Bad Habit

I have some bad habits.  Although one might say there are worse things, one of them is laughing, a lot–often times incongruently with the emotions I feel inside.  It is nervous avoidance that drives the chortle and somehow allows me to brush past the acknowledgement of a feeling. It is an involuntary habit and I’d like to catch myself doing it more, not because laughing is so bad, but I’d like to be more aware.

During the Christmas season, my daughter drew my attention to a habit I wasn’t really aware of until she named it.  We were driving along Dempster at dusk and a woman with a long, gorgeous braid of hair, wearing an ankle-length patchy winter coat was draping twinkle lights along the hedge in her front yard.  She had threaded the lights to spell “Love,” and we were both so touched by the gesture, the sense of embrace from a stranger in front of her home.  I exclaimed, “Oh, that is so wonderful,” and immediately followed that with, “Oh, I’m really bad.  I never take the time to hang lights or decorate my home so nicely.”

“Do you know you do that all of the time?” my daughter asked. She fumingly explained that every time I express admiration for someone else’s talent, attribute or deed, I habitually follow it with an affront to myself; self-deprecation, criticism. As I sat with that feedback, I understood she was right.  I could see all of the “I am bad…” attributions floating around in my recent memory of blather that spews from me involuntarily.

IMG_0222
Touched

First I felt shame to have modeled the behavior in front of my daughter.  I would be saddened to hear any of my children talk about themselves in that way.  Further, it gave me pause to consider why I do this and be more aware of the habit.  I think somewhere along the way, I came to think of humility, a value that was reinforced by my family of origin, as denying my own value.

Humility doesn’t mean self-effacement, but an effort to remain grounded and refrain from thinking I’m better than others.  Self-love is no affront to humility, but an opportunity to replenish and more authentically care for and love others. There is just so much to do and so much good to contribute, the self-ripping is over.  I choose to love myself and all of the identified and unidentified parts that add up to Penelope.

Inner Critic, Animal or Noble Intentions

Chompy!  Chompy is my ruthless protector and much like Sabine, he really really likes homeostasis.  When I’m curious and feeling experimental, vulnerable enough to put some ideas out there, his appetite is stimulated like a carnivore getting a whiff of fresh blood.  He wants me to stay exactly the same, so any efforts to peak over the precipice are swiftly cut up, shredded by his layers of razor-sharky teeth.  He is my inner critic, and I have spent most of my life having a limited perspective of his existence.  I knew he was there, enough so to allow feelings of shame or embarrassment to warm my cheeks to a blush if I dared feed his hunger with something new.

Chompy
Chompy

I met him face-to-face in an IFS session and saw my first visual representation of Chompy the Killer.  During the meditation, I felt whoozy, like I could faint and when the fog settled, there he was, crouching on his haunches, a fantastical grinning beast, baring his teeth. Menacing, spidery legs sat poised, ready to spring into action.  He morphed from a growling, spitting creature into a razory-metallic shredding machine, and I was aware of how his intimidation, spiny barbed barriers, stopped me so many times from being authentic, taking risks, connecting to inner wisdom, and the wisdom of others.  With encouragement from my therapist, I breathed and took a moment to take in his identity.  It didn’t feel quite as scary to have been introduced, still we didn’t understand each other.  My therapist encouraged me to draw or paint the imagery I found within these sessions and while I pondered doing so, I didn’t actually follow through, until…

The OSP process challenges us to develop a daily practice of art-making, even if it is a quick sketch on an index card.  I was particularly crabby one day with my kids snarking at me, (hadn’t developed a daily art practice—nor have I yet, really) feeling a bit like a punching bag.  I took a few moments to “draw it all out,” literally.  I got out the pastels and an index card, (because I felt dubious and ambivalent,) threw it down and began to strike at the card. The dark scribbling, so fitting for my mood at the time, emerged as the chomping little shredder I had met a few years back in my IFS session.  As I witnessed, I had a chat with my little chomp-animal, and in the process felt endeared to him.  He took on that Muppets-Animal appearance, his once matted coat fluffing out to billow like red feathers. In our dialogue, I asked him to cool his jets a little, and let me be.  He told me he was really there to help me avoid embarrassment and failure, but in the process, he rather sheepishly revealed his good intentions.  The dialogue tamed his fiery rage and as I scooted a little closer, his once erect-pinscher ears folded down, allowing me to caress surprisingly soft, downy plumage.  His teeth stopped chattering and spitting and a boyish, toothy grin emerged.

So, there he is.  Instead of a fearsome, terrifying beast, scaring me into submission, he now seems more like a little brother—a daring and noble little brother.  It doesn’t mean I am suddenly exempt from fear and self-suppression, but it helps to have made his acquaintance.  Instead of being paralyzed with reactivity, I can take a breath, understand rationally that he isn’t crouching to bite my ankles and then, negotiate with him a bit.  He still wields a decent amount of power, but we are working together on the possibilities of our future together.