“Be kind to yourself” is a cliché, but there are real habits for doing it that can move you forward
I was dropping my best pal home after work, sitting outside her house in the car, when I finally lost control and broke down. I couldn’t hide the tears anymore as they stung my eyes and rolled down my face.
I hadn’t slept in days; I was utterly exhausted and felt physically sick. I hated myself for not being able to do the job they’d given me to do. Choking back the tears and sobbing, I told my pal about the informal warning I’d just received from my boss.
Hardly the behavior you’d expect of a senior manager in a global telecommunications corporation but, at that moment, I had ceased to be that person. Though I didn’t know it then, I’d never be that person again.
I would describe the four months which followed as ‘the crisis stage.’ At that time, I was barely able to do anything for myself and needed the constant help of a network of people around me. I was diagnosed with anxiety and depression and was prescribed medication to help with this. I had signed off work sick and eventually, my position became redundant.
That was over 18 months ago and, since then, I’ve managed to like myself enough to reinvent myself. Though I still feel as if I’m only at the start of a long journey, I’ve started to change.
That senior manager in the corporate world who hated himself has started to emerge as a writer who at least understands himself. This is the story of the steps I happened upon which helped me along the way.
Much of my time had been spent in reflection trying to learn lessons from my past. But all I was doing was reliving so much guilt from the things I’d got wrong.
When I tried to look forward and plan, fear tended to pin me down. My critical self constantly reminded me that I was neither capable nor worthy of anything too successful.
As much the lesser of the evils as anything else, I started to realize that there was not too much to hate about myself if I simply contemplated the person I was in the present. That was the first spark of light in the darkness.
I’ll discuss the counseling I received and how it helped me break free from the shackles of the past and the future later in this post. For now, however, I just want to share a powerful technique I learned that enabled me to bring myself into the present moment.
I learned a technique called grounding. I found this to be a good technique to bring me out of times when I was either feeling excessively guilty about things I’d done or fearful of things that might come up.
The technique involves thinking of or even saying out loud what your senses are feeling at any given moment. “I can see the computer screen in front of me. I can feel the sway of my swivel chair. I can hear the click of the letters on my keyboard….”
I remember receiving an angry email from a neighbor. Before I knew it, my head was in court defending all kinds of charges. My heart rate was up; my breathing shallow, and I found it hard to concentrate on anything other than trying to defend myself. This was a great example of a time where using the technique of grounding brought me right back to the safety of my living room.
Of course, I realize it’s never as easy as just deciding you need to live in the present. Medical conditions such as addictions or psychological conditions such as PTSD can make that simply impossible without professional help. What I do know, however, is that living in the present became my first step in achieving some self-compassion.
I started to read to help me write. It was while working through the logic of Ant Middleton’s book “The Fear Bubble: Harness Fear and Live Without Limit” that I came across another heartbreaking moment of self-awareness: I realized just how much self-hate I was nurturing.
In “The Fear Bubble,” Ant describes the notion of being stuck in a corridor, trapped by our fear and surrounded by doors that could take us off in a different direction. In true SAS style, we are encouraged to kick these doors in and set off on the new life waiting behind them.
I realized that I’d been kicking those doors in for years. Every time I did, I saw a sad, tearful reflection of myself on the other side. I’d slam the door in my face and storm off down the corridor looking for something better.
It broke my heart when I realized that every time I’d seen myself in the past 30 years, I’d dismissed what I’d seen as not good enough. No wonder that guy was so tearful!
Conjuring that image finally helped me to start to see something very important. There is no ‘better’ me and equally, there’s no need for one. I don’t need to be richer, lighter, more successful, or better dressed. I need to work with the forgetful, scruffy disorganized guy reflected behind those doors because that is the same guy with the imagination, the dream, and the soul to write.
Before I could fully accept the bad and the good in myself, however, I personally required some counseling. My counselor helped me to understand and forgive myself for the mistakes of my past. This helped to reduce the feelings of guilt and to break the habit of pulling them into my current life.
For example, she pointed out that, like chameleons changing their color to blend in with their surroundings, we all tend to adapt our behavior to the situation we are in. The person I am down at the pub with my mates is not the same person I am when I’m sitting at home with my daughters.
As a soldier, I had been put in a place where others wanted to kill me, and I was trained and equipped to kill them if necessary. I’d hated the person I’d become in that environment. It almost destroyed me. It helped when I realized that this was a person I’d been to survive in that environment and not the complete picture of who I am.
It was time to stop beating myself up for the bad habits that never seemed to change and accept that I would never be perfect. So what if I slept late in the mornings for example? It wasn’t actually laziness; it was because I also stayed up late at night. As a writer, I could just go with that. As long as I put in the hours, it didn’t matter so much when the working day started and when it ended.
Life became so much brighter when I realized I had to work with the bad as well as the good. All of me was all I had and that was more than enough.
Becoming aware that I needed to forgive myself for my bad traits opened my mind to consider what was good about myself. During one of our sessions, my counselor pointed out that I seemed to light up when I talked about my daughters. That observation really made my day.
Even though my daughters are all adults themselves now, I like to think that I’m still able to help out with a lot of the problems they face in life. It’s been said that you never stop being a parent no matter how old your children get. I completely agree with that.
More than just helping the girls, I love to nurture the better parts of their nature. Not just help them with life’s problems — but to inspire them. Get them fired up. As I’ve always done since they were babies, I love to make them laugh.
Both mine and my best pal’s family loved to hear our stories when we came back from our business trips. I’d accidentally sprayed her in the eye with suntan cream on one of our trips. On another, I’d thrown her into a ditch to ‘save’ her from a cow I was scared of. But, in balance, we’d often cried with laughter at the various adventures we encountered when we traveled.
I realized that everyone I love always seems to be smiling when I’m around. Not just smiles that I ‘give’ them but smiles and laughter that we share. This is a huge part of who I am and what I have to offer the world. To help people relate, feel comfortable instead of awkward, maybe even inspired and always, to smile.
Becoming a writer became the opportunity to share all of these things. Just like that, I realized I had a mission. I’d found the best of me and wanted to share that with the world.
Of course, we’re not all comedians or coaches. But whether it’s practical skills, common sense, nurturing, or scientific genius, acknowledging the best bits about yourself is a very empowering thing to do. I am sure there are many ways to do this. As a first step, however, you should definitely open your mind to contemplate your positive side.
Through counselling, I was also encouraged to recognize the voice of my critical self and to argue with it. I had to challenge those limiting beliefs and rationalize what I wanted to do.
I love my work as a writer. In writing, I can express my deepest self and do something I’ve always been drawn to and always wanted to do. My critical self would look at the lack of pay. Each rejection note resounded around my mind to further indicate that I wasn’t good enough to do this.
I had to force myself to acknowledge the successes. The feedback from some of the readers and the positive comments from editors. I had to make the inner argument that these things, coupled with my enjoyment and aptitude for writing outweighed the rejection notes. Rejection notes, after all, are as much a part of a writer’s life as paycheques.
So those are the three big steps I have taken to get back to a place where I can believe in myself and even enjoy the world around me. Live in the moment, realize that you are more than good enough, warts and all, and get to know the treasure that is within you that you can share with the world.
For sure these are big steps, and possibly some of the hardest ones you may ever have to take. They may not be for everyone. There are countless ways to get back up on your feet when you’ve been knocked down. By taking these, however, I came to know who I am, then to love and finally to be that person.