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

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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.” 

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 …

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To Build (or Break) a Child’s Spirit

words to build or break a child

If you needed to lose weight, what would be most motivating?

You are fat. I’m not buying you any more clothes until you lose weight!

Or:

Let’s take a walk after dinner.
I’ll let you make the salad.
I love you just the way you are, exactly as you are.

If you needed to learn how to swim, what would be most motivating?

I don’t want to hear your crying. Get in the water and swim! Don’t be a baby!

Or:

I’ll be right by your side.
You can do this. If not today, we’ll try again tomorrow.
I love you just the way you are, exactly as you are.

If you needed to practice better hygiene, what would be most motivating?

What is that awful smell? It’s a wonder you have any friends.

Or:

Let’s go to the store and pick out some deodorant.
Your hair smells so good when you wash it. I think you should wash it every day.
I love you just the way you are, exactly as you are.

If your table manners needed improvement, what would be most motivating?

You eat like a pig. I cannot stand to watch you eat. You are disgusting.

Or:

I am trying to put down my fork after each bite, I’d like you to join me.
Thank you for chewing with your mouth closed.
I love you just the way you are, exactly as you are.

If you are a bit clumsy and disorganized, what would motivate you to be more responsible?

Can’t you do anything right? You are either losing things or making a mess!

Or:

Everyone makes mistakes. That’s how we learn.
It’s no big deal—just get a rag and clean it up.
I love you just the way you are, exactly as you are.

At times in my life I have been overweight, scared to swim, smelly, ill-mannered, and disorganized. During those times, I could have used some encouragement. So when I saw the young boy ordered to get out of the pool because he was scared to swim, I cried with him from behind my sunglasses. I saw the disappointment in the man’s eyes as he looked at his shivering son hugging his knees to his chest. The man really wanted his boy to learn to swim. He thought reprimanding him and ignoring the boy’s cries would motivate him to try harder next time.

At times in my life, I thought this too …

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Where Haters Can’t Tread

haters can't tread 3

In processing our family’s upcoming move to a new state, I’ve noticed my seven-year-old daughter is unable to think of all the people she will miss all at once. Instead, she’s been experiencing a slow awareness that highlights one person at a time. It’s sad and painful and sweeps her back to the moment she heard we were moving—when tears dotted the front of her blue GAP t-shirt.

It happened the other night as she was getting out her guitar to practice her latest Taylor Swift song. My child came flying into the kitchen—and this time it wasn’t to stall her practice session. I recognized that pitifully sad look on her face—the one that said the world as she knew it was crumbling a little more.

“I’m not going to have music lessons with Mr. Andrew anymore,” she said her lip quivering slightly. Huge tears formed in her eyes as she mumbled, “There won’t be another one like him, Mama.”

“Andrew’s been your ukulele and guitar teacher since you were itty bitty. He’s one of the kindest, most patient people we know, isn’t he? I am so glad you have all these years with him.” Without thinking, I instinctively opened my arms to my child. She nestled in and fit quite perfectly despite a significant growth spurt this spring.

I studied her smooth, round face and saw two fat tears escape from the corners of her closed eyes. My daughter stood there for a moment pressing her face against my stomach. I just held her in silence, smoothing stray hairs away from her face. I didn’t have any magic words. In fact, I didn’t have any words at all.

Within thirty seconds, my daughter stopped crying. She turned and went back to the living room and picked up her guitar. She began to sing and strum with vigor. I could tell by the passion in her voice that she was going to make the most of her remaining time with Mr. Andrew. She was going to be okay.

And I just stood there taking it all in.

Because in that moment, I felt better about myself than I had in months. And it was due to one simple fact: I bring comfort to my child. In fact, I am pretty darn good at it.

And I bet you are too.

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Today I Lived and You Did Too

today I lived

Today I was awakened by the sound of shuffling feet.
It was my early-bird riser in her big sister’s pajamas that drug across the floor.
I wanted to pull the covers over my head and feign sleep.
But instead I got up and made toaster waffles that she said tasted “divine.”
She kissed me with syrupy sweet lips.
Getting up wasn’t my first response. But I did it.
Today I lived.

Today she lost her shoes for the 37th time in two weeks.
It was right before we needed to head out the door.
I wanted to scream, to scold, to throw my hands in the air.
But instead I held her. I held her. My shoeless girl.
Together we found them wet with dew in the backyard and she whispered, “Sorry, I am forgetful, Mama.”
Being calm wasn’t my first response. But I did it.
Today I lived.

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Children Who Shine From Within

children who shine

“What’s your favorite insect?” my seven-year-old daughter asked as we took an evening walk on the first night of her spring vacation. “You can’t pick butterfly. Everyone picks the butterfly,” she quickly added before I had a chance to respond.

“Hmmmm,” I thought out loud. “I guess mine would have to be a ladybug,” I finally answered.

