Self Esteem is a phrase I've never liked.
Ok I LOATHE it. The Stuart Smalley-esq weak connotation of the phrase has always made my skin crawl- to the point where it kept me from admitting that I had some symptoms of low self esteem- or at least the books on the subject spoke directly to me.
Thanks to Jenny Blake's coining of the terms "Inner Gremlin," I now have useable vocabulary to address the phenomenon that so many of my clients and I share in the twists and turns of this human experience.
Rather than feeling like the sad little kid in the corner that "doesn't feel good enough" and needs to get her shit together, I now see it as the tough little kid that's being attacked by more inner gremlins than the average little kid bears. A little extra work to heal an early cracked foundation to polish the diamond properly. Totally doable.
And here's the fun news:
With the right reframing tools, we can soothe ourself and plug back into the feel good outlet whenever we'd like. The mean voices get quieter & their rants get shorter.
After acknowledging these inner gremlins and actively working to unplug from their dialogue, I've learned to focus on the equally plausible but much more pleasant possible reality. I've gotten happier, calmer, and feel safer.
Why these tools matter most during the holidays:
Often, the reason we have these slave driving gremlins that insist on keeping us focused on what we SHOULD BE rather than let us love ourselves NOW, is due to early mishaps in the construction of our foundational identity.
Maybe our parents were still working through their stuff and didn't know how to build another person while they were still building themselves. Maybe a teacher or a coach we trusted was extra abusive due to challenges they were dealing with.
Compassion aside, these early experiences can leave little marks that affect how we see ourselves later on. Our past added to the change in weather combined with the closing of another year plus all of the baggage around early family holiday experiences can leave people extra vulnerable to their inner gremlins. Sadly, the holidays have the highest suicide rate of the year. So let's get our tool box filled and prep for a peaceful, pleasant close of 2014 as we build our self love. Maybe when we build the strength, we can even be someone else's angel during this tricky time.
Tool 1: Reframe & Refocus
The way we see ourselves and the world depends on the stories we are telling ourselves. Once we notice what messaging is being sent regularly down the neural lines, we can decide if that message is serving our highest and best life.
Does that framing lead to joy? to growth? to a feeling of significance? excitement? passion?
Probably not. So we have to tweak the script. We didn't deserve the early trauma we experienced. But how can we reinterpret that data to help another heal, to garnish perspective, to show up stronger, kinder, more deliberately gentle, beautiful, or soulful?
It's not an accident these things happened and we really are only given what we can persevere past. What better way to prepare our future leaders, healers and creators than to challenge them? In reframing our story, we can practice seeing our experience in a way that lets us enjoy our existence.
Just like inner cruel commentary, this time of year gets shinier when we create a new positive story around what it will include and mean for us. It's ok if you sometimes struggle with seeing yourself as special, fabulous, or lovable? It's unfortunately quite common. Creating new memories and practicing quick refocus reframing gets us back to feeling good fast.
Tool 2 : Create your own tradition.
This holiday doesn't need to hold the weight or meaning of the past.
Maybe December now means a warm beach somewhere far away. Perhaps it's a quirky white elephant gift exchange with friends complete with spiked egg nog. Or maybe you gift this time of year to making another's life easier starting a tradition of service.
Whatever you decide, make it empowering, make it fun, and make it compliment YOUR value system. Maybe the end of the year is more about reflection and getting organized. Maybe it's wine with friends window shopping.
Breaking the pattern is the important part. Take the power away from the self esteem stealing early trauma and recreate your meaning of this time of year. We have power. We have options. We can literally try on another holiday and ask friends of other faiths to include us in their celebrations. We can incorporate the parts that resonate with us.
When creating a new tradition, I usually stick to two categories: Social & Service.
Service. It's hard to go wrong when the focus is giving, healing, or helping others. Service helps us get out of our heads and into our solution seeking helper brains. It shuts down our inner gremlins that tell us we're not good enough or lovable because in that moment, we are significant to someone. We have gifts to give and resources to share. And that purposeful fact blows holes in the gremlins "worthless" argument.
