Drowning Out the Inner Critic

drowing the inner critic HFM
She’d asked me to get in the bathroom stall with her while she put on the swim team suit that she’d been given to wear to the meet. I hesitated. The stall was exceptionally small and the air conditioning in the building was not working. But there was a pleading in my child’s eyes that seemed hauntingly familiar so I accompanied her.

She immediately asked me to turn away. I crammed myself into the corner. The bathroom door hinge was two inches from my nose. I was already sweating and I was not the one wrestling with a fierce duo of nylon and spandex.

I had a bad feeling about this.

Behind me there was grunting, wiggling, pulling, stretching. There was a tremendous amount of exhausting effort going on back there. I could feel the frustration radiating from my child through the back of my shirt. Or maybe it was sweat.

“Everything okay?” I asked with a cringe.

“I.Can’t.Get.It.On!” my child burst out.

“Would you like me to help?” I asked hopefully. “I’d be happy to help,” I repeated desperately hoping to improve the situation.

After a few more grunts and sighs, my child accepted my offer.

“But close your eyes, Mama,” she instructed.

I couldn’t see anything, but I knew that standing before me was a defeated spirit. This child who has mentioned feeling different than the rest was feeling even more uncertain, even more uncomfortable, even more awkward. “Can we just go home?” she pleaded. “I don’t want to swim,” she said sadly.

“We aren’t going to let this silly bathing suit stop you from doing what you love to do,” I stated. “You have something to contribute that no one else can,” I argued. “Don’t worry, we’ll get it on.”

For three agonizing and perspiring minutes I used every ounce of strength in my body to get that suit on. And once she was in it, she wiped away her tears. “Thank you, Mama,” she said quietly. “I’m ready now.”

But there was doubt.

When something doesn’t fit—literally or figuratively,
When you’re not comfortable in your skin,
When it feels like a struggle just to show up,
That little voice inside you can be pretty darn cruel.

I knew. Oh how I knew.

Suddenly I was back in my first apartment, newly married, getting ready for an evening out. My husband and I were going to his boss’ house for a dinner party. It was in an upscale part of town and my husband had recently started with this new company. I knew he wanted to make a good impression—and I did too.

But it was going to be a struggle.

On the floor in front of the mirror was every item of clothing I owned. My husband waited patiently while I changed 107 times and now we were going to be late. He peeked in timidly to tell me we really needed to leave in five minutes.

I felt like cursing. I felt like screaming. I desperately wanted to stay home. I wanted to hide. I hated how I looked.

“Nothing looks good,” I managed to say without blowing up. When he tried to console, I snapped. “You don’t understand!”

I felt very alone in my self-hatred that happened when I stood in front of the mirror. When things didn’t fit. When I thought I looked bloated and unattractive. When I felt uncomfortable in my own skin. All the successful areas of my life and all the positive attributes I possessed meant nothing. They totally disappeared when I stood in front of that mirror picking myself apart.

I clearly remember settling on a long, chocolate brown jacket with dark leggings and tall boots. Every inch of my body was covered. I was hidden. Now I could go to the party, but I would never forget the helplessness I felt and the amount of distaste I had for myself in that moment.

It scared me.

In the past sixteen years that have passed since that moment, I’ve quieted that cruel voice, my internal critic, my inner bully—but sometimes, in moments of fear and uncertainity, it surfaces again. And it alarms me how quickly I can dismiss all the things that I am and all the important roles I play when I judge myself in front of that mirror.

I remember going to that dinner party with my husband and laughing with his colleagues the whole night. They were so funny and so welcoming. They thought I was funny too. At one point my husband leaned over and said, “They love you, Rach, just like I knew they would!” I remember having a wonderful conversation with a lovely colleague of my husband’s named Bonnie. We connected on many levels—she was real and honest and open. I was so thankful I’d left the house despite my urge to withdraw from the world.

Later that night I acknowledged that the cruel voice inside me was wrong—completely wrong. I acknowledged that showing up swollen, bloated, make-up less, disheveled, and out of style was better than not showing up at all. I acknowledged that being here on this earth—not quite looking like I want—was better than not being on this earth at all.

