Becoming Buddhist

Attempting to Live a More Mindful Life


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Extra! Extra! Woman Feeling Guilt, Shame, and Negativity Writes Herself a Love Letter

photo-4 copyFriday: one mom, me, talking to another mom, Kate, about a situation at my son’s school. I tell Kate that I want to say something about it but am concerned about backlash. I also admit to feeling like a coward, and thus, am thinking maybe I will complain anonymously.

“I hear that,” she says, gently, “but I think it’s not a great attitude for a parent to have. Because we all need to advocate for our kids, right?”

Me: awash in shame. Instantly. Kate is so much wiser than I am, and I am truly a coward. And a bad parent, likely because I am infertile and only have one child to practice on. 

Thursday: L has a playdate with one of the most ill-behaved children I have ever met. When I tell him we’re out of cream cheese at lunch time, he screams at me that he hates me. When it’s time to clean up, he tells me, “I’m not your slave!” When he bonks his head and I try to comfort him, he yells, “Stop touching me!” I know this kid well; he went to preschool with L, so I worked with him in the classroom every week, and we have relatives in common. So I feel pretty comfortable with him. So comfortable, in fact, that when he screams at me the last time, I say, calmly, “If you’re going to speak to me like that, T., I’m not going to invite you to my house again.”

Told the hubs, M, about it. He was a little shocked, said it sounded kind of harsh.

Me: awash in shame. Instantly. I’m such a terrible person, for speaking that way to someone else’s kid. And T’s dad is going to find out and tell all our friends that I’m a monster. 

Wednesday: I’m applying for this…thing. I need a letter of recommendation. I email a couple of friends who have academic jobs and ask a couple of questions about whom I should list as recommenders and whether I should include X or Y on my CV.

My friend Brooke writes back. “Don’t make assumptions about what they’re looking for,” she says. “This is a prestigious *thing* and they’re going to get a ton of great applicants, so just pull out all the stops.”

Me: awash in shame. Instantly. There’s no way I will be competitive with all those great applicants out there, since I am just an untalented 41-year-old wash-up whose career is in the toilet. 

Yup, that’s the week I’ve had. (I won’t even tell you about Monday and Tuesday.)

I go through these periods where I feel I just can’t do anything right. I’m a bad parent, a bad writer. I’m a bad teacher. I don’t keep my house clean enough. I have gray hair, I’m no longer pretty. I eat too much cheese. I yell at my kid. I can’t keep my room tidy enough. I’m not financially savvy, and generally, I suck.

If I’m honest, I spend a lot of my life in this pattern of thinking. Some weeks, when I’m meditating a lot, when I remember to be mindful, when things with L and M are smooth, when I’m exercising enough and writing enough—I can take these small, relatively insignificant moments and roll them off the back like so much water. I can remind myself that at 41, I’m still learning. That it’s okay to make mistakes. That Kate, M, and Brooke are not out to get me; they’re trying to be supportive, helpful, and kind. That really, geez, these are tiny things to get all het up about.

But other weeks, small wounds like these go straight to some place in me that believes it’s not okay to make mistakes, and more than that, that my tiny falters somehow indicate terrible things about my character. On these weeks, it feels like the whole world is persecuting me. I’m hypersensitive about everything. Negativity runs the show. Look at me wrong and I just might freak out.

I’ve thought a lot about this pattern. At 41 I am no longer in therapy, and honestly (no, believe me!) not so tethered to my anxieties and insecurities all the time. I’m actually a pretty functional and whole person, capable, kind, evolved. But I have this dark place in me that still holds a lot of sway. It comes, I think, from having grown up with parents who second-guess every move they make; in addition to brown eyes, good teeth, and olive skin, I got this tendency towards self-doubt, and this belief that mistakes mean weakness.

And I am heartily, heartily sick of it. In fact, one of the reasons I started a meditation practice was to try to let some of this negativity go. And it worked, for a while; or at least, meditation helped me remember not to make my life, and these small parts of it, such a big deal. But lately, for a thousand reasons, my meditation practice is spotty, at best. The mornings have become too tight, since we’re trying to get everyone up, dressed, fed, and out the door in a calm fashion (instead of what was happening before: bedlam, fights, tears). I sometimes manage to meditate before bed, but it just doesn’t feel as powerful, somehow. L’s own negativity and moods have been weighing heavily on our house—it’s amazing how powerful the discontent of a five-year-old can be—and that’s been hard to be mindful through. Also, it’s been raining and raining and raining, and while my joy and happiness that this is the case (remember our 4-year drought?) is palpable, it’s also meant less exercising for me and just more time indoors, with cabin fever (and that cranky five-year-old, did I mention him?).

So it’s been a tough week.

And so here, at the end, I will just note the writing prompt that appeared in my inbox this morning, from Kat McNally and her #Reverb project (a reflective writing prompt a day, in the month of December):

It all starts with kindness. Everything I have learnt, everyone I have interviewed, every word I have studied has guided me to this simple but profound conclusion: true happiness begins and ends with self-kindness.

No more guilt. No more shoulds. No more comparison.

And the very best way to give your weary soul some kindness at the end of this year? A love note.

Write a letter from you to you… filled with forgiveness, love, and a big bear hug.

Here’s mine:

Dear BB,

I forgive you for making mistakes. I forgive you for being oversensitive. I forgive you for not meditating. I forgive you for making things such a big deal. You’re tops.

Love,

BB

This post is, sort of, part of the Reverb 14 December daily writing challenge, a series of reflective writing prompts designed to help let go of 2014 and move into 2015 with intention.