I’ve been noticing a lot lately all of the ways I judge and castigate myself. How I somehow have this underlying belief that I need to be perfect in order to be worthy. How I often “should” on myself, about small things, actions that don’t matter so much in the long run. I think it must be a holdover from my Puritanical ancestors, but all I can say is, I am ready to stop.
And I think I may have an idea about how to do it.
Do you sometimes find yourself doing this? Maybe berating yourself for that extra bite of chocolate, or shaming yourself for having feelings of neediness? What is it for you?
I’ve been drinking a lot of coffee lately, and recently decided I need to cut it out completely. Whenever I make a decision like this, I immediately start obsessing on whatever it is I am not letting myself have. I convince myself I am having withdrawal symptoms, I get depressed, lonely, I WANT. I fantasize about the taste, the warmth, the giddy caffeine rush I will feel after drinking some of this godly nectar.
And then, when I break my promise to myself (which is eventually inevitable), I feel ashamed, like I don’t value myself enough to be 100% controlled and basically…perfect.
It’s a strange game to play with myself, this all or nothing. What ever happened to moderation?
As I went through this internal battle, this back and forth talking in my head, I suddenly remembered something I learned from a training I attended with Bill O’Hanlon, called Resolving Trauma without the Drama.
And I said to myself, “It’s okay if you drink the coffee. It’s okay if you don’t drink the coffee.” So simple, yes? And I felt immediately better, because really, the more important thing in my life is not whether I drink a little bit of coffee. The more important thing is feeling okay with myself, accepting the decision I make, realizing it is a choice, not an action I am forcing myself to take. And then, surprisingly, my obsessive thoughts about how I just NEED some coffee lighten up a little, and I start thinking that maybe I don’t really need that coffee after all.
Think about it. Someone tells you that you HAVE to do something. Do you want to do it? Of course not, even if it is the absolute best thing for you to do. And the more passionately someone tells you that you HAVE to do it, the more deeply you dig your heels in and decide that you most definitely do not.
Then, imagine that person saying, “Well, of course you don’t have to. I just thought you might like to try, but it’s up to you.” And then maybe something shifts inside you. You may start thinking that maybe, just maybe, you want to try what this person is suggesting.
The time to use this inclusive validation work is when you:
- Find yourself saying you “can’t, shouldn’t or won’t.”
- Find yourself saying you “have to, should, or must.”
- Encounter resistance (internally or in relationship).
- Experience inner conflict.
- Struggle with compulsions or obsessions.
- Feel ambivalent about something.
- Feel shame or a sense of devaluation.
- Encounter bigotry, negative stereotypes or negative projections (internally or in relationship).
This is how you use inclusive validation:
- Give yourself permission to do or not to have to. For example, I tell myself I should really exercise more and eat less. And I get down on myself for having such weak will-power and being so lazy. Then, I stop, and tell myself, “I can exercise today and eat smaller portions, or I can live with the extra pounds and indulge in some yummy, healthy food, and I can stop worrying about hitting the gym today if I really don’t feel like it. And that’s okay. There ain’t no shame in this game!
- Include seeming opposites. This whole practice may seem hypocritical and non-committal, and it is, but at the same time, it’s not! It looks like I’m copping out and will never meet my goals and therefore never feel good about myself. But, really what I am doing is giving myself some breathing room. By going away from my goals, I move closer to them. This also applies to emotions. If you feel stuck in an emotion you don’t want to feel because it doesn’t feel good, or because you don’t think you should feel that way, you can say to yourself, I can be mad right now, and I can be sad and scared, and I can be happy at the same time.” Because life is complex. Nothing is cut and dry. Consider this quote from poet Adrienne Rich. “Anger and tenderness-my selves. I can believe they breathe in me as angels and not as polarities. Anger and tenderness-the spider’s genius. To spin and weave in one moment anywhere. Even from a broken web.”
- Exceptions: That’s the way it is, except when it’s not. For example, it’s always good to have a healthy diet and exercise and get plenty of sleep. Except, sometimes I need to stay up all night drinking and dancing, and eating whatever I want. Why? Because this renews me. It’s a break from the ordinary. Another example, it’s important to be open with people, and not hide parts of yourself. Except when you have a secret you want to keep. Because it’s yours. Because it represents that other part of yourself, that shadow self that we all have, and that’s okay. You can keep it a secret as long as you want to. Because it’s yours.