A few days ago, my mother, grandmother and I were helping my youngest brother move out of his apartment. He just needed some help doing those small irritating, I can’t see my way out of the clutter last-minute packing stuff we all hate to do!
I volunteered to vacuum. I actually enjoy vacuuming… for some reason, it soothes me. Anywho… as I was finishing his room I was fumbling with the cords a bit. From behind me, my mother says, “You know you don’t know how to vacuum! Look at you, running over the cords!”
For a split second, I felt like I was a 12-year old little girl again. Being criticized, when I was doing the best I could. Those were the times I learned to just keep my mouth shut and internalized all the shame and hurt buried within me. I unconsciously felt that no matter what I did, it could always be done better. I usually felt I had ‘missed’ something and it was only a matter of time before someone discovered my mistake and all Hell would break loose. Hence creating the perfectionism addiction I am in recovery from.
But this time was oddly different. Before I could react. Before I could employ the mindfulness techniques I have learned. Before I could send a prayer for patience and a kind tongue up to God… My mother apologized. SHE APOLOGIZED! Then - topped it all off with an encouraging word.
This was earth-shattering. You see, I learned to criticize my self and others around me from my mother. She learned it from her mother and she learned it from hers. I'm sure the cycle just continues from there. We were always a critical family, without reservation and there were definitely no apologies.
I’ve learned this has stemmed from a long line of women who did not know their worth, therefore judged and criticized everything and everyone around them, because that was the norm. Criticism was a way to discipline, encourage, or just joke around. We didn’t realize the shame that is coupled with every judgmental word we threw at each other, strangers and especially ourselves.
For the first time, I can remember, there was a hiccup in time. I could tell she was not only mindful about what she said, but how that small statement impacted me. How my energy changed from carefree and confident to defensive and hurt. She then said, “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean that. You’re doing a great job.” And then she left me to finish my task.
In just that moment, the shower of shame stopped. A potential argument was stopped. I felt more loved and accepted at that moment than I can explain. I know it was just a vacuum. But it was so much more than that.
At that moment, I saw the strength and growth in me and my mother as individuals and the unbreakable thread of love that existed between us. I know apologizing and affirming doesn’t come naturally to my mother because it doesn’t come naturally to me. It’s just not how we were raised. But for her to pause and give me love at that moment saved me a trip to crazy land.
All I could say in response was a heartfelt, “thanks, Mom.” And I meant that Thanks with all the love in my heart!
I tell this story as a reminder that the negative words we say to others and especially ourselves, hurt! The schoolyard saying ‘sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me’ is one of the biggest lies in the world. I believe those internal wounds are more difficult to heal because they hide deep within you as something else.
I would tell myself, I wasn’t mean and judgmental, I was confident and blunt. The truth…I was masking my own pain. I was trying to keep my act going, hoping people would keep coming to see the show. Hoping people would believe I was as good as I was wanting someone to tell me I was. I couldn’t love myself or anyone else because my ability to love, wholeheartedly, was hidden deep in a cave of insecurities and feelings of worthlessness.
To heal, I had to crawl into this dungeon. Get dirty and nasty. Face and defeat my demons.
I knew there was a God that said He loved me but I didn’t feel it. I knew there were promises of peace and joy but I couldn’t see how that was possible. It just didn’t make any sense!
That is until I dug through the cave of my soul. I had to look back and rip off all the 'less-than' lies I had plastered onto myself. I had to throw away my coping mechanism of putting others down to build myself up. None of it worked.
Slowly, I began to see a difference. There was a flowing stream of love, promising that this was an unconditional stream that was not affected by my circumstances or choices. Just because I block it, doesn’t mean it will cease to exist. I began to see life sprouting out from beneath the rubble I created, letting me know it’s okay to let go of past hurt and pain. There was light washing over me with an outstretched hand of support, assuring me He will never let me go.
So in all this, I have learned one of the best ways to love myself is to stop judging myself. On this day, helping my brother move, I found that the best way to give love is to give without judgment. And the way to know love is pure is when it is received without judgment.
Thanks, Mom 😃