I could write a book about how I overcame that critical inner voice over a span of sixteen years and maybe someday I will. But not today. Today I am just going to offer an alternative to the voice of negativity. I call it A Reality Check for the Inner Critic. This technique was truly where it started for me. I began talking back to my inner critic. I called it out on its ridiculous lies. I refused to let it stop me from doing what I loved: living. I refused to let it hole me up at home when I could be outside laughing and connecting with others. My hope is that someone out there can benefit from hearing what it sounds like to drown out the inner bully with words of truth.

drowning the inner critic HFM

A Reality Check for the Inner Critic

I wish I was beautiful.
Maybe you are.

I wish I was smart.
Who’s to say that you’re not?

I wish I was brave.
Perhaps it’s there, just waiting to be seen.

I wish I could start over.
Why not today?

I wish I could do a better job at this.
Maybe this is your do-over moment.  

I wish I could see the light at the end of the tunnel.
Maybe that first glimmer will come when you least expect it.

I wish I could love myself.
Maybe it’s time.

Maybe it’s time to unload the heavy, hurtful words and preconceived notions you’ve carried around for too long.
Perhaps enough is enough.
Who says you aren’t worthy of love, acceptance, and peace?
Maybe someone does.
But don’t let it be you.

You are more than one opinion, one ill-fitting pair of jeans, or one Saturday night mistake.
You are more than you give yourself credit for.
Instead of going farther down the damaging path of “I am not” consider lifting yourself up with “I am.”

I am beautiful.
I am smart.
I am brave.
I can start over.
I am doing the best I can.
I can see the light at the end of the tunnel.
I can love myself.
I am more than one opinion, one ill-fitting pair of jeans, or one Saturday night mistake.
I am more than I give myself credit for.
I am more than I am not.

After my daughter triumphed over the swimsuit that refused to budge, she competed in several events that day. My non-competitive, laid back, easy going little Firefly shocked me on our way out to the car.

“That was the best meet of my life!” she said triumphantly. “I sure am glad I didn’t go home.”

There had not been any first place finishes or record-breaking times for this child but she was happy, oh so happy, and I knew exactly why. She’d conquered the voice of the inner critic to feel beautiful, capable, and strong in her own skin regardless of how the bathing suit fit.

And that was in deed something to celebrate.
drowning out the inner critic #HFM

*********************************

Friends of The Hands Free Revolution, tell me about your inner critic. Does it cause you to shy away from living, loving, speaking out, laughing, and connecting? Do you have any techniques or mantras you use to silence it? Please share your struggles and triumphs. Thank goodness, we are not alone on this journey. 

I have discovered these valuable resources in the areas of self-care and letting go of perfection so I can live more & love more:

1) Parenting in the Present Moment by Dr. Carla Naumburg: Through realistic examples and down-to-earth language, Naumburg shows us we have everything we need to respond to our children and ourselves with compassion and kindness. Parenting in the Present Moment offers a highly-achievable approach to parenting that can bring peace and connection back to the most challenging, pressure-filled, and distracted times of life. Check out her book and her blog.

2) Heather Sayers Lehman offers life-changing epiphanies through a variety of mediums. Through her Facebook page, she offers powerful writings and two-minute videos that inspire ah-ha moments on the following topics: 

  • How to build stronger roots of self-love, self-respect, self-acceptance and self-respect
  • How to model those commitments for others
  • How to manage self-care aspects logistically
  • How to bring family closer with changes
  • How to prioritize yourself without shortchanging others
  • How to let go of what doesn’t matter
  • How to create a peaceful relationship with food

Check out Heather’s Return to Grace webinar on her blog as well as her life-changing book Don’t Eat It. Deal With It!

3) A Mighty Girl provides valuable information on books, toys, music, and movies that empower and celebrate girls. On their uplifting Facebook page, they recently shared the following information: “For a great parenting book about fostering positive body image that addresses the issue of moms’ grappling with their own body image issues, check out “You’d Be So Pretty If…: Teaching Our Daughters to Love Their Bodies — Even When We Don’t Love Our Own.” For more recommended books for parents on body image issues, visit their “Body Image & Self-Esteem” parenting section. Mighty Girl also reviewed books designed to help girls navigate issues related to puberty, including normal changes in weight and body shape, in their post on “Talking with Tweens and Teens about their Bodies.” 

