A number of years ago I was quite sick, and it knocked me to my knees. That was hard, and equally hard – if not harder – was the fact that I could no longer operate at my usual full-throttle speed nor could I accomplish all that I was accustomed to accomplishing. I had to slow down, and I hated that I had to slow down.
I suffered and most likely beat myself up quite endlessly, until one of my go-to people “gave me permission” to simply lie on my living room couch with a good book and a cup of tea. “You don’t have to achieve anything today,” she said to me. “You don’t have to prove anything or do anything or succeed at anything. Just be…and be gentle with yourself.”
I’ve had a longstanding pattern of pushing through any and everything and of never letting challenging situations stop me. For better or worse, I’ve been able to suck it up and make things work, pretty much no matter what. It absolutely can be a blessing, and it absolutely can be a curse. It certainly had lessened my sensitivity to when it’s okay to just take a break – hence my go-to person needing to give me permission to take it easy. Taking it easy had not been in my repertoire.
But – and I’ll put this in all caps to intentionally drive a point home – WHEN LYING ON THE COUCH WITH A CUP OF TEA IS ALL YOU CAN DO (OR WANT TO DO), THAT IS OKAY!!
My memoir, to the moon and back: a childhood under the influence, was released last September. It tells my story of being raised in and torn between two conflicting worlds: my mother’s world that I longed for and lived in on the weekends – the fanatical, puritanical cult of the Moonies – and my father’s world that I lived in during the week – the world of drugs, sex, and squalor in New York City’s East Village in the 1970s. With these two opposing lifestyles crashing through my mind, I learned to sacrifice my wants and needs (actually to not have any wants and needs). I was taught to be a solider for God, for the sake of humanity and to ease God’s heart. With responsibility like that, one quickly knows that sitting on the couch with a cup of tea is a sign of failure and weakness.
At least I did.
In my work as a Leadership Consultant and Executive Coach, I’ve realized that many of us – those with backgrounds perhaps somewhat similar to mine and those with completely different upbringings – have learned to see sitting on the couch with a cup of tea as a sign of failure and weakness.
It isn’t. It’s actually a sign of strength.
It is courageous to take care of yourself when your inner critic is screaming at you about how wrong it is for you to do so. It is brave to admit your challenges and frailties, especially if you know you’re not supposed to have any frailties. It’s courageous and brave, but it’s not always easy to do.
Here are some of the ways I’ve learned to hush my inner critic and talk my incessant perfectionism off the ledge:
- Remember that if you feel guilty, chances are you’re doing something that’s good for you. I was given this piece of advice decades ago, and it has helped me breathe through the guilt I feel when I put myself first and practice self-care. It also helps to remember that it’s better to be real than perfect. Perfection is unattainable, and realness lets us connect with other humans. Something we all crave.
- Breathe. Honestly, a good, deep breath often is all I need to calm down and ease myself, or at least to remember to be gentle with myself when I can’t calm down and ease myself.
- Find a support system. Many, if not all, of the self-care practices I’ve developed over the years, as well as the retorts that calm my inner critic, have been suggested to me by my various go-to people. And even if they don’t have pithy sayings to help me calm or new approaches to counteract my self-lambasting tendencies, they can at least offer me a hug. I’ve found that hugs work wonders.
- Treat yourself as you would your best friend. Many of us are harsher to ourselves than we’d ever be to someone else. Next time you start talking tough to yourself, picture your best friend and rephrase your comments to what (and how) you’d say to them.
- Put yourself first and do what feels good and will ease you. Again, let your guilt be a guidepost, and find the next thing you can do to help yourself be happier and feel better…and do it!
I hope you can learn to give yourself that rest (and that out) without having to crash and burn first like I did, but either way, enjoy it when you do!