Last week I met with a new client who struggles with perfectionism and she mentioned that she had recently decided to watch a movie late on a “school night”, even though she “knew better” and when she found herself tired at work the next day her logical conclusion was “I’m bad.” I’m bad as in, “I’m irresponsible, I’m not trustworthy, I make bad decisions” etc.
Hearing the order of events (watch a movie late → feel tired next day at work → conclude badness) it felt like she took a huge stratospheric leap between step A and C. And yet, this is a leap I hear women make all the time. Every week they lay their sins at my feet as evidence of their personal failings.
Here are just a few of the things that women I’ve worked with have told me is evidence of their personal, innate ‘badness’:
- I ate the second box of cookies even though I knew I wasn’t hungry
- I lashed out at my partner who was just trying to help me.
- I missed an important deadline at work.
- I’m fat.
- Unbeknownst to me, I used an offensive term that hurt someone.
- I talked down to a friend of mine.
- My kid hit another kid at school.
- I bought a new pair of shoes when I don’t really have the money for them.
- I went on a date with someone I really liked but then they didn’t want to go on a second date with me.
- I’m (insert age) years old and I still haven’t (insert life achievement) yet.
- I don’t know how to ask for what I want in bed.
- I didn’t speak up at my annual review and ask for the raise I know I deserve.
- I was sexually assaulted and didn’t report it.
- I just quit a well-paying job and don’t know what’s next for me.
- I don’t want kids.
- I didn’t vote in the last election.
- I haven’t saved for retirement.
- I’m, according to my doctor, ‘obese’
- I just had to buy a bigger pants size.
- I tried to do Whole30/Weight Watchers/Paleo and fell off the wagon.
- I laid on the couch all weekend watching reruns of Seinfeld.
- I have a partner who earns enough that I don’t have to work and so I don’t work.
- I had work to do but I took a nap instead.
- I slept with the guy on the first date even though I didn’t really want to.
- I have a to-list a mile long and instead of doing anything productive I went to the movies
- My house is filthy
And so it goes. On and on.
As you can see it’s pretty easy, by these measures, to be ‘bad’
So what’s wrong with labeling ourselves as bad?
It’s a dead-end.
It asks of us no curiosity or compassion. It leaves no room for nuance or humanity.
And importantly it doesn’t engender a different outcome, should you want that, next time.
There is nothing that inspires me less to make changes than feeling bad about myself. I have never and will never change my behavior in a lasting and wholesome way as a result of feeling like I’m not enough or because I berated myself.
Nevermind that it’s not true. “I am bad” is not an accurate description what’s going on and why we act the way we do.
So if we’re not bad then what are we? What’s the alternative?
We are human and the alternative is to look at ourselves through the lenses of compassion and curiosity.
When self-compassion has seeped into our bones and we’ve found ourselves nestled firmly amongst the family of bumbling humans something extraordinary happens: “because I’m bad” either ceases to be an option for explaining anything or it scarcely makes an appearance. (I’ll get into what replaces it down below.)
If “I’m bad” or some variation of it still show up on your list of possible explanations for your behavior, choices, life, experiences, or appearance then today I’m inviting you to, at least temporarily, in the name of experimentation, remove it. (Seriously, what if you couldn’t explain anything with that?!)
If you ask me what my work is about I will mention “hungers” and “women” and “feasting on your life”, but at the root, my work is really about how we relate to ourselves. When we are in an allied relationship with ourselves we trust our hungers and seek to feed them. When we are in an oppositional relationship to ourselves we mistrust our hungers and seek to numb, deny or minimize them.
This most essential relationship, the one we have with ourselves, also determines the lens through which we view all of our actions. If we’re not on the same team as ourselves, if on the inside we’re both the ‘good guy judge’ and the ‘flawed bad guy’ then “I’m bad” is a common conclusion to make.
When we’ve come to see that all parts of ourselves are welcome, that all parts of make sense, that there is no bad guy, and that we’re no better or worse (though equally special) than all humans we no longer find “I’m bad” on the list of ways to explain our actions.
So what happens when “I’m bad” isn’t an option?
What you find is a whole host of doors open up. You find immense compassion not just for yourself but for every human who is also wading through the muck of life.
It’s important to note that this isn’t a get out of jail free card. This isn’t how we justify behaving badly. This is how we see nuance. This is how we get to the root of what’s going on and what it means to be human. This is how we gain deeper insight into our own patterns and increase our sense of choice.
So, you might be wondering: “If I’m not bad then what’s going on?”
The most common answer, in my experience, is nothing.
Nothing is going on because the action is something any normal, imperfect human might do. Try it on for size: “I did X because I’m human. The end.” In these cases the only thing that needs to change is us embracing our own humanness, seeing ourselves within the family of humans, and holding ourselves to more human standards.
