Last week I tried something new and took a stand against that inner voice that says “I suck.”
Ask anyone who knows me, and I think most would agree that I’m a pretty positive person. For me the grass is always greener under my feet, the glass is usually overflowing, and I can rattle off at least twenty things I like about myself if asked without having to think about it. Upbeat, confident, self-possessed, that’s the me that most people see. Ask anyone who knows me closely, and they’ll probably tell you they’ve been on the receiving end of at least one late-night phone call where my confidence has fled me and I’m reaching out to hear something good from someone who loves me so I don’t spin into what I fondly refer to as a shame spiral. Does that emotionally needy image go with my usual brand of Christy Self-Confidance? No…but it still happens.
Do you have an inner doubter? A voice inside that sounds like you, but has just enough mocking and derision that you know it’s not your voice? Some people say that voice is Satan, and I believe it because I well know how he plays off our insecurities, but sometimes I know it’s me. My Insecurity. I’ve named him Seth. I don’t know why – feminist as I am – my inner voice has a man’s name, but it does. Seth’s voice has grown louder over the years, and I think it sucks.
I’ve heard every bit of pick yourself up by your bootstraps advice there is: make a set of 3×5 cards of good things about yourself to refer to when you’re feeling blue, memorize affirmations/scripture to say to yourself when that inner voice starts talking to you, write affirming quotes on your mirror so you see them first thing in the morning (I actually love this one, and do it often), etcetera. All that is well and good, and I remember nodding vigorously when I heard and/or read this kind of advice, especially if I was hearing it from another woman who said it helped her. But there is a wretched disconnect between hearing these good ideas in the light of day when the sun is shining and everything is beautiful, including me, and applying them when it’s late at night and I’m feeling ugly and that stupid thing I did the day before keeps looming in my mind telling me over and over again how dumb I am, and how I always make mistakes, and how stupid it is to put myself out there because I’m going to fail anyway, so why even try?
But last week something has changed. I feel like breaking out the opening lines of that song from Wicked:
Except that the game is of my own making, and like that playground merry-go-round the big kids would push around and around, faster and faster until your little arms could barely hold on, I’m tired of the ride and I want to get off. This time when Seth was sitting in my head, gleefully replaying all the moments I wished I could do over from the past few days, telling me how dumb I’d looked, how I’d put my foot into my mouth again, how I’d not only misrepresented what I’d wanted to say but perhaps unintentionally irrevocably changed the way some people looked at me, I felt a switch flip in my brain, and I said, “No more.”
I started thinking of all the things I was good at. Seth sensed what I was doing and started to shout over me, and his twisted movie reel of Christy’s Most Embarrassing Videos started playing again. So I fought back with images of my own. I remembered the last time I did the dishes even though it wasn’t my turn because I wanted to give my husband a break, and thought about how that made me a considerate wife. I pictured a text message I got out of the blue from my cousin that was so sweet and full of love it made me cry. That reminded me that I’ve contributed to people’s lives. I started picturing the faces of my friends, and as I imagined each one I thought of a good time we’d had together, a shared lunch, a catch-up conversation, and thought that with all the people in my life there has to be something of value in me. I thought about the last time I prayed, really prayed and sought communion with God and felt the Holy Spirit rest on me and give me peace. God didn’t think I was worthless, who I am to question Him? The more I thought about, the fainter and more feeble Seth’s voice became, until I had to work to hear it.
Becasue that’s the thing about insecurity: that voice is always there, waiting for a dark moment to wrap its fingers around your thoughts. There have been times when I’ve sought it out, feeling low enough that I looked for reasons to feel lower, and Seth’s always happy to oblige. I don’t know where that mental switch came from – what clicked inside me and made the difference so that this time I didn’t let myself get sucked into the shame spiral – but now I know what works for me. If I can be self-aware enough to recognize Seth’s voice from my own, to recognize that I’m letting myself drown in a whirlpool of anxiety and self-doubt, I can choose to go all Peter Pan on his butt and “Think lovely thoughts.” I’ve known that for a long time, but last week was the first time I actually did it.
Take that Seth.
So now I have a formula that works for me. If I’ve learned anything over the past year, it’s that we are absolutely capable of growth and change. It takes re-routing well-worn thought-patterns if they’re not helpful, which is hard and takes a lot of practice. It also takes choosing to do what is healthy over what is familiar. I’m grateful to have stumbled on to something that works for me. May you find a way to vanquish your inner mocker, should it exist, and choose to see yourself for who you are, in the best possible light.
So there you go. A Broadway reference, Mary Martin’s Peter Pan, and an alter-ego named Seth. Happy Monday.