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.
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.