To say I've learned a lot from this last year in therapy would be an understatement. A massive one, really. I've had to confront my anxiety disorder head-on and work through LOTS of things. And then also learn how to not get even more anxious about ALL of these things that are coming to the surface. Recently, I began the not-so simple task of trying to identify the two competing voices that you can typically find circling around one another in my head. I've chosen to write about them now because frankly, the last week was an extra loud one in this brain of mine while trying to navigate my new business and lifestyle, and in many ways writing has become a type of coping mechanism for me.
The first I’ve titled my performance voice. This is the one that reeeeealllyyyy gets the juices going when I’m under pressure or feeling anxious about an experience. It’s full of lines like "Let's go Rach, you got this” and “You gotta be better. Push harder.” I’ve come to rely on this voice for as long as I can remember. From moments as silly as trying earn points for my elementary school's field day team during the potato sack race, to more significant high-intensity moments like championship games and job interviews. It’s what I hear most days now while I’m out on photo shoots and growing my business. In some ways, I owe a lot of my achievements to this voice. In other ways, I know it’s also exacerbated my anxiety, setting the bar too high, too fast, as well as preventing me from slowing down when my body and mind are trying to tell me they need a break.
On the other end of the voice spectrum is where things tend to get a bit messier. I’ve established its presence as my critical voice. And I refer to it as a presence because when it comes around, it’s all consuming. Phrases can be as serious as:
“You’ll never be good enough.”
“You’ll never just BE enough.” (enough for myself or to anyone else for that matter)
Sometimes its subtle, sarcastic, or like a game of Mad Libs:
"You're an idiot."
“You didn't even finish (insert whatever unaccomplished item or task here). Way to go, Rach!"
"Maybe if you were more ________, you'd be more like __________." (gotta love the comparison game! one of my faves. sensing my sarcasm yet?)
This voice is shaming, it’s harsh, and it makes you feel like a worthless piece of shit, but it doesn’t care. Because when the criticism gets going, you can't help but believe it. And you’ll list all of the ways it’s right until your imaginary list is so long, you’re just too exhausted, too defeated, and now anxious about how you'll tackle it all.
So a few months ago when my therapist suggested we start discussing ways for me to learn to be kind to myself, I actually laughed out loud. Without even thinking, that was my immediate response to her suggestion. The thought of "being kind” to myself seemed laughable. Like so preposterous I couldn't even take one quick second to contemplate it. But she wanted me to start establishing another option, a 3rd voice. Something I could use to counter the other two that had been running the show all these years, that would begin telling me things like:
“You know what, Rach? It’s ok that you’re upset. And it’s okay to sit with that for a little bit.”
“I know you’re not exactly where you wanted to be at this point, but you’ll get there when you can.”
And even this complete doozie of an idea - “Guess what? I give you permission to say no if you want to say no” (because apparently that is a thing).
In all of these examples, I’d be giving myself permission to just BE and granting myself forgiveness if I faltered. l'd start to experience literal periods of grace in my life.
I have to admit that practicing kindness to myself has been VERY hard. In a lot of ways, it seems so foreign I almost feel as if I’m being disingenuous or inauthentic. Those other voices have been so deeply rooted, set so far down in my core, that I sometimes wonder if I will ever truly be able to rewire my method of thinking. I’ve started by trying to simply reframe these negative statements when they pop up (which can be often), so taking baby steps if you will.
The other day, I met up with a few other Philly female entrepreneurs for our monthly collaboration session. We all connected over our affinity for Jenna Kutcher’s Goal Digger podcast and decided it'd be helpful to start getting together to share resources and conversation as we grow our own businesses. One of my friends shared her own recent doubts and struggles, including some that were very personal. I told her she’d be okay and encouraged her to take the time she needed to work through these things. Afterward, I couldn’t help but think about how easy it was for me to be a system of support for someone else because I genuinely believed those things to be true. Yet when it came to my own doubts, insecurities, and personal battles, why was it SO hard to have some self-compassion and to just be...nice? But then something happened. That voice I needed so desperately inside my head finally fought its way to the top and answered:
“Because this is hard for you, and new for you, and that’s just where you’re at right now. But you’ll get there. I promise you, you’ll get there.”