Dr. Jenee Walker: We must learn to be as kind to ourselves as we are to others
I saw a young woman in my office recently whose self esteem had been chipped away so badly by her husband and negative experiences growing up that she had become her own worst critic. As a result, she was brutal to herself giving herself little to no credit for ever doing anything right. Efforts to get her to redirect her thinking were unsuccessful because of her focus on what was wrong versus what was right. Unfortunately, focusing on negative experiences is a pit that is easy to fall into. Remember the last time you did something totally embarrassing and quickly turned around to see if anyone was watching? We then try to proceed with a smooth recovery as though nothing ever happened. Remember how easy it is to fall prey to human nature and replay the experience over and over again in your mind berating yourself for making such a "stupid" mistake? Imagine having such an experience not only in public view, but in a lobby full of patients ... my own to say the least.
One morning several years ago I was rushing to get my three children out the door to catch their school bus. My idealized goal was to get everyone out the door calm and collected. I then planned to proceed to have a peaceful day after depositing them at school and me at work. The harrowing alternative was for me to fight the traffic if we missed the bus. HA!!! Just as I was trying to say peacefully without yelling, "Hurry up Jared, Robbie, and Chloe ... we are going to miss the bus!" I looked down and realized I was wearing a sheer skirt without a slip. Oh no!! Now we were going to miss the bus for sure! I was going to have to battle the morning traffic to get us to our respective destinations on time. By this time, I was sweating. I dashed up the stairs and quickly grabbed the first slip I saw. Needless to say, we missed the bus but with a little "creative" driving, I was able to get us all to our destinations on time with three minutes to spare.
Later that morning, I somewhat smugly smiled congratulating myself for pulling off the morning. I started seeing patients and began my routine day. As I stood talking to one of my patients in my lobby filled with people, I felt something drop to my knees. Could it be? No ... It was beyond belief ... It was ... I was afraid to look down as my face began to flush. It was my slip! In my haste to get out of the house, I unknowingly grabbed my oldest slip. Unfortunately, it was the slip that was twenty years old with the weak elastic waistband. Flashing back to reality, I looked down and saw that not only had it fallen below my knees, it was a mass of pink lace covering my shoes. Could it have been more obvious? No one knew what to say, the lobby became hushed with silence.
Imagine the scene, me the staff psychiatrist dressed hopefully with some semblance of professionalism standing in the lobby with a twenty-year-old slip covering her ankles. What do you do in that situation? I did the only thing I could do ... I laughed! I sincerely laughed. I then tried to inconspicuously pull it up and would you believe it ... that stupid slip dropped to my ankles again. I then said to those sitting around me, "Either my weight watchers is working, or I need to buy a new slip!" Once again I laughed at myself as everyone around me seemed to relax and chuckle with me.
I wonder how Sigmund Freud, the great psychiatrist revered as the father of psychoanalytic theory, would have assessed the situation. The thought did occur to me that I "should" have felt tremendously embarrassed. I chose not to allow myself mentally to take the dark, critical path. This was a prime opportunity to beat myself up emotionally, "How could I have allowed such a ridiculous thing to happen?", "I'll never be able to face those patients again!", "I've now lost all respect in the community!" Negative demeaning thoughts I chose not to foster.
A popular cliché' is the term "Freudian Slip." This phrase describes verbal expressions that honestly describe what we are thinking but would choose not to say out loud. These unconscious verbal "slips" are usually extremely embarrassing once we realize what we have said. That day at the hospital, I literally had my own "Freudian Slip." Yet it was not a verbal expression, but an actual physical occurrence. I know personally and from my work with patients that the greatest battle each of us face daily is in our minds. "Entertain No Negativity," never a truer word spoken. Life happens ... bad, regrettable things happen to us all. The empowering reality is that we can choose how we respond to them.
It is clear we are all more alike than we are different. It is also clear, contrary to popular misconceptions, that there is no one, who is alive and breathing, who is perfect. No one has it all together all the time. That morning, a patient leaving my office who witnessed the fiasco in the lobby, stopped and turned around and whispered to me as she approached the door, "Dr. Walker, I liked the way you handled that situation, thanks."
Needless to say, that slip now has permanent residence in a separate bag in my drawer. I smile every time I see it. My "Freudian slip" was a slip that literally fell down. Yet for me that experience was a positive point of growth. I keep that old slip as a forever reminder that no matter how "down" a situation may be, that we should always look "up." God does not require perfection from us ... simply that we do our best. We must then trust Him and allow Him to remedy our needs. As we ease into 2013, this reality beckons to us all to lighten up! My "Freudian slip" bids us all to learn to daily practice the art of kindness. This reality admonishes us to realize the importance of practicing the art of kindness not only to others, but to ourselves.
"What is desirable in a man is his kindness" Proverbs 19:22 (NASB)