Preparing the Ones We Love For a Troubling World

preparing for world #HFM

My older daughter was sitting on the floor of her room totally engrossed in a project. She was writing to her sponsored child, Priscilla, but I didn’t know what she was writing because it was written in Swahili.

The last letter she sent was also written in Priscilla’s native language, but I thought it would be a one-time thing. I was surprised to see my typically speedy child patiently looking up words on the Internet in order to write full sentences in a foreign language. She knew all notes written in English were translated to the sponsored child, but for some reason she felt compelled to write in words Priscilla could read and understand herself.

“I see you’re writing in Swahili again,” I said sitting down next to my daughter.

“I want to be sure she knows she is loved … in words she can understand,” my daughter explained. “There are many diseases in and around her village,” she said gravely. “This way Priscilla can read the letter herself and won’t have to wait for a translator.”

That powerful little tidbit shed some light on my daughter’s motive.

“I want these words to stick,” my child added determinedly.

Like a bulletin board, I thought to myself looking at the corkboard directly behind my daughter’s head. It was filled with photos, motivational quotes, swim team goals, and love notes from family members. It was filled with words and images she wanted remember—treasures she wanted to stick with her.

[Read more...]

The Hands Free Revolution page was hacked, but now the issue is resolved

light will outshine darkness

UPDATE:  Over the last 24 hours my page was taken over by hackers, and I was shut out as the page administrator unable to do anything to stop them. This amazing community came to aid and my defense in a way that I will never forget. Thank you for knowing my heart would never willingly allow this to happen and post the horrific things that were seen here. Thank you for reporting the images to Facebook and for sharing my blog post asking for help to get my page back. This community, as well as many fellow bloggers and personal friends stepped up to show these sabotagers that GOODNESS prevails. While I hope that my administrator status is back for good, please know that if you see anything out of the ordinary from what I normally post, please report the vile content see the steps outlined at the bottom of this post.

I hope to get back to my regular schedule of positivity and hope tomorrow on The Hands Free Revolution FB page. You are the most wonderful community and I am blessed to walk the Hands Free journey with you. Let us continue to focus on the good.

“I’ve always believed the light can outshine the darkness.
I’ve always believed that goodness will prevail.
But sometimes in the face of adversity, a need a little reminding.
Thank you for reminding me.
I shall not ever forget.”
-Rachel Macy Stafford

**************************************

Original post:

My friends, I have been locked out as administrator of The Hands Free Revolution Facebook page. The hackers have been posting vile and offensive material. I am deeply sorry if you have been subjected to this in your newsfeed on Facebook. You can help me GREATLY by doing one or both of the following to report the problem:

1. Click this link and report that The Hands Free Revolution page has been hacked.

2. Go to the page and hover over the top right corner of the offensive post for the drop down carrot to show
then click on “I don’t like this post”
A pop up will come up – click on: “It’s Spam”
On the next window click on: “Their account is hacked”
That will report it.

I am so grateful to all of you who have written to me personally to let me know about the situation. Thank you for standing by me as I try to regain control of my Facebook fan page so I can continue spreading messages of positivity and hope!

A Daily Goal with Life-Changing Results

I hope after spending an hour … a day … a lifetime in my presence, I leave your heart fuller, your smile wider, your spirit stronger your future brighter than you could have ever imagined by yourself.   -Rachel Macy Stafford

I hope after spending an hour … a day … a lifetime in my presence,
I leave your heart fuller,
your smile wider,
your spirit stronger
your future brighter
than you could have ever imagined by yourself.
-Rachel Macy Stafford

*name & story have been used with permission

A little over four years ago I started my Hands Free journey to let go of distraction and grasp the moments that mattered. It became my daily practice to write down the little moments of meaningful connection that I would’ve missed had I remained tethered to my devices, pressures, and regrets. What I experienced during my designated Hands Free pockets of time was so powerful I knew it was meant to be shared. I started publishing my daily Hands Free successes and failures on a blog. This helped me stay accountable to my goal—to live more and love more in the precious time that I’d been given. But there was more. My willingness to share my story was unexpectedly reciprocated. Each day for the past four years, I’ve heard from people I do not know. But they tell me their stories and inspire me in ways I could not be inspired alone.

