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TINY BUDDHA'S GUIDE TO LOVING YOURSELF
40 Ways to Transform Your Inner Critic and Your Life
By Lori Deschene
Red Wheel/Weiser, LLC Copyright © 2013 Lori Deschene
All rights reserved.
When You're Stuck in Your Childhood: Moving Beyond What You Learned
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So much of how we feel about ourselves pertains to our experiences as children. If you didn't grow up with love and support, odds are you've struggled to offer those things to yourself and others around you. If the people who were supposed to care for you neglected your emotional or physical needs, you probably concluded that your needs weren't important—and that you somehow deserved to be ignored.
Ironically, if you grew up in an abusive environment, you may have felt overwhelming anger toward people who hurt you, only to grow up and adopt their voice in your head. That's the paradox of mistreatment: you may feel outraged when you recognize you've been wronged, and yet pick up where your abusers left off. We often treat ourselves the only way we know how—the way we learned through example from our parents and/or peers.
For those who didn't experience abuse growing up, you likely still formed conclusions about yourself based on your relationship with your parents. Many of us learned at a young age that love, acceptance, and approval were conditional on certain behaviors and achievements. But we didn't conclude that our behaviors weren't good enough; we internalized it to mean that we weren't—that there was something innately wrong with us. According to psychotherapist and researcher Alice J. Brown, author of Core Beliefs Psychotherapy, because we're egocentric as children, we assume that when our parents aren't there for us, we're somehow to blame.
As adults, we may understand that we did not deserve to feel bad and that we shouldn't torture ourselves for things other people have done. But sometimes despite knowing these things, we don't fully believe them. We don't grasp that we've always been beautiful, even if we've never been perfect, and that we've never deserved to feel scared, alone, or ashamed—not when we were kids, and not now.
It's helpful to understand how our childhood experiences shaped us, but it's not about placing blame or playing the victim. It's about recognizing that we all learned to question ourselves, on some level, growing up—even those of us who had the most attentive parents, since various factors contribute to our beliefs about ourselves. And we can all learn to love, support, and nurture ourselves now, regardless of how we've struggled. We can all challenge our thoughts and beliefs to cultivate positive feelings about ourselves—flaws and all.
How do we let go of the stories that we've been clinging to for years? How can we begin to move beyond trauma and pain? How can we release our shame and start recognizing our worth and beauty? Countless Tiny Buddha contributors have addressed these questions on the site, sharing their experiences and insights. Some of those include ...
OPENING YOURSELF UP TO LOVE WHEN YOU DIDN'T GROW UP WITH IT
You, yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection.
I've always craved love and attention. This is not to say that I accepted love willingly—quite the opposite, in fact. If someone decided to like or even love me they would have to pass through a path of obstacles, being pushed, pulled, and tested at every corner. Only then, upon arrival at the finish line, would they gain my acceptance.
As you can imagine, this eliminated a number of potential friends and partners, and I often found myself lonely and disappointed. The root of my inability to accept love easily stems from my childhood. My mother was unable to connect with me. She got pregnant during the height of her modeling career. After she gave birth, her career dried up. She resented the attention that a baby attracted, and, in addition to this, she was highly addicted to narcotics.
Growing up with my mother telling me that she felt no love and was ashamed of me made me desperate to be the perfect daughter. I would go to any length to prove myself worthy, even taking drugs with her as a way of connecting. When I was fifteen years old, she upped and left with no good-bye, leaving me with my stepdad and an overwhelming sense of failure. If my own mother could not love me, how and why would anyone else?
After my mother left, I disguised my pain through drugs and control. Drugs provided an instant, closely bonded social network. I tried to take control through self-harm. My life continued like this for ten years. I hated myself, and I was terrified of letting anyone in. Throughout these years, I did several stints in rehabilitation centers, where nurses and psychiatrists worked hard on me. I would almost give in and build connections with these people, but when the time came to leave these institutions I would find myself alone all over again.
I was desperate for a loving relationship and a career. My battles were hindering me from achieving either. Luckily, I had a fantastic education under my belt, through a childhood spent at top boarding schools. It was just a matter of escaping this vicious cycle that I had spent the majority of my life spinning around in. I had stopped the drugs, but I was addicted to self-pity. Therapy had taught me that I needed to let go and learn to trust. This sounds quite easy now, but back then the very idea was not only terrifying but also impossible.