“Mine’s a firefly. I love the firefly,” she said wistfully.

We kept walking. Talking. Enjoying the rare treat of alone time—just my younger daughter and me.

And then:

“Am I okay? I mean, am I fine?” she asked looking down at herself.  “Sometimes I feel different.”

I immediately stopped walking and searched her face. Without saying what she meant, I knew; I just knew.

I bent down and spoke from a painful memory tucked away since second grade. “When I was your age. I felt different too. I felt uncomfortable, self conscious. One boy said really cruel things about the way I looked. He said I didn’t belong. His words hurt me for a long, long time,” I admitted.

As she looked at me sadly, her previous words echoed in my head. “Everyone picks the butterfly,” she’d pointed out a moment ago.

I placed my hands on her sturdy little shoulders as if somehow this could make her feel my words right down to the bone. “I want you to know something. You can always talk to me when you feel different or uncomfortable. I will never laugh. I will never judge you or tell you it’s no big deal. I will never brush away your feelings because I understand. I remember how it hurts. And some times you just need someone to understand that hurt.”

“I love the firefly,” she had said a moment ago. I then realized I had something she could hold on to.

“You mentioned that you love the firefly,” I reminded her. “Well, I think you’re a lot like a firefly. You know why?” I asked.

The worry on her face lifted. She looked at me hopefully. “Why, Mama?”

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When You Get it Right … and When You Don’t

what's right 2 handsfree mama

“I must have done something right,” the father of a nineteen-year-old young lady was telling me after having fixed my troublesome garage door.

Although his daughter had drifted a bit during her early teen years, she was now coming over to her parents’ house on the weekends and was genuinely enjoying spending time with her parents again.

The repairman’s eyes lit up when he talked about the renewed relationship with his daughter. He seemed relieved about how things had turned out.

“I must have done something right,” he had said a few minutes earlier.

His oldest daughter is nineteen. My oldest daughter is ten. I don’t want to wait nine years to know whether or not I’ve done something right. Because now is when I need to hear it.

Now—when I am in smack dab in the middle of raising her.

Now—when I feel the pressure to examine every choice I make, wondering how these choices will affect her now and in the future.

Now—when I want to trust my gut and live by heart rather than simply go along with mainstream opinion or “expert” advice.

Now—when I need little glimmers of hope to cling to each day.

So I decided not to wait.

Each day for the past couple of weeks, I’ve been looking for a little rightness—a little what-is-right-in-my-world.

Notice I say “a little.” Because what I am talking about is practically unnoticeable. It’s hardly note-worthy. And it’s definitely not anything worthy of public sharing—at least not according to societal standards. But that’s why it’s working for me. That’s why it’s encouraging to me. Because looking for what is right in my world – in my day – in my hour – is far more encouraging than looking for what is “right” in my world according to social media, societal standards, or popular opinion.

I invite you to take a look. Maybe this list will inspire you to see what is right in your world today.

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When Someone We Love Loses His Way

 

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*name has been changed to protect privacy

After teaching children with severe learning and behavior issues for eight years, I was in need of a change. A first grade position opened up in the district, so I applied and thankfully was offered the position. I instantly adored my team of first grade teachers. In exchange for grade level supplies and curriculum guidance, I offered effective behavioral strategies for the most challenging students in our grade level. And on extremely trying days, I would even accept visitors from other first grade classrooms.

Gregory* was one of my frequent visitors. My students and I always knew when Gregory would be coming. We could hear his problem escalating, and then there he would be standing at our door with the work he was refusing to do in hand.

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Voicing the Gift

*all names in this piece have been changed

Voicing The Gift

My first teaching position was a bit unusual. Because a full time teacher was not needed at either school in the district, I worked half-day at the high school and half-day at the elementary school. That was the nice thing about my special education degree; it encompassed grades kindergarten through twelfth. Oh wait … except I didn’t actually have my special education degree (yet). That is how scarce the supply of special education teachers was at the time. But with an elementary education degree in hand and a commitment to obtain my master’s degree in special education, I was able to accept the position.

So there I was, a teacher of big kids with learning and behavioral problems and a teacher of little kids with learning and behavioral problems. I wasn’t quite sure what to do at either end of the spectrum. But despite my lack of training, I had worked with kids long enough to know I was good at one thing: listening. I knew from experience that if an adult acted the slightest bit interested, kids (no matter what age) generally liked to talk.

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Six Words You Should Say Today

If you have ever experienced an emotional response simply by watching someone you love in action, I’ve got six words for you.

Very rarely does one sentence have immediate impact on me.

Very rarely does one sentence change the way I interact with my family.

But this one did. It was not from Henry Thoreau or some renowned child psychologist. It was a comment from kids themselves. And if I’ve learned anything on this “Hands Free” journey, it is that children are the true experts when it comes to “grasping what really matters.”

Here are the words that changed it all:
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