My inner abuser wrote the subtitle.
She’s got a love for all things S&M. She’s unkind in a playful way (but actually means it). My inner abuser is genuinely nasty and overly dramatic about it.
We all have an inner abuser.
I know that’s a harsh word, but I’m talking about that harsh voice that uses abusive statements to get our attention. Statements that, if said to you by an outsider, you’d label as verbal or emotional abuse.
I’m guilty of self-abuse; a lifetime of it.
My inner voice isn’t soft and nurturing like it is to others. My inner voice is often a raging sadist wanting to whip me into some kind of servitude with its unkind words.
The words I often speak to myself are words I would never tolerate from a partner or friend. They are words I would never say to my daughter. So why do I say them to myself?
My experience in therapy and understanding of psychoanalysis as a therapist myself root it all back to childhood. Yes, my family was dysfunctional. But most likely, yours was too. Us humans are all imperfectly perfect beings trying to make our way on this planet. Some of those imperfections come in the form of abuse. My mom was verbally and emotionally abused as a child. It was a learned behavior. She was open with us about her journey. She made mistakes and she often took ownership of them. We tried family therapy; but by that time, the damage had been done.
Unfortunately, my introverted self internalized all that abuse. Instead of taking it out on others, I took it out on myself. You could say my inner world was like an S&M dungeon. I seemed to get off on the inner abuse. It was like I was addicted to the way those demeaning words made me feel. I liked it and I didn’t like it at the same time. It was a bit of a fetish — one I felt ashamed about.
Patterns that ingrain themselves in us from childhood form neural pathways in the brain.
They create grooves that the nervous system gets used to. The comfortable discomfort I grew up with was my norm.
The desire for change was always there, hanging before me like a mirage. It felt unreachable, even impossible as long as I was living with my parents.
My inner child always knew things could be different. She craved kind words and supportive voices. She dreamed of hugs and pats on the back in lieu of little physical affection and physical punishment or verbal abuse. My inner child knew there was a brighter world outside of the dungeon that had been created for her in her childhood.
Change isn’t easy. If it was, it wouldn’t be the hot topic most Medium writers’ creative juices thrive off of.
As I began to sort out my past through writing, therapy, and mindfulness, the grooves in my brain started to reshape themselves. It’s been a slow process. Changing habits is honestly a process with a life-long learning curve. That’s why it takes a commitment to ongoing practice. If it took a childhood for those patterns to form, I need to give myself at least a few years to really engrain the new patterns.
Years upon years of doing something one way doesn’t amount to a snap of the finger shift. I wish it was that easy, and I bet you do too.
. . .
Here are 3 ways I am retraining my brain that are beginning to shift my inner voice from a harsh abuser to a kind supporter.
It’s a new buzzword. I know. But it works! In low, self-sabotaging moments I can look around the room and say, Thank you. Thank you for my cozy home. Thank you for the food in my fridge. Thank you for my sweet and soulful 8-year-old daughter. Thank you for my breath. And on and on it goes. Gratitude has been scientifically proven to boost our mood, sending endorphins to the brain and increasing neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin. Gratitude instantly shifts our mindset out of the victim role and into an empowered, co-creator role. Gratitude increases compassion for self and others. Saying thank you makes life your friend, not your enemy.
Like gratitude, research has also proven that mindfulness shifts our mood and de-stresses us. We can move from that sympathetic (fight or flight mode) into parasympathetic (relaxed mode) by simply using our senses to focus on the present moment.
A Mindfulness Practice:
Take a deep breath right now and notice the sound of your in-breath. Now hold it for a moment. Now exhale out through your mouth very slowly. Notice the sound of the exhale. Now take a mindful breath in again, noticing the temperature of the breath. Exhale out through the nose and notice the temperature. Is it different with the in-breath than with the out-breath? We can move through the breath awareness this way using all the senses. After a few minutes of this, you forget about the fact that your mind was just stressing you out. Maybe you already feel more relaxed after just reading and practicing?
After doing mindfulness practice for even a short period of time, thoughts and feelings begin to soften. We give our whole selves space to be breathed. There are so many apps (I like Insight Timer and Calm) that offer free mindfulness practices. Studies show even 10 minutes of mindfulness a day can begin to reduce stress levels.
Yoga, Tai Chi, Chi Gong or some form of mindful movement —
A practice where you move mindfully in a breath-guided way relaxes the nervous system, quiets the mind and melts the heart open. Sometimes this mindful movement can make us more emotional. As a yoga instructor for over a decade, I’ve had plenty of meltdown moments on the mat in my own practice where tears flowed from who knows where.
There is now research showing emotions do get stored in tissues. Bessel Van Der Kolk’s book, Your Body Keeps the Score is a game-changer — and his research on how trauma is stored in the body is changing the way psychology views somatic work. Specific yoga poses (like hip openers) can release deeply stored tension and unprocessed emotion. I’ve observed many students crying in practice. Emotional release is a healthy part of mindful movement practice.
My learned self-abuse has no doubt taken a toll on my nervous system. I’ve experienced my mind roaring at me on my yoga mat, and, as I stay with my breath, that roar either turns to tears or melts into joy in an instant as the sensations in my body shift and move through my tissues. It’s really a miraculous process to observe. And the beauty of any mindful movement practice is that connects the body, heart, and mind. Practitioners feel a sense of peace and connection with self that affects their lives away from the practice itself.
Humans are highly emotional beings with deep-thinking minds.
Our minds can be our best friends or our worst enemies in an instant. My experience with meditation has shown me that the movements of the mind are akin to a band of wild horses. It takes patience and perseverance to tame the wild horse mind. It takes compassion to find patience for the taming process. It takes grounded presence in the skin you’re in to remember you always have a choice.
Our thoughts may run rampant, but we choose the ones we decide to entertain. In my own self-compassion work, I’m learning to choose differently.
My all-time favorite quote is Gandhi’s “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” To me, it speaks to this process. Realizing every moment we can choose differently. What if the world had this realization one soul at a time? In my idealistic fantasy, a world where every soul chose differently would end the cycle of self-abuse.
And I think to myself what a wonderful world
Yes I think to myself what a wonderful world
~Louis Armstrong, What a Wonderful World
We have to be the change. As I move out of the dungeon and into the light of day, I have hope that other humans will join me.
Won’t you join me?
This post was previously published on P.S. I Love You and is republished here with permission from the author.
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