Monday, March 7, 2011

Poisonous Thoughts

My son was angry last week. Very angry. He was mad at his parents for the consequences we had given him for his behavior choices. I could hear him in his room, muttering to himself about how we didn't love him, how he was bad, how he might as well run away, how we were so mean. Part of me, of course, wanted to go in there and chastise him. *I* was mad that he would say such things about us, that he would say such things about himself, and that his beliefs about himself and us were just so... wrong.

I didn't. I wanted to, but I didn't. I knew at that moment he would not be receptive to anything I had to say. So I let him go to sleep mad. The next morning, he was in a fine mood. I said to him, "Jeff, do you remember some of those things you were saying last night? About how we don't love you, etc?" "Yeah," he said. "Well, those are examples of what I call poisonous thinking." His eyed got wide, and he put his hands to his throat (my literal boy!). I continued, "No, they won't really kill you - but they poison your perception of reality because they aren't truthful, but will start to feel truthful if you say them over and over to yourself." He nodded. I *think* he got it. I ended by saying, "My brain can do the same thing to me - I can repeat mean things over and over that aren't true, but they start to feel true. It poisons me, too."

And sadly, that's the truth. Even more sadly, I often still don't even fully register when I'm doing it.

This morning I made chocolate chip cookies. When I called a neighbor to ask if she wanted any, she said "Sure," but also wanted to know why I was baking. She knows I've been trying to eat better and drop some weight, and she knows I've been struggling a lot lately. So she was checking in. "I'm bingeing," I answered, to which she replied, "For 2 weeks? What's going on? Are you stressed?" Now, part of me got defensive. How dare she question my eating? What's it to her if I binge my way to kingdom come? The other part realized she was speaking the truth in love - she knows I'm trying to change my eating and be healthier, and was asking legitimately what was going on because I haven't been eating in a way that will get me anything but fatter.

Earlier this morning I was at the gym. I was walking the track, but my heart wasn't in it. I was very tired (I've been going to bed too late), and just couldn't get motivated to kick it up a notch. I realized, as I took a short bathroom break, that I was beating myself up about it, chiding myself for not working out harder, telling myself I should be in the Zumba class, or at least doing the stair master, or, for Pete's sake, at least moving faster than I was. Realizing that I was saying those things was amazing - because I hadn't fully acknowledged that critical self speaking to me. I'd accepted it and believed it - but didn't totally register I was even saying it to myself.

I also think the only reason I really acknowledged what I was saying is because of an article a friend posted on Facebook this week, the premise of which is speaking kindly to ourselves will help in weight goals. It wasn't a new idea to me - I've been aware of my negative self-talk for years - but just seeing it again in black and white, and seeing it applied to relationships with food and bodies was great. Talk to yourself the way you'd talk to a friend, the article encouraged.

If a friend came to me and said, "Man, I'm here at the gym, but I'm just so tired. I don't feel I have it in me to really go all out - I think I'll just walk today," would I have criticized her? No! I would probably be empathetic and agree that walking today sounds like a good option - she could always do a harder workout tomorrow! And praise her for even being AT the gym when she didn't feel like it! Likewise, if I see a friend wanting to eat healthfully but pigging out on donuts at that moment, would I reject her? Would I chastise her? Absolutely not. I'd sympathize, maybe ask if there were any reason, be supportive.

I would not tell her she sucked. I would not tell her she would always be fat. I would not tell her she couldn't do it. I would not tell her she was lazy, or dumb, or had no willpower, or was a bad example, or obviously was going to fail.

I wouldn't do that, because I cared about her. And I wouldn't do that because I know that a) none of those things are true, and b) negative talk doesn't motivate anybody. Except maybe to shut down.

So when I see that, when I can really see that I wouldn't talk to a friend the way I talk to myself, how do I change my own inner monologue? It's been stuck on self-lambasting and self-flagellation for so long it doesn't know how to speak any other language.

I guess it's time to learn.

I don't want to gain back all the weight I've lost. I don't want to eat so poorly, for my own health and for the sake of my children. I want to figure out a way to be kind to myself, but not permissive. If I wouldn't let my kids eat gobs of raw cookie dough, perhaps I shouldn't be doing it either. But if I do, as I did this morning, perhaps labeling myself as a "hypocrite" in a sarcastic, snide, "you know you're bad" way, as I did, isn't the best response.

Perhaps the best response is loving myself enough to say, "You're O.K. Stop the behavior. Love the person."

Last week Jeff called anger "The Little Thief." It steals his fun. For me, self-criticism is the thief. It's poisoned my life.

1 comment:

  1. You are a remarkable woman! Thanks so much for your if we can just teach you to see yourself as we (your friends) see you! I see a beautiful, funny and FUN woman. I see an amazing mother...that conversation with Jeff was a HUGE good mommy moment! I see a sensitive soul who needs lots of praise.

    You are doing a great job! Step away from the cookie dough, look yourself in the eye and tell yourself "I'm good enough, I'm smart enough and doggonit, people like me!" :-) Cuz it's sooo true!