Last fall I was with some friends, hanging out, chatting away—when I said something that made them stop dead in their tracks. It was only for a millisecond, but in it, the confused looks they gave me were palpable, pertinent.
The conversation continued on, and I with it, but my brain was busy flying backwards around the earth, trying to reverse time so that I could figure out what I’d said right before their faces looked at me like I was a martian. (and not the good kind).
As soon as I could the next morning, I asked…because I just couldn’t figure it out on my own. I thought maybe my friend would ask me what in the world I was talking about, proving that this was all in my head, but instead her reply came out readily—sharp and blunt.
“It was because you self-disparaged,” she said. “And it was in such sharp contrast to how you normally hold yourself, how you talk about things you love—your writing, your passions, so many parts of yourself. Then, you sneak in these horrible tidbits of self-loathing where you cut yourself down. It’s jarring to witness. To be honest,” she said, “I felt embarrassed for you.”
I felt embarrassed for me, too. And humiliated, ashamed, emasculated. This friend does not mince words, and ‘to be honest’, this was a blessing.
When I heard my voice/actions/message shot back at me like an echo in a 2 x 2 torture chamber, I actually heard it all for the first time. And that was it all it took. I stopped self-disparaging. Right then and there. Once I’d experienced it, I was ready to never set eyeballs or eardrums on it again.
Imagine creating a masterpiece—let’s say a beautiful song. Many people love it, they ooh and ahh over it, they want to hear it again and again. But you just walk amongst them, interrupting their reverie, shouting things like, “I WAS SO FAT WHEN I WROTE THIS SONG!” What is your point? Who are you hurting? What are you hoping to accomplish?
After I stopped, I would still feel horrible diatribes about myself, my body, my work, my parenting well up in my throat, but I’d just let them out with the carbon dioxide and used air, without letting them take shape as words. And soon, the internal parade of mean started to get quiet.
To Not Self-Disparage does not mean that you gloat, boast, show off or wax poetical about how great you are—these are not its antonyms. It simply means that you don’t say mean things about yourself.
I noticed a monumental difference in myself and my life and my way of being immediately. As it turned out, my self-disparagement had been following me around like Pigpen’s dirt cloud. Constant, smelly, blurry-making to the point that neither I, nor those around me, could even see me clearly anymore.
Without it, the good bits could shine.
Me: Wagon: Floor
And so it went. Until a couple of months ago when I relapsed in the typical fashion—I’ll just try it once, I can handle THAT, I said to myself, and then, quite quickly, the self-inflicted barrage came tumbling out in a lurid gush. About nine months worth.
You see, my original Sober-inducing Environment was filled with people who didn’t respond to, “I suck” with “No! You’re wonderful!” It was filled with people who cringed and thought about walking away. Now, the Relapse-inducing Environment was filled with people (okay, just one people) who was telling me how wonderful I was in an unbridled, unprompted, unaskedfor, onaregularbasis way.
So, like any good addict, I thought, hmmmmm….I’ve been dieting for quite some time…what if I just have one bite? Before the question was even fully formed, I started rolling out the insults, shamelessly begging to be absolved of my self-manifested fat/ugly/worthless/mean/bad sins.
It worked like a charm. My self-loathing was turned into beauty and perfection at every turn by this ‘one people’. Sometimes, I’d even double dip—emphatically shrugging off the first compliment-ridden rebuttal just loudly enough to get another dose/hit/high.
But, dang, my conscience. It knew what I was doing was wrong. And it told me so. My own self now capable of stopping dead in its tracks, for only a millisecond, but with enough weight to make the look it threw my way both palpable and pertinent.
And with enough weight to help me fill the air around me with blessed silence once again.
Image credit: Raizo