A topic that comes up often enough in my sessions with clients is that of not really believing or trusting the “reassuring” and “supportive” comments of the Drill Sgt. (your inner critic/champion).
What I mean is that, once you’ve identified that your Drill Sgt. is criticizing you for something and have used one of the CEDRIC tools to figure out what he’s really on about, it is common early in this healing process to want to reframe his well-intentioned but poorly-communicated support into a strong, confident statement of absolute belief and trust in our ability to succeed. This actually backfires, believe it or not, and we end up feeling just as estranged from ourselves but now we believe we don’t even have a tool we can use to help because we tried it and it didn’t work! Not quite true.
Let’s explore this a bit so that you can start to feel stronger, more supported and connected to yourself in a way that you can truly accept and believe.
You know what it’s like when you’re stressed about something and a well-meaning friend, who really knows nothing about the situation says something like: “It’ll all work out,” or “You’ll do great!”…..Our inner reaction, whether we articulate if for our friend is something like: “Um, yeah, thanks – now bug off and let me talk to someone who has a clue!”
In other words, regardless of the intention of our well-meaning friend, if we know they don’t have a bleepin’ clue about the situation or even that they can’t say for certain what will happen because they’ve never experienced that situation before themselves, we will not believe a word of what they say and instead, will come away feeling more lonely, isolated, misunderstood, hopeless….etc., etc.
Well, every time you try to pump yourself up and reassure yourself that something you’ve never actually experienced can happen; will happen; or does exist, guess what? You’re out of integrity! You’re lying to yourself. You’re going to feel more anxious, more lonely and isolated, more stuck and despairing, and your relationship with your Drill Sgt. is going to feel more fragmented, not less.
We’ve all likely read things or been taught about affirmations and their power. We’ve also likely tried the ones that sound something like:
I love myself!
I’m an amazing person!
I’m perfect just as I am!
Everything is working out perfectly!
I have a million dollars!
I have the man of my dreams (or woman)!
What’s your experience of that process? Do you feel better in any deep, lasting, motivating way when you tell yourself you love yourself but really you loathe yourself because you have extra weight on your body and you just overate even though you said you wouldn’t? Not likely. If anything, you probably feel a wee bit pathetic and even more frustrated with yourself.
I like the intention of affirmations. I like that they mean to get you thinking more positively; thinking about what can/will be; shift your headspace if you will. What I don’t like is that often we are encouraged to affirm things that are so far from where we are internally that we have absolutely no “buy in.” Those statements feel like a pile of crap. We may as well be saying, “I’ll sprout wings one day!”
So clearly, if we want to shift our headspace and encourage ourselves to move forward in key areas of self-love and self-care, we have to offer ourselves thoughts that are different from our current self-loathing, all-or-nothing stuck ones, but they also have to be believable.
Consider this scenario.
You’re sharing with the same friend as above, about the same situation as before, and this time she says: “I can see you’re really struggling with this situation and I’m sad to see how much this is impacting you. I want you to feel happy and to trust that you can be successful and I’m worried for you that you’re feeling so stuck. I am here to help in any way I can.”
How do you feel now? Do you feel like telling her to shove off? Do you feel lonely and isolated and misunderstood? Do you feel more hopeless and despairing or less? Chances are you feel warm and fuzzy, still somewhat anxious and uncertain about your situation, but you feel supported, truly.
The first statement (and likely many of your Drill Sgt. affirmations) just made you feel more pressured to succeed and to figure out the situation so your friend would continue to see you as capable (co-dependent behaviour).
The second statement did not give you a solution, but it did give you a sense of being seen, held, supported and loved even if things didn’t work out. That’s what we all need. We all need to take the giant load of “pressure to be perfect” off our backs and know that even if we screw up, in a small way or a major way, we will still be seen as lovable and worthy of care and affection.
As kids we didn’t get that. That’s really why we’re in the pickle we’re in with food and our own self-concept. We were taught through the words or actions (or both) of key people in our lives that we couldn’t make mistakes, we had to know before we had ever experienced something, how to do it perfectly or we were a total F*^K Up.
