I had my next rebuild me, make me emotionally better, stronger, faster therapy appointment Thursday, rescheduled from my crazy Tuesday to my equally crazy busy Thursday.
Therapy does not frighten or make me particularly anxious; I have been through far worse through the years. Mostly I find myself curious and challenged, my not-so-secret doubts about my ability to improve my self-esteem and self-care bobbing in my thought waters. Habits of a lifetime can be broken, yet I go back and forth about whether or not it is worth it in the bigger picture. It’s never easy, the journey of self-improvement. I have to believe I am worth the trouble, though.
I have been striving to be more active in framing my mindset to a positive outlook instead of one mired in fear and anxiety. Tuesday I had one of those “sky is falling, you’re a wreck” feelings churning out by my brain and my emotions. Near as I can tell the sky is still in place and I got up and I am intact, not a new scratch or bruise on me, and the happy smile on my face is genuine, not glued in place, a fake-it-until-I-make-it stand-in for my real feelings.
At our first meeting for my 2016 tune-up appointment, my therapist (he will be TM going forward) challenged me to (1) find and choose an alternative whenever I felt anxious, afraid, or resistant to something, and (2) to compliment myself for something at least once per day and to really mean it. It seemed so silly at the time, but I figured he’s the boss in this realm and I should try out his ideas.
I started with little things – when I did not want to stop to eat lunch or knew I was having to cope with some drudge chore with work – and at first it seemed like nothing happened. Then I started to imagine me as a friend in the same situation, complaining about the same stuff, and what I would say to him/her for weenie whining about such life crap. While I would tend to use the same sort of plain-speaking “get over it” phrasing, there would be at least thread of compassion and humor running through it, just in case it was something else masquerading as weenie whining. I am trying hard to work at this, when I recognize the pattern of my thoughts followed by behaviors. Curbing it is challenging, yet not quite as traumatic or dramatic as I expected.
The complimenting myself was excruciating. I felt ridiculous trying to think up good things to say about myself, and then I found myself self-consciously thinking that my head was going to explode from the ego expansion I was sure was about to take over the whole world.
Except I was absolutely stumped the first few days. Everything I thought of sounded silly inside my head, but in truth were not really direct compliments. My first one felt really lame – I am competent and capable of checking inflation on my tires and adding air to whichever one is low and tripping the sensor. I felt ridiculous thinking it, but I was supposed to say it out loud to myself in the mirror. I waited until M was out on his run before practicing it and then felt so silly. The next day I told myself I was not silly to pay myself compliments in this way. The next day I told myself I had improved at my gym exercise, the day after that I told myself I was kind to allow a stressed-out mother with obviously cranky, sick baby go ahead of me in line at the grocery store. And on and on it went, until it did not feel so silly to be saying something nice to me.
To my surprise, it started to work. I noticed it in little things, where I would speak in more upbeat terms rather than the darker, gloomy self-depreciation mode. Sometimes I curbed it completely, often I corrected myself after something spontaneously snuck out. It has become a bit of a secret thrill, as to enjoy and feel that part of positive effects of my personal equation rather than the “this is sooooo hard!” part of the formula. My choice is always to wallow in the muck or rise up and swim where the water is clearest. I am working at rising up.
As I said, it’s not always successful. But I feel happier about my incremental progress. I am less reactive and more balanced in my internal and external responses. Freaking out is always an option, but this week alone I had plenty of things to lose my mind over and chose other ways to cope.
Here in the blog I see signs of mercurial me, and rather than beat myself up for being negative, I choose to recognize that these are snapshots shared here that are merely facets of my life in a small, independent series of moments. Bad hours happen and sometimes the best, most practical, least impacting way to blow off the steam is to vent it here. I will go back and read something I’ve written and be horrified, because I find typos or misspellings or poor grammar … or I just sound like a princess whining because her tiara got skewed slightly from cocking her head.
During the course of our conversation TM asked why I concern myself with what other people might think about me. I responded that I do not feel as if I worry about it, but I would always prefer to be a positive influence than a negative space in other people’s lives. He asked me to name someone for whom I feel I am a negative space, and in the moment I could not, because obviously unless it’s one of my coworkers who HAS to work with me, no one I want to be around makes me feel as bad as I fear I am to them.
So if I know this intellectually, why is it so hard for me to accept it emotionally and let go of that lingering anxiety? Hence my journey into therapy.
We also touched upon the comparisons of me to other people, anyone other people, and how my grading bias has me losing in any and all competitions. If I can learn to let it go, not compare myself to others, I can and will be far happier and more peaceful.
I have been pondering mightily through today. I have no clear answers on it, but I do see his point. So much of our thinking is how we measure up to others – in our appearance, in our education, in our professions, in the quality of our character and the depth of our relationships with family and friends. We compare; we judge. We feel smugly superior or depressingly inferior.
Why am I happy, genuinely happy for others with seemingly bigger, bolder, more bodacious lives, yet feel as if my happy life is ordinary, uneventful, and boring in comparison? Truly we are all individuals making choices and living our days to the best of our abilities. There is always going to be someone who seems more blessed and fortunate than I am, but why would I care so much, to the point that my judgment is impaired leaving me to feel faulty or less than my counterpart? Am I jealous of her beauty, her professional success, her family and her social standing? I honestly do not believe so. Yet I still end up feeling inferior to her in real ways that are harmful to me.
So much to think about. The spotlight TM shines on me, my thinking, my feelings is an uncomfortable one, yet I know he is right to do so and make me look my fears and self-destructive behaviors directly in the eye.
The great beauty aging so gracefully is my peer, not my competition. As individuals, we wanted different things, made different choices, had different opportunities. She is not superior, I am not inferior, and there is no comparison between the two of us. We are both people who work hard and pursue our different dreams in our own unique ways. Neither of us is wrong, and neither of us gets to pronounce the other as better or worse. We just are.
Intellectually, I get it. Emotionally … well, this is why TM makes the big bucks.
But he’s reaching me. I am thinking about it and working through it on my own. Next we meet in 2 weeks, I may be closer to a clearer understanding. Until then, I will try to stick to the plan, the positive alternatives to anxiety and fear; the daily complimenting myself; stopping myself from comparison and judgment on any measurable way.
I suspect mercurial me will be alive, well, and blogging for awhile to come.