Recently I opened my inbox to this:

“I have you to thank for the light bulb that lit up inside of me that turned into a flaming inferno of wanting to connect with my children. I have you to thank for the belly laugh (the best laugh that I have had with my oldest in years) that I would have missed had I not been in a ‘Hands Free Zone’ that I’ve designated and stuck to. I have you to thank for the wall in my kitchen (which is against my obsessive compulsive nature) that I have posted blog entries and favorite quotes from your book. This wall is what I look at when my baby is crying so loudly that I want to rip my hair out—your words are the caution cones that tell me to slow down and embrace my screaming baby and laugh. I have you to thank for my life, my children’s lives, and the amazing mom that I never knew I could become to them. I have you to thank for raising me from the dead; for that I will be eternally grateful. Thank you for saving me.”

–Fallon*

This message was written by a single, full-time working student/mother. I could see her in her kitchen. Her eyes weary from lack of sleep … baby food stains on the front of her shirt … her older child’s homework splayed across the counter along with bills and school reminder notes. I could see her trying … trying … trying. I did not know this woman, but I adored her.

Attached to the e-mail message was Fallon’s completed assignment for her psychology class. It was a short description of her fall semester goal: Keep Things Simple. To her this meant trying to avoid “overwhelm” which she knew had a negative impact on her mood, her progress, her sleep and of course, her children. “Keep Things Simple means not sweating the small stuff, getting tasks completed in a timely manner, not over exaggerating, and eliminating unnecessary stress to enjoy my life to the fullest,” she wrote.

[Read more...]

Which Way to a Peaceful Response?

"Not until we are lost do we begin to understand ourselves." ~Henry David Thoreau

“Not until we are lost do we begin to understand ourselves.” ~Henry David Thoreau

I should’ve known not to get so confident. I hadn’t gotten lost once in this new big city of mine. I’d traveled interstates, back roads, and busy thoroughfares. Every time I’d punched an address into my new navigation system, it had taken me there without fail.

I’d become so confident that I even stopped printing out paper directions as a back up or calling people ahead of time asking for landmarks along the route. Those were the safeguards I’d used for over a decade to compensate for my severely flawed sense of direction. I am known to turn the wrong way out of the bathroom at a restaurant and not be able to find my family. I am known to fear that my car’s been stolen until my Noticer daughter tells me we’re in the wrong parking lot. When my friends heard I was moving to a new, much larger city, they worried. They suggested I not leave a two-mile radius for awhile. But with the help of a new navigation system, I’ve had a new lease on life. I’ve been taking my children to places I never thought I could go by myself. I stopped gripping the steering wheel with sweaty hands when venturing into uncharted territories.

Well … until Saturday morning.

My daughters had their first swim meet with their new team at an aquatics center that was about twenty minutes away from our house. After years of stressful crack-of-dawn departures, we’d learned to get prepared the night before. All the bags were packed. Swim suits and flip flops were laid out. I had the address of where I was going written on a sticky note next to the bags. All I had to do was punch the address in. The night before I thought briefly about gathering my direction back ups, but I happily reminded myself I didn’t need them anymore.

That morning when I punched in the address of the swim center, it didn’t show up. I tried typing in the name of the facility. No luck. I tried just the street. That didn’t work either. For five minutes, I punched anything I thought might get us in the general vicinity. I noticed my fingers becoming more aggressive with each fail and the air in the car was getting warm. Suddenly my hazard lights came on automatically. I frantically felt around the steering wheel for the off button. The obnoxious clicking sound was nearly loud enough to wake the neighbors. I had a full-on sweat going now.

“Why is this address not in existence?” I growled to myself. “And how in the world do I turn these hazard lights off?” I angrily punched more buttons on the dash and ended up turning on all the lights in the car and opening the trunk.

[Read more...]

An Invitation to Live, Really Live

“Come outside, Before the world gets any colder, And you and I get too much older. ‘Come outside,’ she said. ‘Come outside,’ she said.  Climb out your window.” -Counting Crows

“Come outside,
Before the world gets any colder,
And you and I get too much older.
‘Come outside,’ she said.
‘Come outside,’ she said.
Climb out your window.”
-Counting Crows

Recently I’ve found myself driving like my seventy-four year old mom. I’ve been double and triple checking before making left turns. I’ve gone a mile out of my way just to avoid a dangerous intersection. I’ve also been chewing my food slowly so I don’t choke and taking a multi-vitamin. I’ve been determined to do the best job I can of keeping myself alive.

