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When Those Overly Critical Feelings Creep Back In…

I started to talk about this some in a recent Instagram Stories series, and y’all seemed interested in me digging into it further in a post. So…here we are, gathered to talk about insecurity and those hyper-critical feelings that can really become pervasive FAST (if you’re anything like me).

(This got long once I started writing. Bear with me!)

I’ve shared with y’all about my years-long struggle with an eating disorder, and the hard work I did to push beyond that incredibly unhealthy (in more ways than one) habit. Very little of that work had anything to do with food. It mostly had to do with coming to terms with the fact that I’m not perfect and never will be, and that constantly trying to reach for perfection was keeping me from being fully present and completely joyful in my life.

It was tough, realizing all the hours, days, weeks, months, YEARS I’d spent obsessing over that unattainable ideal when that time and energy and focus could have been put toward living life and having fun experiences and building and sustaining relationships. Sure, those things all happened, but think about how much more I would have enjoyed them without that nagging cloud hanging over me.

I can honestly say that now, for me, that cloud has been replaced by blue skies most days. MOST DAYS. (And for that, I’m both thankful and proud — because it was hard work to get there!) I much prefer a life that’s not centered around perfection, and feel more, well, HUMAN as a result.

But. BUT.

That most definitely doesn’t mean that those familiar negative feelings are always kept at bay. Nope. They still find ways to creep into my brain, and often will stick around for a few days or even a week or two before I can fully kick them out. The good news is I’ve gotten good at identifying them quickly and knowing right away that they need to leave. The bad news is it can still take time for me to free myself of those feelings.

I have a specific example I can share from this past weekend, and I’ll get to that in just a second.

First, though, I wanted to mention that I wanted to write this post — to share these insecurities — because I think it’s important to talk about these struggles even (and perhaps especially) for those of us “on the other side” of those constant feelings of not-enoughness. I know I’ve fallen victim so often to reading a blog post or Facebook post or seeing an Instagram Story where a girl talks about how her life is so great now that she’s put in the work to banish some of those feelings of insecurity and feeling so…annoyed by it. “Yeah, sure it’s easy for HER to feel great…” Maybe you’ve even felt that way while reading a post of mine, because I’ve written my fair share of the “life’s so amazing now” kind of posts. And it’s true — my life IS better now. But my life’s NOT perfect. (That’s the whole point, after all.) And those feelings WILL find a way back in periodically. Even for “that girl” on Facebook or Instagram. (The difference, though, is in her response to those feelings.)

Okay, here’s my latest experience with these feelings:

Last weekend I, for some reason, became obsessed with the thought that my legs were terrible. To be honest, I’ve never loved my legs. I mean, they’re FINE, but certainly not my favorite feature. Typically, though, I don’t think much about them. But this past weekend? I could NOT stop obsessing over them.

Kevin, Maggie, and I were at the beach with my in-laws having a wonderful time, and so these overly critical feelings were a most unwelcome addition to the otherwise happy collection of emotions surrounding the holiday weekend. And yet, there they were.

I’d like to say I got over it fast. That I was able to push those critical feelings out of my brain swiftly and move right on. (Often I AM able to do that these days. Yay, me!) But this time, those feelings stuck around. Maybe (likely) I let them stick around. Throughout the weekend, I found myself furiously Googling things like “workouts for thinner legs” and “foods to eat for slimmer legs” and “fat loss thighs” — you get the idea. I wondered if I should start spin class again, and looked into gym memberships. I started paying super close attention to other girls’ legs on Instagram, comparing mine and usually deciding that mine fell dreadfully short. Every full-body photo I saw of myself was terrible because — LEGS. Ew.

Typing it out almost makes me blush. It seems SO silly. I mean, consider this: I was at the beach (my favorite place in the world) with Kevin and Maggie (my favorite PEOPLE in the world) on a three-day weekend (yay!), and the whole thing was tainted by this stupid, critical obsession. (Not to mention that my legs are just fine. Aside from how they look — solidly okay, I think — they are strong and they allow me to do things I love like Pure Barre and chase Maggie around the house and explore the world.) And then those negative feelings drift into my whole demeanor and I just feel terrible. We got back from the beach and I was still in a funk for sure.

(Because, of course, this wasn’t about my legs, really.)

Finally, yesterday afternoon, I decided it was time to snap out of this.

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Maggie and I went on a long, leisurely walk before dinner, and I gave myself a good (internal) talking to. I reminded myself that I’d been here before, too many times to count. But now, thankfully, I know how the other side feels, and I’m willing to put in the work to get back there. First, I let myself really consider the critical feelings I was having, and I tried to understand where those feelings might be stemming from. (Rather than just pushing them away, I wanted to acknowledge and, perhaps, understand them. Was I feeling like parts of my life were uncertain or up in the air? Was I feeling lacking in some way?) I reminded myself that my legs were strong and healthy — I could feel them working hard during our walk. I pretended to feel thankful for them. Then, slowly, I actually DID feel thankful for them. I made myself talk to myself the way I’d talk to a friend and, in doing so, became much kinder to myself. When I got back home, I felt a million times better. I felt lighter and happier — more like the version of myself I’ve grown accustomed to (the one who doesn’t obsess like this on the regular anymore).

So back to those feelings of annoyance I have sometimes when I read things from girls who seemingly have everything “all figured out” — this is a reminder that no one feels amazing all the time. This whole thing is a journey. And it’s a reminder that (as we all know), it’s SO easy to think people’s lives are bright and shiny and so much better than ours. Remember that “comparison is the thief of joy,” as Theodore Roosevelt said. I have let comparison steal SO MUCH OF MY JOY through the years, and I owe it to myself to continue to work to change that. And yes, it will be ongoing, lifelong work — although it does begin to get easier. I didn’t always believe that would be true, but thankfully it has been for me.

A couple of years ago, I wrote a three-part series here on my blog about learning to be kinder to myself. (You can read those posts here, here, and here.) In re-reading those posts just now, I was reminded of the concept of self-compassion (as opposed to self-esteem), and how important it is to harness this thinking in your own life:

“People feel self-compassion because they are human, not because they are special or above average. It emphasizes interconnection rather than separateness. With self-compassion, you don’t have to feel better than others to feel good about yourself. It also offers more emotional stability than self-esteem because it is always there for you — when you’re on top of the world, and when you fall flat on your face.” – Psychology Today

NO ONE is perfect. NO ONE has a perfect life. NO ONE feels amazing all the time. And while I hope you feel happy as much as possible, I also hope this post can be a reminder that when you DON’T feel happy, that’s okay, too. We’re human, and we have emotions and hormones and ups and downs. That’s part of really living life — experiencing ALL those things, as well as the in between, more everyday stuff. (I’m writing this as much for myself as anyone else, by the way! I certainly need this ongoing reminder.) Give yourself some grace, try to understand and acknowledge the feelings, work to snap out of your funk, and know that those feelings are so very human.

(And feel free to reach out any time if you need someone to talk to in the meantime. No, I’m not a counselor or anything, but I sure can relate — and I can remind you to be kind to yourself, which can be the hardest thing to remember to do when you’re smack dab in the middle of that hyper-critical place.)

P.S. Many of you sent me the kindest messages via Instagram last night after I shared via my Stories how I’d been feeling over the past few days. Thank you, times a million. It meant more than you know.

 

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