A little over a week ago, I got a message from a mom:
…You are amazing. How many times you must have been told that, but I still say it with all the meaning ‘amazing’ can hold. …I would be grateful if you answered my question… I am asking just because I think you’ll have the answer I need to hear aloud…. I didn’t have a very fair bringing up… I grew up thinking not so well at all of myself… The thing I want you to tell me is what I could do to make myself not feel small and be mentally strong. I have a lot of self help books but I need a voice to tell me. Could you please be my voice?… I am a quiet girl who wants to be internally happy, no matter what others are reflecting on to me…
I was going to reply only to her. But I knew this woman was not alone in her thoughts.
So I asked her for permission to publish my reply. And she gave it to me.
Dear Feeling Small,
I can relate to your feelings, because I used to have the same ones myself!
I used to look for others to validate me and to be responsible for my happiness. I also used to let the words of other people affect how I felt about myself. I had no inner voice.
Actually I did have an inner voice. But it was basically a parrot.
If someone paid me a compliment, then my inner voice was complimentary.
But if someone said something derogatory, my inner voice jumped right on the bandwagon. And it was very difficult for me to turn that voice off.
You are fat. You are unattractive. You are stupid. You are worthless. It’s all your fault. You brought this on yourself. You are a failure. You are a loser. You’re a bitch…
I had a very hard time talking myself out of those thoughts.
So I would do what I knew how to do. I did things to be recognized and rewarded and praised by other people. Then I could feel good about myself.
And I was caught on the hamster wheel of forever searching for, but never actually finding, that internal happiness that came from my own brain.
That being said, thank you for the compliments. You are not the first person to tell me that I am amazing. It is a very, very nice compliment. And believe me, it feels good to hear. Validation from other people feels awesome!
But I’m not amazing.
You’re right. I agree! I am amazing!
Wait, what? I called myself amazing? What a cocky, self absorbed, full-of-myself thing to say!
Ha! No! It’s not self absorbed. It’s confident!
Isn’t this what we all want?
Isn’t it what we want for our children?
Don’t we want them to feel good about themselves, to realize how incredible and talented and capable and strong they are? Don’t we want them to feel that way on their own? From within?
Of course we do!
Wouldn’t you love to hear your son or daughter say “Mom, I’m really proud of myself!” rather than looking to us and asking, “Mom? Are you proud of me?”
Sure, I want my kids to know I’m proud of them, too, but I really want them to be able to get validation from themselves.
And you know who kids learn that stuff from?
But how can they learn that from us if we are constantly beating ourselves up? How can a girl learn to be confident and to feel good about herself if her mother, her biggest role model, is constantly talking about how she’s a shitty mom or she’s fat or she’s got wrinkles and isn’t beautiful anymore?
I mean, can you imagine how you would feel if you heard your ten-year-old daughter look in the mirror and say “my ass is HUGE” or “I hate my body” or “I look disgusting!”?
If any of my kids were to say, “I suck at being a daughter” or “I’m a shitty son” I’d be devastated.
We all believe our children are incredible. We see their strengths and how beautiful are. This doesn’t mean we think they are without faults. But we certainly celebrate their accomplishments and talents.
Why can we do that for them but when it’s ourselves it’s often the opposite?
I want my kids to be their own biggest cheerleaders. But I don’t think I can expect that of them until I am doing the same thing for myself.
I am getting there.
Of course celebrating the ways you are amazing doesn’t mean believing you are without faults, either. But I think identifying and acknowledging your strengths is what allows you to take a look at areas where you could use some improvement.
I want to go back to that amazing thing…
Most of the time I get that message, the one where someone tells me they think I’m amazing, the sentiment from the person who sent it to me is that I possess something that they don’t. That they aren’t amazing.
Here is what I think: I am no more amazing than anyone else is.
We are all amazing! Yes! In some way, we are all amazing! We all do something really well.
We all have something we are good at. Something we are good at that we also love to do.
All of us.
