I was working with someone the other day and the harshest voice in the room was the voice of "self-help."
It was mean. It wasn't what she was saying, it was the tone.
"I just want to be my best self."
"I need to go for a run."
"I set a goal and just couldn't reach it."
"I want to live a full life."
"I don't want to settle."
"I don't understand why I can't do the self-care I need to to feel better."
"I know I just need to love myself. It's my fault for not doing it."
And this voice was putting her in direct opposition to herself.
And it wasn't her fault. The tone of this voice came from so deep in her bones that she wasn't even conscious of it.
If you had a demanding parent, for example, and now you're soaking in self-help bubble baths that feel far from peaceful, you may have substituted the words of your parents for feel good phrases, but kept the shaming tone.
Or you learned that you had to try really hard to be perfect in order to be loved. The part of you that learned to try and push and strive will gravitate to the self-help lingo like water to the moon, but in a much more fear-based way.
But the self help lingo isn't helping you get out of the pattern, it is the pattern.
And it's not that it's always nasty stuff this "self-talk" voice is saying but the texture of it and the quality of it. "You can do better," could be harmless but it depends on the texture.
There's often a push-through quality to self-help.
There's often a pull-up-your-boot-strap quality to self-help.
There's often a "fix it" mentality to self-help.
And it often doesn't work because it generally enters in at a cognitive level and sits there. If you've ever tried to say a nice thing to yourself in the mirror you understand this.
It doesn't sink into the nervous system. Where the deep old patterns reside. It doesn't change anything long term and we're left eternally white-knuckling ourselves into change, and then sliding back to where we initially were.
We continue this violence when we:
spout off self-help messages to our kids such as "just love yourself" but are scared of their emotions.
give people just one more line of self help when really they need us to say "that sounds so hard."
when we impose goals and expectations when the nervous system is still stuck in old trauma
when we call sadness and exhaustion, depression, fear it, and give it a timeline.
when productivity and success trumps the amount of lying on your back staring at the ceiling time that deep healing requires.
when we impose time limits on healing rather than, "you've got all the time you need right now."
Risk giving yourself a break. Risk giving others a break.
I've heard people say, I'm not hard on myself all the time, I try to be compassionate, but then I go right back.
Totally fine, but imagine this:
Imagine a kid that one day receives harsh treatment, the next day gets a little break and starts to hope that things will change, and the next day goes back to expectations.
Imagining that that kid would feel at ease enough to flourish, in the slight breaks between harshness, is ridiculous.
It's a risk. It is a big risk to let ourselves off the hook.
We have to stop. Stop self-helping because it's not helping. Stop exercising because it's fuelled by fear. Stop going to yoga because it's another way you push yourself.
Stop. Until slowly but surely emerges the voice, the movement, the little wee motivation, that comes from being kind and trusting yourself.
This voice shows up when we experience rest. Real rest, not just the kind of rest we give ourselves so we can get up and keep on going.
And this is the scariest thing to do. It's the scariest thing.
And it's the only way out of the conundrum that I see.
To give yourself a rest, a real rest.
Until, a few months from now, you're ready to crawl out of your bed and face the world, without trying, pushing, white-knuckling...
Risk resting deeply dear ones,