This one most often comes up around productivity and rest. The need for more sleep.The never-ending to-do list. The dirty house and unfolded laundry. All of these are typical areas for women to label themselves as lacking, when in fact, they are just human. Regular human, not superhuman. Join the club.
Other ways you might explain or interpret your behavior that don’t assign core not-enoughness include:
- Because…I’m hurting and I didn’t know a better way to cope with it. (humans hurt sometimes and we don’t always use or have a robust coping toolkit)
- Because I’m scared. (humans get scared)
- Because I was checked out. (humans do that sometimes)
- Because I wasn’t informed/awake. (humans have blind spots)
- Because I was/am struggling to balance two or more competing needs. (humans have a lot of layers and often our needs rub against each other)
- Because I was caught in my own illusions. (being human = egoic illusions that need to be worked through)
- Because I was chasing love/safety and part of me thought I could find it if I did X (humans need love and safety and will do a lot of stuff to get any semblance of it.)
- Because I was trying to live up to an unrealistic, inhumane standard. (humans, especially women humans, are expected to live up to a lot of impossible stuff)
- Because I goofed. (humans goof up)
- Because I was triggered (humans get triggered)
- Because I was tired (humans get tired)
- Because I behaved badly. (humans do that sometimes)
I’m not saying that given a do-over you wouldn’t, sometimes, go back and do some things differently. I am saying that there needs to be room for you to be human and for your very human actions not to be interpreted as you being deficient, bad, lacking, or not enough in any way.
Who you are is not what you do. What you do is a result of being an imperfect human with the level of consciousness, connection and healing you have at a given moment.
This means I can reject your behavior and not be rejecting you.
This means you can behave ‘badly’ and not be ‘bad’
This shift in lenses also means, again, that we can have a better understanding of why we behaved in a certain way and then have more space, thanks to compassion, to either accept ourselves or make a different choice next time.
There is no part of you that’s the enemy, that can’t be trusted, or that’s out to get you. There are just parts of you to be understood better, listened to more deeply, possibly healed, and ultimately, and always, loved.
If you want to know where to find these unwelcomed parts of yourself, here are a few places to look:
- Where do you feel less than other people or commonly compare yourself only to find most often that you rank below others?
- If I asked you to tell me all the ways you’re not living up to where you should be, what would you say? Where would you say you fall short? (I hope it’s clear I would never seriously ask you this question)
- Straight up: in what areas are you a bad mother, wife, friend, daughter, employee, etc.? (again, not a question I would ask because I disagree with the premise, but a good one to spark your awareness)
Your answers to all three of these questions will shed light on places you might offer some more compassion towards, you might let go of superhuman expectations, find a loving motivation to make changes, or simply seek to understand before you condemn.
I highly recommend the following books if this is a topic that feels alive for you:
A few weeks back I went to meet my partner Justin for lunch at his office. He works at one of those tech companies that provides a lavish lunch each day and he’s allowed to have me join him from time to time.
This particular day we met up during the peak of the lunchtime rush. After unsuccessfully scanning the cafeteria for an empty table Justin spotted a co-worker with two empty seats at his table. “Can we join you?” Justin said. “Sure” he replied moving two bowls of food out of the way. “It’s my dinner” he said referring to the two bowls, each topped with another bowl that served as a lid, “I have to eat before 6 pm.”
We nodded, not really listening, attempting a lunch date for two at this table for four.
I was able to get a few bites in before I noticed this co-worker take out a digital scale (You know, the kind a baker might use to measure flour). He then placed both of his dinner bowls on the scale, one at a time, and jotted down their weight in a small, spiral bound notebook.
We’ve got a dieter in our midst, I thought to myself.
I truly didn’t want to engage. I just wanted a nice lunch date with my guy. But, the co-worker asked me what I do (“I’m a life coach”) and then who I work with (“Women, around hunger”) and we were off to the races before I knew it.
After hearing that I work in the realm of hungers he says “Sometimes I can’t sleep because I’m so hungry.”
“Yeah” I nod knowingly, having experienced the same thing when starved myself “the body prioritizes getting enough to eat over getting sleep.”
“My body just really likes to be *** pounds so I really have to starve myself to get it lower.”
“Why? Why do all this? What’s this about?” Justin inquires.
“Vanity” he chirps matter-of-factly back with a nervous smile.
No. Nope, I think to myself, this isn’t a result of vanity.
This is a result of anxiety.
This is a result of not feeling like you’re enough, just as you are.
This is a result of a fractured relationship with your body.
Vanity is an easy scapegoat. Kind of like when we stay in bed all day and call ourselves “lazy” when what’s really going on is something much wiser, deeper, and nuanced.
Vanity is a scapegoat and I’d argue that it’s never once caused someone to go on a diet or fall prey to an eating disorder (a line this particular co-worker was teetering).