I didn’t connect these heightened safety precautions to my current project until I came to the conclusion section of the book I am writing. My hands began shaking as I typed the closing thoughts that I’d been waiting … living … and making cautious left turns in order to finish. And although I knew my editor would probably remove these final and unnecessary words, I typed, “The End,” in fancy font at the close of my 63,714-word manuscript. And then I cried. I cried because I lived to tell the story.

This particular book was not the easiest to book write, not that any books are—a fact I failed to appreciate until I actually wrote one. This book called for my deepest truths and my most painful reflections. But even more, it called for me to trust that the words would come in due time, not in Rachel’s time. Knowing the deadline for submitting this manuscript to my publisher would sneak up on me as far-off events often do, I tried writing this book last fall. I wrote lots of notes. I wrote lots of ideas. I wrote chapters that I ended up trashing. It was not time. I tried writing this book again in the spring. I took lots of notes. I wrote down lots of ideas. I wrote chapters that I ended up trashing. It was not time. And then summer involved moving boxes, anxious children, tearful goodbyes, and new territories to navigate. I didn’t even try to jot notes or cultivate ideas. I allowed myself to be in “receiving mode” rather than “producing mode.” I decided I would live. I would taste. I would cry. I would walk. I would laugh. I would read. I would say yes to as many Moments That Mattered as I possibly could. I ended up filling lots of little notebooks with experiences that only come from living, real living. And when my family felt settled in our new home, my husband and I went to a Counting Crows concert at a beautiful outdoor venue in our new city. I thought I’d heard every lyric Adam Duritz had ever sang, but on this particular night, he was the master of improvisation. “Round Here” turned into a message my soul had been longing to hear. “Climb out your window,” Adam sang. “Come outside before the world gets any colder, and you and I get too much older. Climb out your window.”

[Read more...]

To Love a Child By Their Book

by their book 1 #HFM

“Well, good for you. You stopped rushing your younger child and undid some of the damage, but what about your older daughter? What about her? What about the damage you did to her?”

It was a question posed by a commenter on this post almost a year after it was published.

Although the reader had no way of knowing, I’d addressed the damage that my hurried, perfectionistic ways had on my older daughter in several painful posts like this one and this one. But for some reason when I read his comment I saw an underlying question: You describe what you did to love your younger daughter as herself, but what about your older daughter? What did you do to love her “as is”?

To me, that question was far more important to address than what damage was done. It’s taken months, maybe even years, but I finally have an answer. I hope it will help someone crack open a few undiscovered pages of a book well worth reading. This is my story …

When I experienced the “hurry up” epiphany several years ago, I realized I needed to make changes before I completely stifled my younger daughter’s carefree spirit. What Avery needed was painfully obvious—it was written all over her face. She needed me to stop trying to change her … to let her be herself … to love her “as is.”

I dug deep to find patience buried inside my productivity-driven soul and stopped trying to turn my child into someone she was not. I noticed certain offerings produced a wide smile, a sigh of contentment, or the look of relief on her face. I learned:

Saying the words “take your time” was love to this child. I tried to say it at least once a day.

Allowing her to do her own hair was love to this child. I stepped aside and let her fashion her own haphazard ponytail for school. If she was happy with how it looked, I chose to be happy with it too.

Letting her play the guitar notes as she felt they should be played was love to this child. I sat back and watched and left the correcting to her instructor.

Giving her assurances in new situations was love to this child. I stopped dismissing her fears and hesitations. I stopped saying, “It’s no big deal. Stop crying,” and instead said, “New things are scary, but I think you are ready. You can do this.”

Speaking gently and not so sharply … letting her do things differently than I did … giving her privacy when she was getting dressed were acts of love in Avery’s book. And through this process of watching, listening, and observing, I learned how to love this child and even found myself borrowing a few pages from her book to re-write my own. Witnessing her approach to life helped me slow down, live better, and love more than I ever imagined I could.

