Learning to parent myself

I've never really gotten in touch with my inner child, but TNT is having me work on getting in touch with my inner parent.

The fact is, I'm not that good at parenting myself.  It's not that I didn't have good parents--I did.  My problem is that I never learned how to treat myself any way but harshly.  Call it the remnants of being a ruthless perfectionist, but much of my inner dialog is scolding and criticizing myself.  This frequently horrifies people, but it's rather true.

Along with the perfectionism comes black-and-white thinking.  I would seesaw between taking huge amounts of time to make the bed "perfectly" to not bothering to make it at all because it wouldn't look right anyway.  I've been known to procrastinate on doing anxiety-provoking things (like making phone calls) that nonetheless need to be done immediately.  It's all an opportunity for me to harp on myself and my carelessness, my procrastination, my anxiety, my willingness to pay a fine in lieu of making a simple phone call.

I babysat throughout 8th grade and then high school for the same family.  The two girls were more like my little sisters than the two kids I watched for a few hours every week (the oldest is now in college, which makes me feel practically ancient!).  I had to prod them into brushing their teeth at night, into washing their hands, and then read them to sleep.  They pulled some crazy stunts, as kids are wont to do.  I remember one incident where the youngest girl spent over 20 minutes "washing the soap" because it was dirty.  But I didn't yell at them or scold them.  I just kept encouraging and occasionally (metaphorically) strong-arming them into doing what needed to be done.

Although I have mixed feelings about whether I want my own children, I do know that I have parenting skills. I do okay with other people.

But with myself?  That's a different story.

For me, it helps to imagine what I would tell Aria to do.  If skipping a meal or snack would make her sick, then I would insist she eat.  It would be nice if she volunteered, or if she grew a pair of thumbs and opened the damn can herself, but if she doesn't, I would make sure she ate.  I need to learn how to do that with myself.  Be gentle but firm.

As for the criticizing bit, that's a whole 'nother story.  When I was talking to TNT yesterday, she said "Gosh, you are really hard on yourself."  And I was all "Ya think?"  People have always told me to be gentle with myself, but it's not something I've yet figured out how to do.  It's like all I can see is people who are doing more, who are more successful than me, and I feel that I "should" be doing all that and then some.  I've never learned how to give myself props, that reassuring pat on the back that I've done a really good job.  I can do that on occasion--I've finished a story recently and loved how it turned out--but not consistently enough to make any sort of difference in my day-to-day life.

That's one of the things I still need to work on, those "adult skills" that I never quite picked up.

What are some of the ways in which you have learned to be a good parent to yourself?

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Libby said...

This post makes me think that I should really do my therapy "homework"... I'm supposed to make lists of 3 things I do each day to take care of myself. It's so damned hard. Life got complicated these last few weeks and I just didn't do it. You make me think I should try again...

Anonymous said...

I'm certainly no expert here. My inner dialogue sounds like a nazi officer and pleading prisoner much of the time. But I have found one thing that, when I can make time and space to do it, sometimes quiets the inner voices. It probably sounds weird. But I've found if I can make myself make eye contact with myself in a mirror and smile- sometimes that brings a sort of peace and inner stillness for at least a while. Usually I have to accompany it with some counteracting "you" statements. "You are worth something." [No! You're a worthless bitch!] "No- you are worth something. Yes, you are." "You did good at ___" (whatever) Etc. Stand there and have the argument and try to tough it out till the "good parent" wins. (Or you scream in rage at the mirror- I've done both. That outcome is not particularly helpful.) It helps to try to compliment the mirror person and show her love instead of yourself- feels safer or something. Maybe it's not healthy- it's not a therapist given activity. And it takes so freaking much effort and is, for me, so excruciating, that I can't do it lately. But it has, in the past, served to talk me down from hurting myself kinds of places. A desperation kind of a move if you're in danger of doing something that might hurt you- relapse, cutting, etc. I feel like the hugest dork in the world writing this, so I'm going anonymous on this one...

Fellow OCD Sufferer said...

I LOVE this post! My therapist has recently started trying to tackle this issue with me. He likened my way of dealing with myself as the "authoritarian parent" who only punishes their child for their failures without indicating how the child could do better and encouraging him to make better choices next time. Instead of looking at my perceived mistakes and failures as opportunities to grow and learn, I bash myself over the head with them, internally yelling and beating myself up for what I did. Instead I should probably being trying to take a step back, evaluate what, if anything, I did wrong, and how I can do better in the future without attaching judgment to what I did so quickly.

