot? Absolutely not! Well, mostly not.
I learned a few things about myself when I became a fitness instructor. I taught child-friendly classes that consisted mostly of my stay-at-home mom friends. I loved planning the workouts. I would make them challenging enough to push people but not impossible enough to discourage anyone. I would modify for my beginners or anyone who needed to take it easy. I would hold babies and console crying toddlers so mommies could focus on themselves. I discovered that I was a great motivator. I would project my voice above the music. I had no idea I could be that loud. "You've got this!" I would shout. "You are stronger than you know. Don't you dare give up. You can do this. You're almost there. You're doing great. Keep going. Looking good. You should be so proud of yourself. Awesome job!" And in the back of my mind I would wonder where all of this compassion and encouragement was for myself.
When I lost my husband to suicide, it was shocking to say the least. I beat myself up for not seeing it coming and kept telling myself I should have done more. I made it mean it might have been my fault. I made it mean I wasn't paying attention. I made it mean I didn't make him happy. I was going through the motions of daily life and trying to put on a brave face but it was rough. The range of emotions alone was overwhelming. Everybody told me how strong I was and I thought they were crazy. About a year later, I kind of started to unravel. I was having panic attacks regularly and was feeling the weight of the world on me. I was so frustrated with myself. What's wrong with you? Why are you falling apart? When are you going to get it together? Why are you such a mess? Why aren't you over this yet? I was sure I was doing it all wrong. I worried I would never move forward and I made myself feel awful for the way I was handling my loss. The truth is, I hadn't even begun to grieve yet. I was pushing it away. Burying it. Avoiding it altogether.
I decided to spend a year working on myself. It was long overdue and I knew it was the only way I could heal and be present for my son. With loads of thought work, podcasts, therapy, meditation, self help books, yoga and (my favorite) life coaching, I started to peel back the layers. It turns out I really like who I am. There. I said it. I've been through some serious shit, none of which was my fault, and I deserve a whole lot of grace. I am a good person. I am a great mom. I am doing the very best that I can. It's time that I have my own back.
I've been thinking about self compassion and why it's missing. I think about that terrible voice inside my head, always kicking me when I'm down. What if I spoke to myself like I would my best friend? Like, "great job! You're so good at doing hard things. I'm proud of you. That couldn't have been easy but you nailed it. Way to go." Or, "it's okay. I know you're stressed out but you've got this. You can do it. There you go. One step at a time. I believe in you." Call me crazy but this feels so much better than "good job, loser. I knew you would fuck this up."
Becoming my own cheerleader isn't easy. When I first started doing it, I felt ridiculous. I would be driving in my car and I would say kind words to myself and start to laugh. It seemed silly. It felt foreign. But it was also a little heartbreaking. I find it sad that it wasn't natural to treat myself this way. I was always taught not to think too much of myself. Not to draw attention. I grew up watching girls hate their bodies and trash themselves and just thought that's what we are supposed to do. So it's time to flip the narrative.
One of the most profound concepts I've learned is that my thoughts cause my feelings. I know. Mind. Blown. And that my thought are not facts. They feel true because I've been thinking them for so long but they are just thoughts. They are optional. So just because I have this inner critic, constantly feeding them to me, I don't have to believe them. I can choose which ones to keep and which ones to let go. I am in control. And I love control.
Believe me. It is going to take practice, patience and forgiveness to undo the nasty habit of being so hard on myself. It all looks easy on paper but I constantly catch myself slipping up. Baby steps. The more gold stars I offer myself, the more I feel emotions like confident, proud, secure, and optimistic, which are new to me. I am human. I deserve love. So it's worth every bit of the hard work to show myself that I believe in me.