But how to love as my older daughter “as is” was not so obvious. Natalie was the speedy one, the planner, the supervisor, the overachiever, and the worrier. Her book was strikingly similar to my own book, and this didn’t really come as a surprise. I didn’t begin my Hands Free journey until Natalie was six years old and the letting go process took several years. But the more Hands Free I became, the more I could see my former Type-A tendencies in my older daughter. Every time she was impatient, strived for perfection, or laid awake worrying about things beyond her control, the word damage flashed like a neon sign in my guilt-ridden mind. What have I done? I thought. Was there any way to undo the damage?

[Read more...]

A Question to Live By

small moments/small notebooks HFM

“Everything will be okay in the end. If it’s not okay, it’s not the end.” –Fernando Sabino

I was standing over the shrimp dip when a family friend approached me. Although he was known to ask thought-provoking questions, and this was my going away party, I was not expecting this one. “So once you get settled in your new home, what do you imagine that moment will look like when you feel like everything is going turn out okay?” he asked.

In one mere sentence my friend went straight to my greatest fears, my greatest insecurities, and my greatest hopes. Funny thing is, I knew the answer to his question. I’d envisioned it a thousand times as I’d prepared our home to be emptied. Tears began dripping my face. An unsightly sea of mascara, I was sure, but I could not stop the tears if I tried. My friend didn’t act like it was any big deal. His wife, who is also my dear friend, had probably exposed him to spontaneous sobbing a few times. My friend just waited. Then he listened.

“When my children come home from school and say, ‘I met a friend today, Mama.’ That is when I know it’s gonna be okay. One friend makes the whole world better, you know. One friend for each girl. That is the moment,” I replied. Then I dabbed my eyes with a yellow party napkin and smiled because friends like that just make you smile even when you’re crying.

I thought that conversation concluded over appetizers and farewell hugs, but it didn’t. For the past two months, that conversation has continued in my head.

[Read more...]

Knowing Where Your People Are

where your people are #HFM

“But I’ll kneel down,
Wait for now
And I’ll kneel down,
Know my ground
And I will wait, I will wait for you.”
–Mumford & Sons

At the beginning of any school year, there are always quite a few student information sheets to fill out. But when I came to the pink sheet in my second grader’s folder, I was forced to pause.

What are your child’s fears? What calms your child when upset?

As my pen sat suspended above the blank lines, I let my mind wander into dark territories. What situations would upset my child at school? I knew. Intruders and tornadoes. Thankfully she’d only experienced one of them first-hand, and the tornado did not have a direct hit. But it was close enough to forever alter her perception of storms and the fragility of life.

Thankfully, I knew exactly what would bring comfort to my child if either of these situations arose. She would want to know where her sister was in the building. She would want to know that I was coming for her just as soon as I possibly could.

In other words: tell her where her people are.

[Read more...]

How to Change Someone’s Story

change someone's story 1

This summer my family moved to a new state. Over the past couple months, I’ve repeatedly heard my younger daughter say, “I still don’t feel like this is home. It feels like we’re on a trip, and we need to get back.”

Sometimes she says it through tears. Other times she says it just matter-of-factly. And sometimes she even laughs about it. This fluctuation of emotions pretty much sums up the ups and downs that go along with moving.

But I must admit something. My daughter’s recurring comment, whether said through laughter or tears, has worried me. You see, this particular child is my Firefly with glasses that sit on the tip of her nose. She has prominent freckles and unruly hair that refuses to behave in a smooth and orderly fashion. This child is a Noticer with a keen awareness of other people’s struggles and fears, especially her own. On more than one occasion she’s maturely expressed that she is “different” from the rest. This child is a friend to all but not really attached to one. She marches to her own beat, makes up her own lyrics, sings like no one is listening. What happens to someone like this when thrown into a new environment with people who know nothing of her inner gifts? Back in our former community, she was loved and celebrated “as is”. We are now in a much bigger city where life is fast and unfamiliar. Would her light brighten or dim here? I’ve wondered many times.

Well, I was just at the height of my worry when something happened. I guess you could call it a game changer. In this case, I’m calling it a story changer. I share this experience as a means of grasping what matters in a fast-paced, overly distracted, pressure-cooker world. Whether we are lost or we are found, just a few moments with open hands and attentive eyes can turn things around.

This is our story …

[Read more...]