By: Prianca Naik
“Ugh, why did you say that? You should have kept quiet! Could you have a bigger mouth?” it said with rage and furor. My inner dialogue came at me briskly with a vengeance when I responded to my friend without giving pause after hearing her loaded question. I give at work and at home, yet when it’s time to give to myself or, even a step further, forgive myself, I find it difficult. I am not built to give myself a break; I was not raised that way. Growing up, my mother was always hard on me and for that I am grateful, as it made me the person I am today. The need to constantly improve has been ingrained in me so deeply that no amount of sanding can smooth its permanent imprint.
After having a baby, unsurprisingly, my life changed completely. That change perhaps propelled me into a mini midlife crisis. I have been evaluating where I am and where I want to be. My latest venture has been focusing on self-forgiveness and self-compassion. The irony of how much empathy I feel for others while I beat myself up regularly over everything I could be doing better has begun to dawn on me. Being kind to one’s self is an aberration and in fact, quite challenging. It takes every ounce of my energy to not play into that negative narrative of self-bashing. The first step of acknowledging the mind’s infinite chronicle I have somewhat completed. The next step encompasses leaning into that narrative and thanking it for its service. Only after mastering that, can I let that dialogue head towards its destination and finally pass me by.
When we are not busy, we are still and in that stillness lies the opening act of our inner story. It fills the vacuum within milliseconds of inactivity. That plot is different for each person. Mine is one of doubt and self-criticism. It rears its head all day long and is quite exhausting to say the least. Let’s be clear, though, that this inner dialogue has had an important role in propelling me into whatever successes I have had. That narrative got me through medical school and residency and has saved me in perilous situations. However, as much as it pains me to turn my back on it, as I have matured, I’ve realized its detriment. Perhaps I have allowed it to dominate and reign over me completely.
If one can take a step back, the tremendous amount of pressure we put on ourselves is quite comical. For instance, it’s not the end of the world if you don’t get the perfectly roasted chicken on the table or happen to run out of paper towels ten minutes before guests come over…right? The level of flawlessness that we all often try to achieve is unrealistic and unachievable. So then why do we set these unobtainable goals? A rational view of this should lead to the realization that this practice is insane.
My antidote to this process is mindfulness meditation. Meditating allows me to have silence, be not busy, and mitigate that story. Focusing on the breath centers my whole being and allows me to live in the moment and not give in to that dialogue. Trying to be present in the current moment dulls the voices of the past and future. Only after understanding this have I begun to feel I am truly living my life. I continue to be a work in progress always. The tape that is playing in my head at times still consumes me. But now that I know it exists, I can move forward and eventually see it as a distant friend.