I always dreaded birthdays and holidays. On my twenty-fifth birthday I woke up with an annual feeling of dread. I went to the store to buy some cigarettes, and the lady at the counter asked me for some identification. I handed it over and she said to me "It's your birthday today. You look so young. Your mother should be very proud of you."
It was such a simple compliment, but for some reason it struck a chord. After all my years of therapy, these words from a stranger hit home. I can't really explain it, but I felt a whole hoard of emotions release: anger, regret, understanding, and, finally, relief. I felt that, yes, my mother should be proud of me, and I felt sorry for her that she was unable to feel that way.
I wanted to have a chance at life, to meet someone and have my own children who I could love and be proud of. I realized then that this would only happen if I stopped treating myself the same way my mother did. Considering how long and hard it was to reach this point, turning my life around was surprisingly easy. The hardest point was the realization.
If your parents didn't treat you well, and you'd like to treat yourself better and open up to love, I recommend that you:
Write through your fears and feelings. I didn't want to cause myself any more harm; I wanted to connect and understand how I worked instead. Writing things down served as a great release.
Go out and get a journal with the main intention of putting your emotions into words. Try and pinpoint when and what makes you feel good or sad. By putting everything on paper, you can then reference your emotions, look into your behavioral patterns, and recognize what made you feel a certain way and how you dealt with it. Keeping a journal keeps you connected to yourself so you can make real changes that last.
Risk trusting other people. Instead of testing people in my life, I let go and granted people access. This was a difficult step, as rejection is way out of my comfort zone. However, I put myself on the line and trusted my instincts. I decided that even if someone let me down, I could handle it. Moving into different social circles helped. I got back in touch with people I liked growing up, and I was surprised to find that a number of them were happy to reconnect with me. As I started to feel more connected and less alone, I realized this paid off.
I also decided to be open with new people who came into my life. I didn't scare them off at the first encounter, but as relationships began to develop, I would explain how my past affected me, and how I'd chosen to move on and be happy. Almost everyone I opened up to was completely supportive. Openness became a two-way street. I learned that most people have experienced their own struggles. Our confessions strengthened these new relationships. I also learned that not everyone is someone I can open up to—but the more I do it, the better instincts I have about who to let into my life. Taking risks with people is essential for happiness. After all, it is better to have experienced at least some loving friendships than to sit alone, fearing heartache.
Let go of the old stories. I have let go of my mother. I realized that I was heading down a path similar to hers, and this taught me to feel compassion for her. I have released all the negativity that I held toward her, and now I just hope that one day she can learn to love herself. In order to let go, I needed to understand her. Because we were barely in contact, I had little information to go on. I collected everything I knew about her, from her childhood, her time with my dad, and the time she spent with me.
With all this information I recognized that my mother was a troubled woman who was unable to make real human connections. I sensed that she must have been suffering from some kind of depression or illness. By looking at her in this way, I could see that her leaving had nothing to do with me. Once I realized that our unhealthy non-relationship wasn't my fault, I was able to stop blaming her and hanging on to the victim story.
Once you stop telling the story, it has less power over you.
Choose not to hide from yourself. In the past, I tried to hurt and hide from myself, and all this did was make me lose myself further. By braving up and removing all the escape methods, I have found my raw being. Vulnerability is not a negative state. It is how we start our path. I have just started mine slightly later than most. By loving myself, I allow others to love me. I love myself because I am still here, and I can see my life changing around me. When I have moments of insecurity, I read through my journals, speak to friends, or throw myself into activities I enjoy, like baking.
Since changing my outlook, I have started working and have formed a number of great friendships. I have even gotten in touch with my mother and told her that I have forgiven her. I don't think we will ever have a relationship, but I am okay with that. The important thing is that I have finally opened myself up to other loving relationships. We can only do this when we make peace with our past.
CHANGING THE BELIEFS THAT KEEP YOU STUCK
by Sam Russell
Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.
I grew up believing that nothing I did was ever good enough, and this is something I still carry with me. It affects every aspect of my life: my hobbies, skills, relationships—even my understanding of my body, my appearance, and my mental health. I often think that I must have done something quite terrible in a past life to go through any of this, to not be good enough.
As certain as I've been of this, I've been sure that I wasn't responsible for these attitudes and beliefs. Other people did this to me, so I literally can't let go of the pain they caused. They hurt me too much—did too much damage for me to confront them, stand up to them, and forgive them. But blaming others hasn't helped me move on and become the person I want to be. It's helped me stay a victim, sure—and it's gotten me some sympathetic ears along the way—but it hasn't helped me get out of bed with a smile every morning for the past twenty-odd years. It's made me feel sluggish and sick to my stomach whenever the thoughts and memories worked their way into my consciousness.