Though I still have a lot of work to do in learning to be kinder to myself, I think the concept of mindfulness has been helpful in trying to subdue my angry inner "authoritarian parent." The whole idea of just letting my thoughts be without immediately judging them is so simple and yet it seems so profound and foreign to me. "You mean I don't have to berate myself for anything and everything I might of done wrong to teach myself a lesson and make sure I try harder in the future not to do the same thing again? Really?" - it's seems like such a novel concept! Like the authoritarian parent, I feel like I have always assumed that the only way to make myself "good enough" is to beat myself into submission. I'm just now starting to realize that maybe I don't have constantly punish and condemn myself to be just as good as everyone else, and like I said, as hippie-ish as it may sound, the concept of mindfulness has started to help me, as well as identifying and subduing my authoritarian parent approach to life.

Fellow OCD Sufferer said...

And trust me...that inner authoritarian parent is infuriated by the fact that I blatantly didn't proofread that comment...

Unknown said...

Finally I see someone with the same perspective of improving the Inner Parent for the benefit of the Inner Child.


hm said...

What a hard post, Carrie! *shaking head/furrowing brows in distress*

I'm going to stop squirming in shame and own up to my anonymous post above and make myself say [type] that IT'S OK to compliment myself sometimes and it's ok to ADMIT that I have sometimes done it and that it has been helpful-

And to add one thing further-

That feelings follow actions-

So you have to say nice things to yourself FIRST (and over and over) before you can figure out how to actually feel and think those things. You can't wait for yourself to believe them before you practice saying them, or it'll never happen.

Unknown said...

why is it SO much easier to take care of others than ourselves?

(slightly rhetorical)

have a happy thanksgiving, you deserve it!

Nina said...

I can completely relate to this. I have a new puppy and would never treat him the way that I treat myself.
When I started to recover from eating disorders, I would talk to myself like a child around meal time - "baby what do you feel like eating now, you can have anything you want". I tried to make it as much fun as possible.
Now I just need to use that same approach for the other things in my life - like phone calls!

Sarah at Journeying With Him said...

I parent myself about sleep. I could stay up all night if I let myself, but I remind myself how important sleep is to my overall well being and give myself a bed time!

Great post...I hope you can keep working on this!!

Eating With Others said...

I know your into science but cats with thumbs? That's insane! They would take over the world! You know they would. And she would still make that face at you and make you open up the cans and feed her.

Emily said...

When I look back on my beginning years with ED, I think of how painful it must have been for my mom to watch me slowly evaporate, both physically and in mind. But, she was powerless, no matter how hard she tried. You can't make someone with ED love themselves. When I lack motivation for recovery, I have on ocassion tried to motivate myself through thinking that I am not myself, but, rather, my job is to take care of this body as if it were someone that I loved. When I don't love myself, it's a mental trick that at least keeps me moving forward.

Anonymous said...

My therapist said to me recently that if I had a child and talked to him/her the way I talk to myself, he would be forced to call Child Protective Services to report me. That was kind of a wake-up call, and now I try to hear my thoughts and acknowledge when I'm being mean and maybe try to say it to myself in a more loving way. It's hard, though.


Lisa said...

My therapist has always said that I am good for advocating for myself when it comes to jobs or being mistreated in other ways...but I won't advocate for myself TO myself ( if that made ANY sense at all )

it's self care- what most of us...forget.

I'm glad you're starting to parent yourself. You deserve it


Anonymous said...

Carrie, how scary, I could see myself in your post. I TOTALLY will procrastinate so I don't have to judge myself as "failing" at something. I'm perfectionistic, and my self talk is NOT kind at all...

Thank you for posting this. Also this sounds weird and warped but I always felt bad that I wasn't anorexic, like anorexics were better at having EDs and had discipline, not like those of us who have had bulimia (and more recently BED)...

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I'm a science writer, a jewelry design artist, a bookworm, a complete geek, and mom to a wonderful kitty. I am also recovering from a decade-plus battle with anorexia nervosa. I believe that complete recovery is possible, and that the first step along that path is full nutrition.

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