Social. Finding our tribe is essential. We are a social species and the holidays can magnify a feeling of loneliness if present. Sometimes it takes varying activities in different groups to find people cruising on our wavelength. Start joining. Don't isolate during this time of year. Yes it's colder. Yes, we feel behind our to-do list. Yes, Christmas parties can feel like comparison contests. Get out anyway. Join meet-ups, potlucks, toy drives, ice skating rinks, tree lightings, prayer circles, donation yoga classes, book clubs...
Try many things until you find common patterns in the types of activities and people that bring you joy. If you have your tribe, host something that will make eveyone's holiday season a little easier, perhaps a little unconventional. If it feels good, commit to hosting next year and Voila! we have a tradition we can look forward to that fits our values.
With practice, something magical happens...
After some practice noticing our triggers, reframing, choosing other thoughts & reactions, allowing permission to create new traditions, it gets easier and quicker to feel good faster. We start to give ourselves permission to be imperfect and feel sexier and stronger than before.
One day you notice a "devil may care" wiggle in your walk. You'll wonder when you got so bold, so able to handle setbacks, so in-control of your experience. You won't fear your next melt down or relationship sabotaging angry reaction. You'll start to look forward to the eggnog lattes or iceskating or soup kitchen the holidays bring. You'll start living the life actually appropriate for your uniqueness and the voices will sound silly and overzealous.
A moment happens when you decide you're good enough, have something fun and unique to offer, and create a story around your existence that you're proud of. It's almost as if we realize that the bag of crap we're holding is not only heavy, it's NOT EVEN OURS!!! And so we opt to put it down. Right there, on the sidewalk, without even proper disposal, we just set it down.
It's not ours and we don't have to carry it a single step farther.
We get braver with our choices. Our fashion choices. Our friend choices. Our culinary choices. Our professional choices. We try things on to see what we like and make no apologies for changing our mind.
In living in faith over fear, we realize how much choice is involved with everything life has to offer We choose to be outgoing. We choose to stay in and rest. We choose to be shy & bold in the same day. We decide to talk to strangers and wear bright colors and give love freely. We are free from the overloaded bag of crap that someone else felt necessary to hand us so so long ago.
And then we forgive.
The final step in this return to self esteem / departure from our gremlins is a forgiveness of them. Whether during the holidays or not, we notice whose voice it actually is in our head making the case for our hopeless worthlessness. That person in charge of our safety or sense of self when we were too small to form it really did the best they could with what they had at that time. The heavy bag they handed us was likely wrongly handed to them as well.
And the grooves in the record they made in our impressionable minds was just their preservation of the world as they knew it. We were unintentional casualties to the fear they were choosing then and their inability to give themselves the permission to put it down and plug back into love. Rarely is it ever personal, no matter how painful.
As I work with clients still learning how to unplug from fear and put down the bag of crap, it's hard to hear the same stories they are telling themselves that my inner gremlins used to keep me trapped with. Fortunately, it's equally fun when they sneak in permissive moments to be powerful and feel good. It not only lights them up, it energetically gives everyone in their radius permission to be a little more fierce, a little more fabulous, a little more free.
If any of this sounds like stuff you're struggling with, check out these 2 books & know you're not alone. Most people have mean inner voices that can be louder than our intuition, reason, and guardian angels combined. It's not forever. I promise. Practice makes perfect and freedom and joy are within reach.
This holiday season, be gentle with yourself. Choose one new tradition that seems interesting to YOU and do it with reckless abandon. Commit to noticing if you're signing up for things in the spirit of the holidays that you've never actually liked. Focus on the beauty and joy the season brings and release the judgmental, negative, scared, lonely thoughts around it that no longer serve your new sparkly vision of your kickass upcoming year.
Because... You deserve to feel good!