Committing our selves to the practice of speaking kindly and lovingly to our selves; trusting that change and growth flow more readily from tender nurture than from drill-sergeant criticism.
Speak Kindly to Your Self
Remember to speak softly, kindly and lovingly to your self!
On a summer weekend when I was around 9 or 10 years old, my family went to visit some close relatives in their country cottage out at the end of Long Island. We all tramped out to the beach one day, everyone's arms filled with all sorts of picnic and sit-on-the-sand stuff. For whatever reason, I chose to walk along the edge of a tarred road up a little rise from the path that everyone else was on. As we all chattered away, I was looking over my left shoulder toward my cousins rather than watching the road ahead of me.
Suddenly I was in excruciating pain. I had walked, head on, into the corner of a rusty stop sign. My hands flew up to cover my right eye and cheek as I howled with pain and terror, dropping whatever I'd been carrying. My mother came up the incline, roughly pulled my hands from my face and began screaming at me. "Stop making such a racket! It's only a little cut on your cheek! From the way you're carrying on, you'd think you'd taken your eye out!" When I couldn't stop my convulsive sobbing she began shaking me by my shoulders as she continued to scream at me to "Just stop it! Stop it this instant or I'll really give you something to cry about!" And, "If you'd look where you were going, things like this wouldn't happen to you!"
I understand, from friends who are mothers, that such behavior is not necessarily that extraordinary or bizarre. Getting angry with her child can be in the emotional mix of the agitated upset a mother feels when, for example, her child has run out into the street and nearly been hit by a car. Still, this was just another moment in a, by then, infinite stream of experiences I'd had of my mother raging at me when I came to her hurt, sick, terrified or needy.
The grown-up in me understands that my neediness, terror and pain frightened and overwhelmed her. The grown-up in me understands that she was so ill equipped emotionally that rage/anger was, generally, her only available response when she felt threatened by my upsets/injuries. The grown-up in me understands that she was in fact doing the best she could, given her own damaged, stunted emotional capacities.
Still, the child that I was in those years was repeatedly devastated and tyrannized by the screamed recriminations, the threats and mean responses that came when she went to her mommy seeking solace. When I'd come hurt or sick, her responses invariably led me to feel it was my own fault, my own stupidity or carelessness that was responsible for my predicament. Or, her reactions made it clear that she thought I was "making a big deal out of nothing." Or, that I was malingering. In all cases, the message was that I deserved no sympathy.
The legacy of these interactions was an awful one. I would feel terrified whenever I'd hurt my self. Then, I would be petrified by my own terror because I had no safe place to go for support or comfort. I learned that I had to find ways to handle all of it by my self. As a young child, though, I had no real resources to do that. I developed an internal version of my angry, belittling mother's voice that yelled at me even when I was all by my self with my pain. It was all I knew to do.
For much of my life I met every accident or illness that befell me with the same meanness that I'd experienced from my mother. Every trip or fall or bump-into-something (and over the years there were many) would have me calling my self stupid, careless, klutzy. I'd feel full of guilt every time I'd get sick with a cold or flu, unsure whether I was malingering, not really as sick as I felt, worried that my illness might be a manipulation on my part.
With anyone else in similarly distressing plights, I would be tender and sympathetic, solicitous and compassionate. Only with my self was I so negating and so harsh.
This mean, unforgiving way of speaking to my self extended beyond the times of physical trauma. Any of my emotional upsets, any mistakes I made, any slips or forgetfulness, any social mishaps, etc. – all these called forth in me reactions that were equally critical and unsympathetic. My response to my self was typically the very opposite of what I needed and craved. It was the opposite, as well, of what I freely offered to any and everyone else.
When someone treated me compassionately or solicitously in these moments that I saw as lapses, I'd feel guilty, fearful that I had somehow manipulated them into this undeserved caring toward me. Or, on the other hand, I might feel irritated by what I saw as their being patronizing. Needless to say, these reactions of mine confused everyone who might act caringly toward me.
When at 43, in the depths of despair, I first uncovered and began to connect with the Little One inside me, this awful pattern began to change. The precious, delightful little creature inside of me stirred a love, compassion and caring for her/my self that I had never before imagined being able to feel.
Suddenly, it was unthinkable to allow anyone, including me, to be mean or harsh with my self. For the first time in my life I found permission to speak as lovingly and kindly to my own hurt, upset, imperfect self as I'd always spoken to others. (See The Little Ones Story for more about this.) The more lovingly I treated my self, the more kindly and sweetly I spoke to my self, the more I began to blossom and grow. The transformation that began with that phenomenal shift has led me to the who that I now am.
Along the way to here, I've come to understand that no one ever deserves to be spoken to cruelly, to be undermined by words, to be denied a sympathetic hearing. And, I've come to trust (despite what our culture would have us believe) that more real change grows from tender nurture than from drill-sergeant-like blastings of criticism or ridicule.
Along the way to here, I've learned that speaking with love even to the parts of me that have mean, nasty, self-serving thoughts and feelings helps me to grow. When I am kind with these usually abandoned, angry and unhappy selves, they feel safe enough to reveal their woundings to me. Then, I am able to help them find healthy ways to release their pain and to begin to heal.
Along the way to here, I've learned to talk generously to my self even when I'm somewhere or doing something that I don't like for me to be being or doing. Only when I caringly allow my self to be where I am while I'm there, can I ever move beyond that there to somewhere else.
Along the way to here, I've learned the language of tenderness toward my self. When I fall, trip, stumble, fumble, spill or break something, inadvertently (or sometimes advertently) or do something that hurts or upsets someone else – I hold my self and say, "Poor Honey!" And, "I'm so sorry you're hurting/upset/unhappy that you did that!" And "It's okay, Honey, we can make it right/fix it/tell the truth!" And, "I'm right here with you Sweetie, we'll be okay!" And sometimes I rock and rock and cry and cry. And, I feel really, really sorry for my sad little self and let her feel really, really sorry for her self until she's done with feeling that way.
It's not easy to change a lifetime of mistreating our selves in the ways we've been mistreated by others. Still, beginning consciously to choose to speak kindly to our selves in all the moments of our lives is a practice that can and does begin to turn the tide. In the middle of starting such a practice, it's especially important to speak caringly to our selves when we notice that we've slipped into speaking cruelly to our selves!
Consider talking tenderly and gently to your self as much of the time as you possibly can.