Why are we so hard on ourselves?
Just one day after having my third baby, I heard news that Duchess Kate had also given birth to her third. It didn’t take long for me to find myself in the hospital bed, in mesh underwear after a six hour labor, already being critical of myself. I was literally comparing myself to a Princess! How ridiculous is that!
From that time on, it was an internal battle to overcome my negative feelings about myself and my body. Though I was appreciative of all that my body had given me and had been through in the last nine months, I was nonetheless interiorly fighting some ugly thoughts about myself.
Every single time I tried to get dressed and found that none of my clothes fit me yet, I wanted to cry. You’d think after the third baby I would’ve been used to the time it takes to heal and return to my normal weight, but it was still so surprising and upsetting to me that I had to wear maternity pants for so long after having our baby.
My first solution to overcome these feelings was to find some new clothes that actually fit me. In my head I thought that maybe a whole new wardrobe would help me. I figured that even if I had to go up a few sizes, buying clothes that were bigger than I was used to was better than wearing my husbands clothes and old yoga pants every day.
So there I found myself, three weeks postpartum, enduring the torment of trying on clothes under the fluorescent lighting of a TJMAXX changing room. Let me say that again: three weeks after having our third baby I hauled my second child and my brand spanking new baby into the store to find clothes that would fit me. How in the world did I think this was a good idea?
I went searching for clothes appropriate for the hot summer weather, and when I had to go back to the floor for the fourth time to grab shorts FIVE times larger than I was used to, I felt utterly defeated. I just wanted the new clothes to “fix” all those negative feelings I was having about myself, and it only made it worse.
As I tried on one last pair of shorts, my daughter looked up at me and told me I look beautiful. Here I was, cursing my body and all my extra weight, and my sweet little girl found me beautiful. Kids are so intuitive, and as she watched me try on clothes with frustration, she surely picked up on my negative vibes. (I’m pretty sure that’s why she gave me the compliment. She sensed my sadness and wanted to fix it.)
As sad as it was, I had to laugh to myself, because this little fruit-snack-eating, happy-go-lucky, backwards-shorts-wearing girl was telling me to love myself even when I felt that I couldn’t. It was then that I realized that if I didn’t pay attention and make some changes, I had the potential to ruin proper body image for her. By hating myself and my body, I was setting the example that it is okay for her to grow up and do the same.
What I also started to realize was that I wasn’t just sending a message to my children with all my negativity. I was also showing God that I didn’t care about myself. I started to realize how much this must sadden His Fatherly heart. Just as I would never want my kids picking apart their perceived flaws and hating themselves for them, God doesn’t want us to do that either. He loves us so much, and He wants us to know how much we are worth. When He created us, He clothed us with dignity and strength, and this doesn’t depend on our size or the shape that we are in. We have value, simply because He created us and He loves us.
It was that day at TJMAXX that I realized I had to make some changes in my heart. The unkindness I was showing myself had to stop.
Initially, all the changes I made were mental. I began forcing myself to stop the negative internal dialogue, and to be more gentle with myself. Instead of beating myself up for the belly hanging over by belt, I’d remind myself of what that belly gave me and all that I accomplished through it. When my negative thoughts shot back, I would counter them with a positive affirmation of myself. I began coaching myself to be more gentle in my thoughts, giving myself room to just be happy in my own skin again–even if it was more stretched out and fluffy than I cared for.
After weeks passed and I was cleared by my doctor for exercise, I began to realize that desiring change is also okay. I started gently reminding myself that my desire to get back to my normal size and to work off all the extra weight in order to fit into my favorite pair of jeans again was okay! But I had to be sure that my desire for change was rooted in the health and wellness of my body, mind, and spirit-not some goal to reach an impossible standard. I realized that it is okay to want to grow in the skin I’m in–to become stronger, leaner, and healthier–but if I wanted to do that, I’d have to pursue those ideals with health in mind, and not beat myself up with negativity and self-loathing.
I spent the majority of my pregnancy eating unhealthily, enjoying far too many hamburgers and late night bowls of ice cream. I realized that I couldn’t go on expecting my body to be a certain way while eating so badly. But I encountered an additional problem: those habits were really hard to break after having Emilia! I had no control over what I ate! If I got an inclination to eat something unhealthy, I always acted on it. I had lost the power to say no to certain foods. It occurred to me that I would never be able to achieve the health and wellness I desired with such an unruly appetite. I had to start fasting and changing how I was eating!
I also began to understand that my inability to temper my hunger had a direct impact on my spiritual life. How could I ever develop a good interior life of prayer when I was allowing my body to dictate every decision that I made? If I couldn’t get control over what I ate, how was I going to be able to get up early to pray without hitting the snooze button, or sit in silence with God without getting restless? This is why fasting is so important! It helps us realign our appetites, and gain control over our bodies. If we don’t have that control, we’re ultimately slaves to our bodies, and our spirits suffer for it.
After all of this reflection, I realized that in order to truly start loving myself the way that I should, I had to quit pretending that a few good choices would counter the many bad ones I was making for myself. I had to quit pretending that just a little bit of work and good habits were all it was going to take to lead a healthy lifestyle. I had to commit to making permanent changes, and quit looking for the easy way out.
Health and wellness is not a once in a while thing. If we want to be healthy and feel our best, we have to daily make good decisions for ourselves.
In a certain sense, today is in my hands.
Today I can focus on loving myself and progressing in my goals.
Today I can cut back on the junk food I eat, and focus on eating healthier.
Today I can make time for myself to pursue my goals by watching a little less TV. I can pray more, love more, exercise more, work more.
Today I can make little changes to become the best-version-of-myself by making good choices for my mental, spiritual, and physical well-being.
Today I have the power to love myself and to treat myself well.
We have to internalize the undeniable fact that God has endowed us with great power: we have the power today to be more kind to ourselves and to be our own best cheerleader. We have the power to treat ourselves lovingly when we fail to meet our own expectations, but also push ourselves to achieve our goals. And above all, we have the power to love ourselves, because God created us with dignity and strength. Instead of waiting on other people to do that for us, we have to realize that confidence begins when we start loving ourselves and treating ourselves with great care.
Call to Action:
-Focus daily on loving yourself.
-Work hard to pursue your goals, but don’t beat yourself up when you fail to meet your own expectations. Just pick yourself up and try again!
-Begin fasting a little bit here and there, in order to help temper your insatiable appetites.
-Always remember that God loves you and that if you are worth every bit of His love, you need to work hard on loving yourself, too.
“She is clothed with strength and dignity, and laughs at the days to come.”-Proverbs 31:25 .
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