Who Are You to Ask Yourself Crushing Questions?
No such thing as a stupid question? Maybe not, but in the realm of self-talk, questions can certainly be most unkind. Sometimes I tell my clients not to ask themselves disempowering questions. Notice the question is disempowering (self-demeaning, deflating, discouraging, unkind) and DROP IT. Approach what you're wondering about from another angle. But another interesting tactic is to answer the questions you ask yourself—especially when they're mean-spirited or sarcastic. Unanswered, they may leave you feeling stuck with the defeating messages they imply.
Who does that?
Someone told me recently about staying too long in an emotionally abusive relationship, making one excuse after another for her partner. She didn't want to give up on him or to declare him unworthy by leaving, so she hung in there for the ongoing manipulations and verbal attacks that eroded her own self-worth. “Who does that?” she bemoaned.
Uh, short answer? Lots of people. Pause for a quick brainstorm, and you'll find more plausible answers in no time:
Better, right? Leaving Who does that? unanswered only leaves in place the clueless loser who obviously fills in the blank. Answer it, and self-compassion comes in—and even points you to growth and healing.
What was I thinking?
You've asked yourself this one, right—in the realm of work or love or parenting? It's another self-scolding question that can invite kindness and bring insights—but only once it's genuinely answered. This question is interesting in that it's actually more helpful to answer it in the negative. That is, consider what you weren't thinking, or what you didn't have in view.
Just a few answers shed a kinder light already. Now you can better see how to course-correct—make amends, invite deeper communication, forgive yourself.
Do I get to have my cake and eat it too?
My client Marie asked me this recently when she feared she was being entitled by quitting a sought-after job (in which she felt her dignity was at stake—quitting was actually a great call). And now, here she was wanting an even better job! The question itself clearly reveals it's not okay at all, in her current mental framework, to want so very much.
For questions like this, drop the metaphor and consider what's really being asked. Try answering these instead:
Marie's loaded version is a great example of how questions to the self can reveal the deep, unresolved stuff people carry around unconsciously. She'd gotten repeating messages in childhood and beyond that life requires working hard, making sacrifices, accepting that you can't have it all, and so on—until she couldn't want more than two things without calling herself unrealistic and entitled! It's so useful to dig this stuff up, give it a good look, and consider what else is possible.
You won't get to the good stuff by leaving a question hanging, though. Are you kidding me? How's that working for you? Take a breath, please, and take a moment to answer the question. You just may land in kindness and clarity.
Love & blessings, Jaya
P.S. My last example leads me to this: I highly recommend The Big Leap, by Gay Hendricks. This book brilliantly addresses the Upper Limits Problem--those unconscious places where we think we've got as much as it's okay to have in any realm of life; where we get uncomfortable and start to sabotage the expansion and integration seeking to support our ongoing journey of healing and evolution and of becoming all that we're here to be!
“I KNOW IT INTELLECTUALLY BUT …”
But? But your heart can't rise to such lofty thinking? Your gut's in a wad, like it just got punched, and won't let the message filter down?
I'm fascinated to watch people push the logical mind away from matters of the heart, as if head and heart don't speak the same language. In fact, they do. I want to invite you to bring them both to the table for parley. You're out of whack when you feel this divide, and it's important (and actually not that hard) to realign.
SAY THE WHOLE SENTENCE.
When someone bringing me active pain launches some “I know it in my head” sort of statement, I often hit the pause button and have them find what they're actually saying—and actually say it.
THERE'S NO PROBLEM WITH HEAD-HEART LAG.
So what that you know the truth but you're not feeling it yet? You'll get there. Feelings do come along later—have you noticed? Nobody says, “I know in my heart that it's okay she died peacefully in her sleep at 85, but my head just can't wrap around it.” You're right on schedule if your wounded feeling self is limping along (even dripping a bit of blood) behind the seemingly cold, antiseptic facts. Those facts could actually support your emotional self in its healing (I'll tell you how—read on). So really, truly: there's no problem.
YOU COULD MAKE IT A PROBLEM, THOUGH.
Don't use head-heart lag as an excuse not to budge. When coaching clients tell me, “I know it intellectually, but ...” they're often starting to argue for limitations or declare that they're stuck stuck stuck. Okay, so you see you're not fully aligned with the truth of your situation. Good to notice—actually useful to take in. But don't stop there. Having noticed, now move toward alignment.
WHATEVER YOU DO, DON'T PUT YOUR HEART IN CHARGE HERE.
If the heart leads the head, you'll just get more out of whack. I'm not talking about distrusting the heart or making the head more important. In this specific case, when you know something to be true that the heart has not yet gotten behind, you'll just make trouble if you decide for the uncertain, hurting heart and disregard what you understand as true for you. Have you ever watched in horrid fascination while someone you love talked themself back into the bad relationship? Ay, bolstered by the beating bruise inside the chest, they listed reason after reason why this (perfectly normal, if harsh) pain meant they must hurry back to Way Wrong. What you watched them do was yank the mind into alignment with the heart.
Anyone can find or fabricate reasons those strong, compelling feelings must be telling the truth. The mind is adept at digging up evidence for any idea, true or false. (Remember your high-school self in speech class compiling proof for both sides of the debate?) But you're going the wrong direction if you try aligning head with heart, and this could mean a costly detour. Go the other way. How, again?
DO USE YOUR HEAD TO SOOTHE YOUR HEART.
Make soothing yourself a priority, especially when feelings are raw. If you put your head in charge, this doesn't mean you have to shove down feelings (bad idea!) or treat them like they don't matter in the face of sound logic (odious self-invalidation). Instead, you can actually use your capacity to reason to gently bring the heart along. (It actually wants to catch up.)
Tell your feeling self anything you can believe that's actually true. Let's say you made the short list of job candidates but didn't get the offer. Tell yourself: I was one of three seriously considered out of many. I got their attention. The interviews went swimmingly—I even had fun. I presented well. This is good news, not bad. My experience is solid—I feel great about my resume. It doesn't mean I'm not good enough if someone else was a better fit. That won't keep me from the right job for me. I even see why this wasn't the one (and name those reasons specifically). …
Do carry on. Keep using what you know intellectually to speak sweetly to the heart, and be sure you tell only the truth.
Here's a trick: Don't expect what the head comes up with to make the heart instantly stop hurting. You're just soothing the heart—not fixing it, not making it all better. You're being there for yourself, letting the wiser part of you help you scooch from wretched to bearable, and eventually to total healing. Allow the journey, and trust it. Trust your knowing. What you know intellectually can help your heart find its way to alignment.
TRY SAYING THIS
I know it intellectually and I'm holding my heart kindly while it catches up to the facts. I know I don't need to rush this, and I'll review what I know to be true often so I don't start telling myself lies or yanking my tender heart in the wrong direction. I trust my process and intend to make it as kind as I can.
Love & blessings, Jaya