It might be painting or singing or swimming or running or organizing or gardening or baking or writing or decorating or volunteering or golfing. It might be that you have beautiful handwriting or that you can remember names or you have a real eye for photography or the ability to listen to empathize with people. You might be great at push-ups or knitting or tattooing or crow pose or rock climbing or video games.
I think that many of us, though, never tap into what it is we are amazing at.
And I think we don’t get there because of fear.
Fear of appearing selfish. Fear of failure. Fear of looking stupid. Fear of what other people will think or say or do. Fear of being vulnerable.
Five years ago I felt the same way you do. I felt small. And mentally weak.
Extremely mentally weak.
In fact, I ended up in the psych ward of the hospital for a four day stint after I downed 25 Xanax in one of my (many) moments of extreme mental weakness.
My internal voice sucked. Big time.
After I was released from the hospital I found a therapist who I really clicked with. She helped me a lot. And one of the things she told me was that I needed to develop a teflon coating. I needed to find a way to let the words of other people slide right out of my head.
I can’t tell you exactly how I have managed to do that. I mean, it’s been a five year process. And it’s ongoing.
But I can tell you three things that have been instrumental in helping me develop that inner voice I’ve been looking for all my life:
I made the decision to be vulnerable and acknowledge my struggles and weaknesses, I started exercising, and made myself a priority and focused on my strengths.
All three of these things are completely intertwined for me.
Starting this blog was a vulnerable thing for me to do. I was clueless, had no idea what I was doing, and had no experience writing anything.
But the more I practiced it, the more I wrote, the more I realized I was pretty good at it. And I loved it.
The blog led to me being really, really, REALLY vulnerable.
I just started to put shit out there. And when I did that, when I shared with people the things I was totally not good at (and not in a beating-myself-up kind of way but just in an honest way), that I often thought being a mom wasn’t just hard but that sometimes it totally fucking sucked, that I had been battling mental illness, that I had fucked up A LOT, all of the sudden, the (self-imposed) pressure I felt disappeared. Because I didn’t have to spend any energy pretending anymore. I could just be myself.
And by not devoting any energy to pretending to be something I wasn’t, that freed up time and gave me the energy to 1) focus on the things that I liked to do, and 2) focus on the things I felt were important to change about myself.
I realized I needed to do something for myself. I needed to create a life for myself outside of just being a mom.
That led to exercise. Exercise led to running. I wasn’t an incredibly gifted runner, but I loved it.
Running helped me realize how hard I could push myself. The harder I pushed myself, the stronger I felt. The stronger I felt, the more confident I felt.
The more confident I felt, the more I felt capable of trying new things.
I decided to try and book some public speaking engagements.
The first one was at my local public library to about twenty women. I had no idea what the fuck I was doing. I was terrified.
But I really enjoyed doing it. And that ultimately led to me be asked to speak to over 100 women at a conference in Canada, and I can now add international speaker to my list of accomplishments!
Who the hell would have predicted that five years ago when I was locked up in the nuthouse??? Not me!
So I found some things I was good at and that I enjoyed: my ability to be vulnerable, my ability to push myself physically, my ability to move out of my comfort zone.
And I focused on those.
The more I focused on my strengths, the stronger I became.
And once I became stronger, then I felt capable of acknowledging my weaknesses and trying to work on them. Because they didn’t define me. They were just another part of me.
And through this whole cycle, a new inner voice emerged. The one I had been trying to find for forty years.
It’s still a work in progress. Sometimes the voice isn’t as loud as I’d like it to be.
But at least I can hear it now!
You have that voice somewhere inside your head, too.
You just might not be able to hear it yet.
If you want to turn up the volume on that voice, focus on a strength. Or something you love to do. Or both.
Give yourself an opportunity to do that thing you like and are good at every day. It doesn’t have to be for hours. Even fifteen minutes. Spend time on your strength.
It will lead you to other strengths you don’t even realize you possess yet.
And those will help that inner voice you are looking for to make itself heard.
It’s in there. I know it is. It will make its way out. Just keep focusing on your strengths.
In the meantime, while you are waiting for it to be heard, you can picture me, holding a big sign and shouting through a big ass megaphone at the top of my lungs: