Healing the Divide

A house divided against itself cannot stand. –Abraham Lincoln

What is really going on when you beat yourself up? In an assault situation, there’s a perpetrator, a victim, and sometimes a witness. When you assault yourself, you have divided yourself into these different parts. And you rationalize the beating by saying that the victim, which is yourself, deserved it somehow for being wrong or bad, or needs the “motivation” to straighten up and fly right. Have you ever heard these excuses given in response to a civil assault? The result is outrage. Where is the outrage when you abuse yourself in this way? And why is your “witness” part standing idly by and watching this all play out?

Last night I was listening over and over to “Halfway Right,” one of the last songs Chester Bennington of Linkin Park wrote before he took his own life.* The lyrics illustrate this dynamic perfectly. The verses allude to some cryptic, horrible mistake he made while high behind the wheel one night, and then comes the chorus:

I scream at myself when there’s nobody else to fight
I don’t lose, I don’t win, if I’m wrong, then I’m halfway right
I know what I want, but It feels like I’m paralyzed
I don’t lose, I don’t win, if I’m wrong, then I’m halfway right

What a heartbreaking choice for someone to make. I know, because I’ve been there, many times. I’m sure many of you can relate as well. We’re socialized to look for someone or something to BLAME for everything we see as “wrong.” When we recognize the object of blame, we lash out at it, because we really think that’s how to “fix” it. But when there is no outside entity clearly at fault, we determine that it must be ourself which is to blame, and play out the same pattern of violence by lashing out on the inside.

So who “wins” in this scenario? Let’s say the violent part “wins” by beating the blamed part into submission, which then is seen as “losing.” Or let’s say the blamed part “wins” by withstanding the abuse and not being “defeated” by the violent part. Either way, you end up feeling “halfway right” (and halfway wrong) because you neither lose nor win entirely. I would submit that in this scenario, it’s always a total loss for you. Not only do you FEEL paralyzed, but you actually are, because of your inability to take any kind of productive action, nor have you really learned anything of value or grown because of your experience. It also feels like paralysis because we get really good at numbing out the painful emotions this pattern inevitably brings.

Some may argue that beating themselves up actually does bring them positive results, and that by keeping themselves whipped, they accomplish their goals. But at what cost? Slavery did produce results by way of huge profits for plantation owners in the South, but it came at the steep price of the wounded hearts of both slave and slave-driver.

Kristin Neff, the pioneering researcher in the field of Self-Compassion, has done dozens of studies which show that beating ourselves up is actually the opposite of helpful. Think about it. If you beat yourself up every time you make a mistake, how likely are you going to be to pick yourself up and try again, or attempt something new or difficult? You probably wouldn’t; you’d shut down, in fear of the possibility of a beating. Also, think of a parent berating a child who brings home a poor report card. Is this action likely to bring the child’s grades up? Or would it be more motivating to sit down with the child and come up with an improvement plan, all while encouraging him that you know he’s capable of more and that you love him regardless?

By being kind and loving to ourselves, our capacity expands exponentially. Because loving ourselves results in a “whole” person, we become much more attuned to our true purpose, and our authentic goals unfold before us. We courageously strive, even when the chance of failure is huge, quickly forgiving and learning from our own mistakes and moving on. Our life manifests an abundant cycle of accepting and loving, giving and receiving, instead of the downward vortex of blaming and shaming, taking and losing.

Choosing to be wholehearted, to be merciful and kind to myself, is an ongoing journey that has brought me so much joy and peace. Stopping the cycle of self-blame and learning to love myself has also radiated outward and improved my relationships by helping me accept and love every person in my life as well. If you would like some support on your own journey, I can give you some tools that for me have proved invaluable. Please reach out! The wholehearted life is worth every effort, and it’s never too late to turn these patterns around!

 

*Disclaimer: I don’t presume to know the reasons behind Chester’s suicide. I am merely trying to show that he clearly understood this pattern well enough to portray it in such a way. The person who wrote these lyrics knows how it feels to be divided against himself, whether or not this led to suicide.

The Parable of the Omelet

Did you know that at Golden Corral, you can ask for a whole-egg omelet instead of having them use that pre-prepped egg mixture? Not many people must request this. I watched, both fascinated and appalled, as one girl smacked a raw egg against the edge of the bowl about a dozen times before finally letting the innards slide into the bowl. Then she’d peer in and pick out all the shards of eggshell one at a time and throw them away. I assumed that with the second egg, she’d alter her method, but no. CRACK-CRACK-CRACK-CRACK-CRACK-CRACK-CRACK. PICK-PICK-PICK-PICK-PICK-PICK-PICK. As she did the same thing all over again with the third egg, my mouth was literally hanging wide open. WHY would she smash each egg to smithereens, if she knew she’d have to pains-takingly extract each tiny piece of shell after?

As an expert egg-cracker myself, I know that you only have to gently strike a raw egg against a hard edge ONCE and then pull the two halves apart, and you don’t get any shell pieces in with your egg. It really doesn’t seem like an advanced concept. But maybe she never had her mother show her a better way to do it. Maybe she never really thought about optimizing her method and just assumed that everyone has to pick half the shell out of the slippery mess every time.

I’ve been thinking about how often we beat ourselves up for every perceived failing, thinking that we must be hard on ourselves in order to “force ourselves” to get the results we want in life. Our society teaches us that shame is an effective motivator, and we may not even realize that better methods are available. In my life, I’ve found that being kind and gentle with myself produces a much more favorable outcome. Not only do I feel comforted, loved, and soothed, but my results are better too. I naturally behave more skillfully in the areas that I once shamed myself for, as well as relating with more compassion and love to others, because I have started with myself.

This process has been slow, but I’ve made several shifts in the way I talk to myself. Instead of saying, “You’re so stupid! I can’t believe you said that! You ruin everything. When will you ever learn?” (CRACK-CRACK-CRACK-CRACK-CRACK) I say gently to myself, “It’s okay. You didn’t realize. Everything’s going to be fine. You’re doing the best you can. I love you.” I still “learn my lesson” and make the changes I need to make, but this way, there’s no sharp eggshells in my omelet. I don’t have to go back through and tediously repair the damage I’ve done by contriving to build myself up when I need to have confidence in moving forward with my goals.

I’m far from perfect and often fall back into old shaming habits, both with myself and my family members, but I’m becoming self-aware enough to realize when I’m doing it and make a shift. I’ve learned several tools for self-compassion as I’ve studied this topic, which have revolutionized the way I treat myself, and it’s starting to positively impact all my relationships.

I hope that you will start seeing yourself in a new light, shifting from a critical, judgmental eye to seeing the beauty and greatness that God and others already see in you. If I can support you in some way, please comment or message me. I would love to be your guide on this beautiful and important journey.