I had a teacher when I was thirteen. No matter what I did, no matter how hard I tried, it was never good enough. She’d berate me in front of the whole room with scathing remarks. I felt the burn of shame so many times. In the years I studied with her, she only “broke” me once. There was an afternoon when I couldn’t hold back any more and I erupted into floods of tears. And rather than offer empathy, what I saw on the teacher’s face was satisfaction.
Today I believe she thought she was offering me was “tough love” (it’s my most generous assumption). But I didn’t need “tough love” and I didn’t need shaming. I needed someone who believed in me and inspired me to be better.
The sad thing is, we often internalise those voices we hear growing up. If we’re told we’re loved and cherished, if we’re made to feel we have an impact on the people and the world around us, we’re likely to have a pretty kind and forgiving inner voice. If our effort is acknowledged, we learn to appreciate our process, instead of getting hung up on the results. But if we’re met with constant criticism, if we get the message that we never measure up, we’re very likely to develop a loud and relentless inner critic. Shame is a poor teaching tool, and it’s a horrible constant companion. Telling yourself you’re having a tough moment is a lot kinder than saying you’ll never get it. And it’s a lot more accurate.
I work with a lot of people who are in pain, and so many of them are incredibly hard on themselves. We all make mistakes. We all have pain, and we all struggle. None of us acts from our highest self in every moment, or in every situation. Sometimes we have healing to do in a certain area, and maybe we’ve been avoiding that work. And then it springs up and bites us in the butt, this raw place within us that’s crying for our kind attention. Sometimes we make a mess of things out of sheer confusion and desperation. Beating yourself up isn’t going to serve anyone, and it isn’t going to aid you in your growth process. It really isn’t.
It’s okay. You’re human. Just start where you are and examine what happened with a compassionate eye. You’re not a terrible person who deserves to suffer. You didn’t set out to hurt anyone. If you were that kind of person, you wouldn’t torture yourself about it. You see what I mean? If you feel badly, it’s because you have a kind heart. Maybe you made some really poor choices. So be it. Get to work figuring out why you weren’t respecting yourself. Or why you didn’t speak up and say that you were feeling unseen or unheard or unloved. Make amends where it’s useful, decide how to do it differently next time around and then move on.
Life is short and amazing, or long and painful. I’m pretty sure those are the options. And I think the key difference is how you’re talking to yourself. If the world within you is loving, it makes it so much easier to move through the world around you. I can say for myself, I worked this out on my yoga mat. I took that loud, shaming voice and I starved it. I stopped believing in it. I stopped giving it power or credibility. And I fed a loving, kind, patient, compassionate voice. I still worked my butt off, but I did it with a smile on my face, because it feels good to be in a healthy conversation with yourself. Wishing that for you so much, Deborah