Something important about me: No matter what I’m going through, I keep going. My world can be falling half-apart, and I have this mode that kicks in, a survival instinct, where I can drag myself through what needs to be done regardless of how I feel about it.
It comes in handy. But it comes with a big downside: Because in the past, the way I did this was rather dysfunctional. I would be very mean to myself in my own head as I did it. Not just stuff like, “It doesn’t matter what you want. You can’t screw this up.” (Although I said plenty of things like that to myself.) But I’d also insult myself while I did it and shame myself with my past failures.
In my defense, I was basically attempting parent myself — and this was the only form of parenting speak I knew. Neither of my parents communicated much or well. And my mother in particular was harsh and punitive. (Because it was all she knew, too.)
So that was the voice that had taken up residence in my brain.
It wasn’t healthy. But it worked — I could harass myself into doing things rather reliably.
It took me years to really start changing this. Part of the issue is that I was very afraid that if I learned to be kinder to myself and trust myself more that I would revert to my old ways. Be irresponsible, unreliable. And letting other people down is a terrifying notion to me.
So it’s frankly something I’m still working on, being kinder to myself, learning to motivate myself in a healthier way. But I’m trying.
Those Huge Victories That Can Be Hard to Explain
The other day I had one of those huge victories that can be hard to explain. I was battling a random bout of depression (due to bad timing of chronic pain, grief from a death in the family, work stresses, and sadness over atmospheric pandemic stuff).
So I woke up that morning with a 5-point to-do list. (My entire life is structured around generating and completing to-do lists.) Looking over it, I told myself that the first 4 tasks were required but that the fifth one was optional.
And despite feeling very depressed and overwhelmed when I got up (I had gone to bed depressed and had a nightmare once I did get to sleep), I managed to do all 5.
This isn’t really the big deal though. Because I’ve dragged myself through more work in a worse mood on days in the past.
But here’s the huge victory part: I was kind to myself the entire time. I built some flexibility into the list (making #5 optional), and I moved at a gentle pace.
It was a sharp departure from the distant past when I had two modes — 1. not doing the thing and procrastinating 2. brute forcing my way through something while verbally abusing myself.
I’m liking this kinder, gentler self-parent. The one who can go, “Okay, little buddy, I know you feel like trash today, but let’s do a few things for future self. Not because you hate yourself but because you care about yourself.”
The outer result looks the same whether I’m self-abusive bruteforcing or gentle self-parenting. But it feels completely different inside my head. It makes all the difference.