“Imagine all of the things you would do if you didn’t believe the negative thoughts you have about yourself.” A rush of emotion–shame and sadness that lie dormant deep inside me made their way to the surface as large, sopping tears filled my eyes. I was in my dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) group and I remember quickly moving out of my iPad’s video frame to avoid the judging eyes of my fellow group members as the tears kept coming—tears of grief for all of the life experiences I have deprived myself of because I believed I was not good enough or brave enough to experience them.
The facilitator of my DBT group had just challenged one of my core beliefs: I am not enough—I am weak; I am a bad person. In this moment, I had two very dialectical reflections.
Dialectical Reflection One
While my initial reaction was to hide the tears of emotion running down my flushing cheeks, I just as quickly moved my face back into frame and allowed the group to see me. I wanted to feel comfortable doing so, but I wasn’t. I still feared judgment. I still felt like that emotional, weak, fragile little girl I keep hidden inside. But I faced the group anyway; and I shared why I was crying, vulnerably exposing my most raw self to mere acquaintances. Immediately my shame and fear were replaced by pride—pride in my courage and strength that is cultivating my ever-growing self-love; pride in my progress in dampening the voice inside that tells me I am not good enough.
Dialectical Reflection Two
I am grieving the moments I have let slip by because I truly believed that the negative thoughts I had about myself—that I was weird, wrong, bad—were shared by those around me. The fear of rejection grew like a weed in my anxious brain, starving the flower buds of loving kindness, thus blocking them from blooming into beautiful, non-judgmental flowers of thought about myself and others. Over the years, I have participated more and more in my life, embraced opportunities life offers me because I am starting to believe that I deserve them. My inner voice is becoming more and more kind, loving, and forgiving, which highlights my progress. But that voice isn’t always kind—it still tells me that I am ugly, lazy, weak and incapable. There is still a long way to go to transform my inner voice completely, but I am getting there—slowly and steadily with each therapy session, each time I share a piece of myself to a loved one, each time I look in the mirror and try to say I love the person you are becoming—strong, kind, and brave. Keep turning your mind toward willingness to grow. Keep fighting.
I recently looked back at some old journal entries from before I started my journey of healing through therapy. I can’t believe the words that are written heavily on the pages.
“I feel so stupid because with new exciting things in my life, I should feel on top of the world. Instead, I feel sad and hopeless. I feel like I don’t have any friends. I feel uninteresting.”
“I’ve been pissing the days away on the couch watching Netflix. I am seriously lacking meaning in my life. And I’ve been doing nothing about it…just slipping into my depression.“
“I am seriously hating myself lately. My thighs are so fat that it’s uncomfortable just to cross my legs. I feel so un-sexy.”
“I felt so lame for not wanting to go out and I just began to loathe myself.”
And these are only the words I allowed myself to write on the page. The things I said to myself in secret were even more shockingly self-deprecating. During my many long depressive episodes, I told myself that I was fat and ugly, lazy for not being able to get off the couch, manipulative and a liar, weird and unlovable, awkward, weak, less than. And the more that inner voice criticized my appearance, my character, and my worth, the more I believed it.
I expressed myself through dark artwork, dehumanizing and invalidating, which perpetuated my negative self thoughts.
Starting therapy catalyzed my self love revolution. I realized that I really didn’t like myself very much, but that I had never even given myself the chance. I started creating new and inspirational artwork through self-love reminders that I posted everywhere—my nightstand, the dashboard of my car, the bathroom mirror. My therapist helped me start to tune into my strength and resilience, and then crank up the volume. These visual cues constantly reminded me to give strength to the voice of loving kindness within that had been stifled for so long.
Some time later, after I was discharged from a psychiatric hospital for suicidal urges, my creative endeavor to surround myself with words of support and kindness expanded from little notes here and there to expressing my yearning for acceptance and growth through drawing.
Then after my second round of an intensive partial-hospitalization program, I was ready to pick up the pieces yet again—this time through painting those beautiful and simple self love reminders onto canvas.
And now I want to share my creativity and inspiration with others. I want to be a reminder to us all that if we work on loving kindness toward ourselves, we will be better at accessing loving kindness toward each other. Talk to yourself like you would talk to your best friend. Would you tell him he was lazy, fat, and ugly if he was struggling emotionally and spent most of the day on the couch watching Netflix? Would you tell her she was lame and not as good as your other friends because she cancelled her plans with you? Would you tell him he shouldn’t come to a party because he is unlovable, socially awkward, and uninteresting? Would you tell her she was dumped because she is not enough? If you wouldn’t talk to someone you love like this, why do we talk to ourselves like this? We all deserve love from others, but we deserve it from ourselves too. Today when you look in the mirror, tell yourself that you love the person you are becoming. Tell yourself that you are strong, kind, brave, and beautiful. Turn your mind toward willingness to believe that you are enough! And always keep fighting.
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