“I’ve spent too many years at war with myself…”

Every time I listen to Sting sing “Consider me gone” I get stuck on these words. Why do we spend so much time picking on ourselves? As a psychologist I assume we learn how to do this from our overly self-critical parents, and then carry on the practice by habit. Some say these patterns get stuck in our brains and are almost impossible to fight against or change.

I know I have been far too self-effacing for as long as I can remember and then, of course, others along the way helped me become even more critical. Now, in my 60s, I’m still working at fighting this pattern in various ways. It helps so much to have a close friend or life partner who points out how hard we can be on ourselves. I remember back in my late 40s I gained a lot of new insight when I read Gloria Steinem’s book “Outrageous Acts & Everyday Rebellions” but this is a process that will last forever I’m afraid.

The three Carter kids at Grandma’s house at Christmas

Just recently I was rearranging things and came across a small photo of myself at around age three, looking pretty sassy in my new Easter clothes. Now I focus for a few minutes everyday on that little girl, on loving her all the way through and sending good thoughts for the many ways she might feel really good about herself for the rest of her life. I feel so much compassion for the battles she has fought in her war against herself and visualize how much easier her life could have been if she had learned self-love at an early age. I seems it has always been easier to be critical rather than compassionate towards myself.

I watched a marvelous 2005 movie recently called, “Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont.” It’s about a retired older woman, played wonderfully by Joan Plowright, who befriends a young man, played by Rupert Friend, (YUM!) by chance on the streets of London. It’s has a lot of insights into aging and how we treat our elders with a number of great lines, but the one that keeps coming back to me is:

“It’s very important to praise people a lot early on, otherwise they might die of disappointment.

Who do YOU think you are?

One thing I have learned from having more time to think and consider, is a far deeper awareness of my own levels of self-love and confidence.

happy sadThe other day I was saying to Mike how surprised I am to find how mercurial my self-confidence can be. One moment I may feel so sure that I am on the right path, certain that I have everything working as I wish it to, and the next I fear I have become too arrogant and self-absorbed.

moodsGoing back and forth is exhausting. Feeling good about myself and my accomplishments is a healthy way to feel… I think. It certainly beats the way I used to feel, doubting almost everything about my Self and my life.

So why can’t I settle on that good feeling and accept it? Because of my fears of appearing arrogant, like I have all the answers. I don’t have “all the answers,” only the ones I need to have a great life for now.

brain puzzleI know everyone has challenging times, when the answers are not clear at all. I was in the midst of one such time two years ago when we first moved here. I wasn’t sure at all we had made the right decision. I did my best to accept our new place and believe in our future, but it wasn’t easy. I’m so glad I did.

Mike at home

It all turned out GREAT!

Sometimes I think we keep busy partially because we don’t want to have too much time to consider how we feel about ourselves, our place in the world, or even the state of the world itself.

One thing is for sure. Unless I take the time to accept my life and feel good about myself, I will have nothing to give to others. None of us were sent here to save the world, but we can do what we can to make it a better place for everyone we meet.

Working to feel good about myself is my first step towards making those around me feel good about themselves.