Quite by accident one Tuesday evening, I heard myself say, out loud, something I had never once uttered in my 37 years. “I like myself,” I said to my husband, David. “Like, I actually do.”
I cannot pinpoint exactly how or when this flirty fondness started, but I will note that, even now, a few months later, I remain surprised at the realization that I like myself enough to go public with it.
You see, I haven’t always enjoyed my own company, and, in my head, a very nagging school bully used to live, one who saw and remembered every single thing I did. This bully would remind me relentlessly just how terrible and wrong I was every second. It went something like this...
“Remember when Lara was having a fight with her boyfriend and you didn’t say anything? What a terrible friend. She probably hates you now.”
You’re right, brain. She’s better off without me. Let’s think about this interaction for three more hours and then I might allow myself to sleep.
“How come everyone else at work has it together and you’re the only one who can’t make a decision?”
Yup, right again. I am an imposter and unemployable. I’ll probably get fired tomorrow. You know what? I will put a box in my car for when I’m asked to pack my things.
“Everyone you know personally and in the entire world has lost all that baby weight except for you. Why are you so lazy?”
I am unlovable at my current size. I have two small kids, but that’s no excuse. I must be better, fitter, and gather more energy like a Peloton instructor high on life itself.
The list goes on. I can’t remember a time before the age of 35 when I had one nice thing to say about myself. I could make friends and family feel like a million bucks, oohing and aahing over every accomplishment. More than once, I’ve been described as the nicest person in the world. Read: Nice to others. Not to myself.
If I had to pick a moment when the shift began — a change in my inner voice — I’d guess it started subconsciously, at the beginning of the pandemic. I didn’t start a life-changing Zoom yoga class or learn to crochet tiny hats for newborn babies. No. I worked, forever into the night and always from my dining room, with two small kids at home. That’s it.
Yet, I began slowing down for the first time and listened deeply to myself. The weekends that in the before times were filled with friends or family, traveling, and kids sports became empty. In the process of pausing, I found that deep down, I’ve collected quite a lot of wisdom, like knowing that the first thought that pops into my head isn’t the one I should necessarily be listening to. It could be, but if it’s profoundly negative or hurtful to me, I need to sit with that thought for longer, to get to the truth.
This was a surprising revelation: who I really am has nothing to do with the negative thoughts that swirl around in my brain. I can ignore that shallow bully. If she pops up to tell me I don’t deserve a promotion at work, I can access the part of myself that loves being kind to others. After all, would I ever let a friend tell me she doesn’t deserve a promotion? No, I’d sit down and write a list of all the reasons why she’s incredible and does deserve it. Thinking of how I’d approach others in a similar situation, I can extend the same kindness to myself.
My new awareness hasn’t translated into a permanent change in my thinking, but it’s showing me how I can continue down that path. A first step toward giving myself more grace.
Joanna Alizio is a writer in Maynard. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.