That’s why you’re so preoccupied with being perfect. That’s why your good ol’ Drill Sgt. beats the crap out of you when you do anything or even think of doing anything that someone might not like or that someone might see as less than perfect. It wasn’t safe to make mistakes and so you’re living life with this ball of anxiety, even when things are truly fine, on the lookout for the next potential “screw up” that will, so our DS says, lead to absolute rejection and failure forever and ever.
Can you say “all-or-nothing thinking?” Yes. One screw up, regardless of our best intentions and it’s all over.
Inspiring? Safe to leave your house in the morning? Safe to establish deep, intimate connections? Nope.
Need food to cope with the anxiety and strain of needing to appear perfect while feeling like a total fraud inside? Yep.
Stay with yourself. When you notice your Drill Sgt. offering you a judgement/criticism or an all-or-nothing story, just look for the truth in it and discard the rest. Then validate that truth and offer yourself the kind of reassurance and support that feels authentic.
So you hear your DS giving you crap for eating when you’re not hungry. The truth is you did eat when you weren’t hungry. The rest of his message about how you always will, about how fat you’re going to get, how stupid and incompetent and hopeless you are is just the all-or-nothing motivation through criticism that you learned way back when.
Focus on the truth: Yes, I am eating and I’m not hungry.
That alone is a giant load off. Be real with yourself. Stop trying to protect yourself from the truth and let go of adding insult to injury by heaping mounds of threats and judgements on top of the truth.
The truth is: I am eating and I’m not hungry.
Now, having shaken off the all-or-nothing thinking (at least to some degree – it gets easier as you practice), you are in your rational mind as opposed to the old, all-or-nothing, reptilian brain that makes everything huge and life-threatening.
This means you will now, automatically, ask yourself: Why am I eating when I’m not hungry? What just triggered me? What’s up?
And to whatever we respond, we keep in mind that we want our inner support to be like our friend in the last statement and rather than saying something like: “Stop worrying”; or “You can handle it”; or “It’ll all be fine”; you say:
“Honey, I know you’re scared. You’re not sure how it’s going to go. You need reassurance that everything will be fine and you can’t truly know that until you’ve actually lived this experience and are firmly on the other side of it. All you can do is your best. What is something you can do in this situation that would allow you to feel that you were doing your best for yourself?”
Ahhhh, big releasing sigh! Sanity returns, and with it, the reassurance that we don’t have to be “perfect,” we need only witness ourselves doing our best with the tools and skills we have now. And if we don’t have the tools and skills we need to navigate the present situation, we need to allow ourselves to reach out for support and guidance.
Life is for learning remember? Mistakes are for learning! We must give ourselves second chances. You would never ever parent a child from the place of: You must be perfect right out of the gate; you are not allowed to make a mistake or I will not love you. Why would you treat yourselves that way?
Make a commitment to yourself that rather than offering yourself, the ideal affirmation from where you want to be, ie. “You’re completely healed!” Or “You’re perfect as you are!” you’re going to offer yourself validation and reassurance from where you are right now: “You used food to cope and you’re sad and frustrated about that. I’m sad, too. Let’s see if we can figure out why that happened so we can be in a better position to do things differently next time. Remember, mistakes are for learning.”
In closing, if you offer yourself a statement that you intend to be reassuring and validating and you feel equally or even more anxious and stuck than when you began, you’ve actually offered yourself a pressure statement that you don’t believe at all. If that happens, back up the bus, open the door and try again with a simple acknowledgement of the truth, without judgment and fear mongering, just the truth.
You’ll see how freeing it can be to just be present with yourself, where you are, and how, in fact, most of your stress comes from trying to be somewhere and something that you’re not.
In seeing yourself as and where you are now, you are setting the stage for the most rapid and simple path to healing and freedom. X my heart!
Whether you prefer one-on-one counselling (in-person, by phone, or email), our intensive and transformative workshops, the self-help approach, with the book, or our Food is Not the Problem Online Membership Program, take action today to have a stress-free relationship with food. Sign up for our free newsletter today (see the left top side of your screen). Newsletter subscribers receive exclusive product discounts and are first in line to get on all the latest new at CEDRIC.
© Michelle Morand, 2010