Some part of me believes that today I should feel either balanced or jubilant. After all it’s the first day of Spring, the Equinox, one of only two days a year when we experience near perfect balance between night and day, light and dark. But I am feeling neither balanced nor jubilant, and the voice in my head is incessantly chattering away:
You have no youth sporting events, so you better make the most of this free day.
It’s Spring-cleaning time! Get moving and sort through a closet or a cupboard.
Why are you so tired? What’s wrong with you? Why don’t you have any energy?
Was it the wine from last night? You should know better!
Are you not going to accomplish a darn thing all day? Why are you so lazy?!
Do you think your girlfriends are lying around? No! They are taking care of their homes and families. They are getting ahead!
What kind of parenting is this, lying on the couch and letting the kids play video games, just so they’re out of your hair?
Make yourself useful! Be productive!
The endless game of shame is exhausting, mean and it is not much help in motivating me. So, why this narrative of self-harshness in the first place and what can I do about it?
According to my studies, this type of self-talk is common. And for most of us, it’s below our radar. It’s like we are running our own little behavior modification program, but we aren’t even aware we are doing it. We reward ourselves with positive self-talk when we do something we believe to be worthy (unless we have really high standards that maybe we never come close to reaching), and we punish ourselves with negative self-talk when we are doing something we believe to be unworthy (in my case, doing nothing). We know what happens to a child who is constantly berated and shamed by an adult for misbehavior. She starts to fear and resent the adult. Is that what I’m doing to myself? Am I creating my own anxiety and unease?
Though I do have hope because I am becoming ever more aware of the voices in my head. This awareness gives me the chance to see them as separate from me and provides me the opportunity to choose whether or not to believe them. Only then can I remedy the situation. According to Mindfulness experts, the antidote to self-harshness is not self-affirmation, nor is it attempting to create a positive self-esteem by doing more or doing better. The true medicine is self-compassion. So, right now, I have options.
I can find some space by acknowledging the chatter.
“Hey chatter, I hear you.”
I can deny its validity.
“But I don’t believe you. Who made you the boss anyway? You may think for whatever reason (the media, looking at the Joneses next door, what you heard at mass in 2nd grade…), that there is a certain way to be and do, and behave on a Saturday, but the fact of the matter is that there isn’t. My family and I have everything we need, and me resting will cause no harm.”
Then I can apply some self-compassion. This is difficult for me, so I find it helpful to talk to myself as if I were a small, innocent and blameless child.
“Hey baby doll, what do you need? A nap? A cup of tea? You’re so lucky that you’re tired today of all days because we don’t have anything we need to do. Snuggles? Maybe we can watch a movie? Let’s celebrate a day of rest!”
This type of talk works for me, but it is still novel and feels really strange. I rarely even speak to my kids like this, though I bet they wish I did. I have always prized myself for speaking to my kids directly, but I remember Teddy once asking as a four or five-year-old why I couldn’t speak to him like a baby. Maybe this is what he really meant. Perhaps as I continue to practice self-compassion, one of the key aspects of mindfulness, I will also learn to be more compassionate with my children. For some reason, believing I’m practicing self-compassion not only for my own benefit but also for my family’s makes the practice seem all the more worthy. Matter not the reason, I’ll continue to practice for them, for me and for everyone else who will reap the benefits.
Here’s to another cup of tea.