This morning, my five-year-old woke me up at 5:00 a.m. by violently vomiting all over herself and my bed.
While sick, she usually only wants to watch television, so I was left feeling restless.
Bored, I started scrolling on social media. I happened upon a beautiful, photogenic couple who had just had a baby. There was a video of the father with the baby, which, after I clicked and watched, led me down the social media rabbit hole. I clicked on his page and scrolled through awe inspiring photos in exotic, beautiful locales. I clicked on his wife’s page. His wife is a stunning woman who has numerous pictures posted of herself looking amazing on a beach or in workout clothes, accompanied by various motivational paragraphs and quotes.
It is a predictable formula on social media.
Deep down, I understand it is only a sliver of their lives. I understand they sh*t and fight and act like a**holes to each other sometimes. I understand they have had hardship and struggle like everyone else.
Today though, while I was home with a sick five-year-old, wearing pajamas and feeling trapped in my house, it got to me. I envied the formula of above average attractiveness + good pictures+ gimmick or marketing of choice = some level of “success,” and usually an enviable lifestyle of freedom and exotic travel.
I logged off because I was starting to feel resentful of this image-worshiping culture. I know it is meaningless, but I am as susceptible to the subconscious messages that it sends as everyone else. The message is that our value is tied to our looks, to the amount of money we make, to other people’s approval, to our success, to our social media presence. It started to feel too heavy.
I decided to do some yoga, and I felt disgusted with my stomach and my floppy triceps—the softness that exists in my body. I was stewing about the images they had presented of their lives and the stark contrast to mine.
I had a sick child, whose vomit I had to clean up off my bed, the floor, and my body. I was stuck at home, feeling pale and pasty and soft in places I didn’t want to be. I started to feel chained to a life of mediocrity, where I don’t travel, and finances are sometimes dicey, and I periodically still loathe parts of my body and feel inadequate because I’m not beautiful or even that young anymore.
I longed for the paths not taken, the decisions I could have made but didn’t. The life they presented triggered me to spiral into a descent of dissatisfaction with my body, my looks, my decisions, my choices, my life.
It only took a few clicks for my subconscious to mirror my daughter, and projectile vomit up all the old stories it holds of never being enough, of dissatisfaction, of envy. I stewed in this place for a couple of hours.
Doing this used to be my norm. It was my home base to feel and think like this. Fortunately, over the years, it has become a lot less tolerable for me to stay in this space of self loathing and desire to escape.
There are two steps I use to process when I have moments like this. They may initially feel awkward, silly, or pointless. Our subconscious and ego can be tricky and they’ll try to talk us out of loving ourselves through our outdated programming and beliefs. Try it a few times anyway and see if it works for you. The more you do it, the easier it becomes, and the quicker you can feel results.
Here are the two simple techniques I have used to effectively purge my subconscious of limiting beliefs, self loathing, and dissatisfaction:
1. Hold space for yourself.
Holding space for yourself is the key element in allowing the thoughts and feelings to process through you and lose their stranglehold on your psyche.
I finally decided I needed to take control of the negative spiral I was in and practice some self-love.
I meditated to hold space for the part of me that doesn’t feel worthy, that feels less than and unhappy with my current reality, my body, and my looks. I offered that part of me love, because it so desperately needs it. I didn’t try to deny or minimize or distract myself out of the thoughts and feelings. I held them and offered them empathy and space. I let them be, which always seems to lessen their power and the feeling of absolute truth they initially have.
To hold effective space for myself, I don’t distract, push feelings or thoughts away, or otherwise try to change my experience. I create space between the thoughts and feelings and the part of me that is witnessing them. I offer empathy, and I apologize to myself (“I am so sorry you feel that way,”) or sometimes I do nothing but witness.
Using this technique, the feelings and thoughts generally run their course. Like a child having a fit, they blow off steam until there’s nothing left. It’s important to follow this technique through until your mind is quiet and relatively calm in order for it to be an effective processing tool. It can take anywhere from a couple of minutes to months to deal with some of the really deep programming. There are some things we will have to hold space for—offering empathy and apologies—throughout our entire lives.
2. Practice self-love and gratitude to help heal the wounded parts that were calling out for love.
After holding space for your subconscious to work through its old programming, it’s healing to be tender with yourself and practice conscious gratitude for what you do have.
Negative thoughts and feelings can bubble up from old childhood wounds and distorted cultural programming that we have unconsciously absorbed and internalized. We hold space to recognize the distortions, allow them to be, offer them acceptance, and then let them go. We offer them love in order to heal.
To offer myself love, I got in the shower and apologized to my body for being so harsh and unappreciative and hateful. I thanked it for being healthy and capable and strong. I lovingly massaged lotion on my body with tears in my eyes and offered my skin the love I would offer to someone else. I cleaned up vomit and thanked the universe that my child is generally healthy. I remembered the places I have visited, how the trips often came unexpectedly and easily, and that it is almost certain that kind of magic will unfold again in my life.
I honored the twists and turns my path has taken me and how constant movement and travel is not the only way to experience adventure and freedom. I did a guided meditation and had some soothing tea while reading.
Self-love will look different for everyone. The only guidance around it is to consciously and purposefully offer yourself tender and loving thoughts and actions that feel comforting and soothing. This helps to reset your nervous system and neural pathways that habitually want to offer up old beliefs and feelings of inadequacy. Offer the same love and consideration to yourself as you would to your best friend, your child, or your lover. You, as much as anyone else, need your own tenderness.
Today, I didn’t wear a bikini at a tropical beach or get thousands of likes on social media. I didn’t live a life other people would envy or admire. I did, however, offer myself love and healing on a deep level, and that’s more than enough.
Author: Jennifer Lyons, MSW
Image: Kiran Foster/Flickr
Editor: Catherine Monkman