We use these behaviors to soothe our worrisome minds and to falsely bring us closer to feeling as though we are enough.
As lunch was winding down he said “I think I have that leptin disorder—the one where your brain doesn’t signal when you’re full. That’s why I have to limit my intake.”
Not able to help myself I replied: “Well, it sounds like you have a history of overriding your body’s cues and keeping your weight below what your body prefers…”
“No, this diet is recent. Before this I was just paleo.” he innocently replies.
I sigh and think to myself, What do you think eating paleo is if not a diet?, but not wanting to engage any more I just said “Well, sounds like what you’re doing is working for you and you should probably get tested for that leptin thing” and we went on our way.
I’m sharing this story because I want to challenge you to think about how you might be mislabeling your behavior. Do you think of yourself as irresponsible with money? Materialistic or vain? What about lazy or undisciplined? Selfish? Wasteful?
Instead of so quickly dismissing your actions with these labels and instead of looking upon yourself with judgement, inquire about what’s really happening.
If you think you’re dieting because your vain, could it be that you’re anxious and dieting (or losing weight or being a certain size) is soothing? Could it be that you’re living in a world gone mad, one that tells you there is no fate worse than being fat, and you don’t yet know how to be at home in your skin?
If you think that you’re careless with money, could it be that you’re afraid that you won’t have (or be) enough, and shopping (temporarily) alleviates that feeling of scarcity? or that you haven’t discovered a more soulful way of relating to your finances?
If you view yourself as lazy, could it be that you’re simply tired? or disconnected from your spark? or expecting yourself to be super-human?
Bottomline: In my experience, what we call vanity, is almost always just anxiety and the hunger to feel enough. We’re too quick to slap a one-word judgement on ourselves. In reality our behavior, when met with compassion, is rich with information about what we’re truly hungry for.
You might think I regret my eating disorder. You might think I look back in shame at all the seemingly wasted energy I spent obsessing about the number on the scale or the food on my plate.
But I don’t have shame.
Instead I have compassion and a deep awareness that at that time I was taking care of myself the very best way that I knew how.
At the time I was in pain and I was anxious, both of which lessened when I focused intensely on food and my body.
I actually think 20-year-old me was pretty resourceful.
Yes, she was also miserable, ill, and hungry. But she was, nevertheless, resourceful, using her limited toolbox as best she could.
As the old adage goes: when you know better, you do better.
I frequently encounter women who feel such self-loathing for all the years spent riding the dieting pendulum, abusing alcohol, or over-spending.
However you cope, it is or was most certainly you taking care of yourself the best way you know or knew how.
I believe that when you know a better way you do it.
Regardless, whatever your salve, self-care is often mislabeled as self-harm and I want to change that.
Let’s forgive ourselves for the hurt our efforts to help ourselves caused.
Let’s celebrate that when we’re hurting our natural tendency is to take care of ourselves by any means necessary. (Look in the mirror, you will see someone who has, all along, been on your team).
And finally, once we’ve forgiven and seen the goodness of our true nature, we can move towards the discovery of effective, less-harmful self-care methods.
If it’s time for you to make your toolbox more robust…
If you’re ready for the resilient life that comes after you forgive yourself…
If you understand that being a sensitive soul comes with a different life-playbook…
If stepping fully into the roles of advocate, soft-place-to-fall, ally, lover, champion, and oxygen-giver for yourself is what you’re called to do…
I invite you to Feast.
One of my obsessions is how women relate to themselves.
I’m so focused on this because I believe it to be the switch that, when flipped, sets everything good in motion. Like, I believe wars could be stopped by people shifting their relationship to themselves. Whoa.
I was talking with talking with my colleagues Dana and Hilary of Be Nourished this week (psst: our full conversation will be available for Feast participants). Their offices are right next to each other and Hilary was saying that every time one of Dana’s clients is leaving a session she can hear Dana say “Kindness is the way out.”
I couldn’t agree more.
You want to heal your relationship with food?
You have to start with kindness.
You want to heal your relationship to money?
You have to start with self-compassion.
You want to heal your relationship to your sex or intimacy?
You have to start with turning sweetly toward yourself.
You want to know if you’re lovable?
You have to love yourself.
You want to end the war you are waging with your body?
The ceasefire you are seeking is with yourself.
If you want to heal your relationship with any part of life, you must first practice being kind to yourself. Emphasis on the word ‘practice’.
Our relationship to ourselves must be brought to life. Self-compassion and self-love are, above all else, verbs. Before we can address whatever unrest, misalignment, or longing that has shown up in our life, we must first bring to life a compassionate and loving relationship with ourselves.
Women come to me with threadbare spirits, exhausted from years of anxious searching for peace with food, their body, and their lives. In our work together we so rarely, if ever, begin by addressing what they would define as ‘the problem’.
No, instead we begin with their heart.