There's no mystery to the way I think. Negative thinking is exactly that—negative. However, understanding negative thoughts is paramount to overcoming them. It's taken me a while to connect with the idea that the harmful actions of others has shaped my thinking; and it's taken me just as long to realize that it's time to let go. Change can come quickly, but more often it's a gradual process in which we endure and learn many lessons: I don't want to feel like this anymore, so I have to start changing my beliefs.
The first belief I'm changing: I'm a waste of time. Not true. I make a difference simply by being. I know I make a positive difference because I am mindful of my impact on the environment and do my best to reduce it. I support charities that are close to my heart with regular donations. My close friends wouldn't consider me a waste of time. Even though I sometimes find it difficult to believe, they do value my ideas and opinions, and they love my company.
The second belief I'm changing: Nothing I do is good enough. My ideas of perfection aren't mine—those ideas belong to other people. How can I ever live up to someone else's perfection? I can't. There are many things I can do with great success, but in order to make those achievements real for me, I have to define my own perfection: peanut butter on toast, growing my own fruit and vegetables, the smell of freshly baked vegan cookies, writing off the cuff and producing lucid prose.
The third belief I'm changing: I deserve pain. No, I don't. Nobody does. There's a difference between accepting responsibility for how you think about hurtful things other people have done, and taking the blame for those actions. I've not done anything to deserve the things that have happened to me.
And the last belief I'm changing: I'll never be happy. Not with that attitude, I won't—but then, aren't I already happy? I may not have all the things I want yet, like my dream job, but I do have a lot of other things in my life that mean a lot to me: my friends, my home, my cat, my family, waking up to the river every morning, my floating garden (I live on a boat), my creativity. Happiness comes from the small things—it comes from inside of me. I don't buy happiness or find it or receive it; I make it, for others and for myself.
The fact that people sometimes hurt other people won't change. My beliefs that have left me open to suffering—my beliefs—will change.
Take a minute to think of your beliefs about yourself. How many of these things are accurate? Which ones belong to you and to you alone? If you find a belief that you question, explore it and find out where it came from, what it's founded on. Challenge it. Become true to yourself. When you change your beliefs, you change your life.
It's taking time to work through these things, and I don't expect to be finished by next Monday, but that's what I love about change and self-improvement—there's no pressure to be complete tomorrow. I can do it all at my own pace, in a way that suits me. I'm a work in progress. And that gives me a lot of hope.
RELEASING SHAME AND LOVING ALL OF YOU
by Sarah Louise Byrne
When there is no enemy within, the enemies outside cannot hurt you.
If you've had any experiences where you had to keep your truth quiet, particularly as a child, it's time to reclaim it and value its power. By doing so, you will release energy, old shame, and subconscious blocks that may now be holding you back from living your life to the fullest.
It could be that you had lots of family secrets (which creates shame), or it could be that you were bullied and felt unable to confide in anyone about it. There are many circumstances when we have our truth kept locked in. If you feel unable to speak your truth, then you feel shame. It's nature's law.
When we become shameful of our truth, we end up cutting off, discrediting, and devaluing a hugely important chunk of who we are and how we show up in the world. This is true for me. When I was growing up, my parents had an emotionally abusive relationship, and I was sworn to secrecy about it. My parents wanted no one outside of the house to know what was going on. While my father had anger issues, my mother always tried to keep the peace, so I decided it was better to not speak up or voice my feelings. Living under the same roof as them, it was impossible for me to not be affected by what was happening; yet I was unable to have my experience validated.
My parents were busy fighting, being in tension, or creating drama, and I was conditioned to not talk to anyone about our "trouble at home." So my truth was released only to my journal and me. After my parents divorced, I moved on to college and started my adult life. I felt proud of myself for staying strong through all the tough times at home, for being an emotional rock for my mother, and for forgiving my father for not being the kind of dad I wanted him to be. But in my mid- to late-twenties, things started to shift. After a few career U-turns, I started to feel unsure, confused, and shameful.
Excerpted from TINY BUDDHA'S GUIDE TO LOVING YOURSELF by Lori Deschene. Copyright © 2013 Lori Deschene. Excerpted by permission of Red Wheel/Weiser, LLC.
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