A woman who has an adversarial relationship with herself, or no conscious relationship at all, will ask me “Beyond saying nice things, which can feel, what does it even look like to be kind to myself? Where do I start?”
They think I’m going to give them a homework assignment (which I might). They think I’ll give them a book to read or some activity to do after our session (which I might). They think that they might be able to think their way into this one (which they can’t).
I say: “You start right here.”
And we do.
I guide them towards themselves in the very moment we are in. I guide them to soften. I guide them to expand their capacity for their own experience. I guide them to welcome all of themselves to the embrace, not just what’s pretty or palatable. I guide them to set down judgement and to listen for and offer whatever their spirit and heart are aching for.
Here’s the key: we do it right here and now.
Want to give it a go?
Place your one hand on your heart and the other on your belly.
Take a breath.
Ask: “Darling, what haven’t I made enough space for? What part of our or your experience do you need me to allow to just be?”
Ask “Sweetheart, what do you need to hear from me? How do you need me to gaze back to you in the mirror?”
Ask: “My love, I want you to feel seen and embraced, with that in mind, what can I offer you ?”
Ask: “Cookie, where can the warmth and light of my love melt away any shame or fear you might be feeling?”
Feel your hand over your beating heart.
Feel the warmth of your skin.
Feel your place in family of humans, all trying to do their best to find safety, love, belonging, relief, and peace.
In every moment, especially this one, we can practice standing in kind relationship to ourselves. Emphasis on the word ‘practice’.
Being in control feels awesome.
Determining the outcome of things because we’re in control, double awesome.
When we feel in control, our nervous system is as calm as if we were a baby snuggled in our mother’s arms. Control feels safe and safe is where it’s at for many of us.
Unfortunately our sense of control, especially as it pertains to outcomes, is most often an illusion.
I know a thing or two about pursuing control. I spent a good chunk of my life white knuckling the steering wheel. I was in hot (and often rigid) pursuit of controlling my weight, other’s perceptions of me, and how successful I was at whatever endeavor I’d embarked on.
Perhaps you can relate.
Sadly, the tight grip I tried to have on everything–and everyone–didn’t produce the results I’d hoped.
My weight yo-yo’ed, people judged me, boyfriends left me, employers fired me. Try as I might, seeking to control the end game never seemed to work out for me.
These days I have a radically different approach.
I make choices about how I show up and what my boundaries are, releasing all outcome, as much as possible.
Success today is defined as whether or not I did my part, not whether a certain result came to be.
In my very real, and very imperfect life this looks like…
Practicing eating intuitively and releasing any control of my body’s weight.
Committing to showing up with my clients with presence, curiosity, and love. Releasing whether or not they’ll get anything out of working with me.
When I was single, this looked liked choosing how I wanted to show up on dates and releasing whether it went anywhere. Whether the outcome was rejection or a second date, success’ hat was hung on how I chose to show up.
In a relationship, this looks like a personal requirement that my partner and I do work with a couples therapist long before there are any major issues and releasing whether or not we’ll be together in 60 years. It looks like telling the truth, even if it’s not what he wants to hear because I want whatever outcome is the result of the truth.
This practice is entirely about having awareness and commitment of how we want to be in our lives.
I want to be honest. I want to be present. I want to be relaxed. I want to be compassionate. I want to allowed to be human. I want to be creative.
And I can play a part in all these things. I can play a major part in how I’m showing up.
I can’t however, determine or predict what will happen tomorrow around the bend. I don’t know how others will receive me or my work. There is so much I don’t know, and accepting that–living without attempting to be psychic–is freedom.
The impact of my being is not in my control and to chase it would be fruitless and exhausting. Of course, I only know this from the painful years I clung to controlling outcomes.
Something unseen in all this is the belief that I’m enough.
If I didn’t believe that I was enough I would still be chasing that through all the same old dead-end alley ways.
In my coaching practice I see this showing up when a client is utterly terrified of dating (while hungering for partnership). Terrified she’s being awkward or that she’ll be rejected. Terrified. The solution isn’t to avoid dating. The solution is to figure out what she can control and make that the definition of success.
This same phenomenon shows up when clients have career or creative hungers that paralyze them with fear. This is a sign that success (and safety) is defined as a certain outcome rather than simply the act of going for it with heart.
So I propose this:
If you’re exhausted from trying to control your weight, stop. Try instead to eat in a way that feels good, tastes good, and honors your body. If you can do that (and you can), what your body weighs will matter a whole lot less.
If there’s a creative project you’re pregnant with or a career move calling to you, play with defining success as trying something new, or as Brene Brown says, as getting into the arena.
Today, success for me is hitting publish on this post. It’s far from perfect. It might not even be useful to some people stopping by. But it’s honest and communicates something that has been liberating for me. And thankfully, my sense of my own enoughness doesn’t rest on these 700 words. And that feels way more awesome than being in control.