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Easing Up On Myself
"My Inner Puppy"
By: Kitty L. Coleman
I have spent much of my life as a “master-self-beater-upper”, and had rightly earned my title of "World Class Champion Self-Flagellator". Now, others most often didn’t realize this, as it was mostly (if not totally) an “inside job.” I had a veritable Black Belt in mentally beating myself up over anything that I thought I had “messed up” on. From tiny transgressions, like misspelling a word, to more major ones, like hurting another person’s feelings. But it really didn’t matter very much; I was quite adept at merely imagining them too. Many times, while I was in the throes of a mental self-flagellation, I would later find out the perceived mistake hadn’t even happened! The person that I thought I had slighted didn’t even recall the event, let alone feel upset by it! I demanded unceasing perfection of myself. The thought that everyone makes mistakes was certainly true, and a grace that I allowed any and all others, but never, ever, myself.
Please don’t get me wrong here, I wasn’t proud of this “skill” – and it surely didn’t go very far in raising my self-esteem – but I had practiced it for so long that I was on autopilot more often than not. Often I was not even very aware of the unending barrage of self attacks I inflicted, so accustomed to them I was.
Then, fairly early in my adult life, I became aware of the self-defeating and detrimental aspects of this behavior. So now I knew that I no longer wanted to engage in that activity, but I simply did not know how to stop. That autopilot thing was pretty well running the show by that time. So with the new information that beating myself up was “wrong” – I then “graduated” to a whole new level. I began beating myself up for beating myself up.
This vicious cycle continued for many years, with me trying everything I could to be able to be kind to myself. As I grew in self-esteem I was able to slow down the incessant mental and verbal thrashings that I meted to myself, but only to a point, and only in some areas. In the “big” areas I was still relentless, the undisputed "Champion".
By my early 30’s I had begun a 12-Step Recovery Program for Adult Children, which helped considerably. The one concept that allowed me to ease up on this behavior was the concept of an “Inner Child.” As I integrated the work of "re-parenting my Inner Child", healing much of my unresolved childhood pain, and coming to understand that my “Inner Child” was still very much alive in me and deserved my love and attention in a positive way, I found a blessed oasis in the desert of my self-esteem. I began being more compassionate and considerate of myself, and greatly improved my self-talk – after all, that child that I had been had already been through enough criticism to last ten lifetimes, she surely didn’t need any more from me now.
During these same years I had also been studying metaphysics, coming to understand more about Universal Law and the power of our energies. I saw that my emotions were a huge factor in determining what I attracted in my life. So while my behavior with my self-talk was immensely improved, the impetus behind it was one of pity. I basically felt sorry for my Inner Child – in essence, seeing her as a victim. Try as I might, the only view I could conger of my “Inner Child” was one of victimization. I knew by that time that focusing on being a victim would only bring me more victimization in my life, and sure enough – it did! Eventually I began asking the Universe/God (pleading really) to give me another way to see it. I must have not had much (if any) resistance to the request, because very soon thereafter I read an article that was a perfect answer to my asking.
I owe a debt of appreciation and gratitude to Stephen Levine, even though I do not know him and have never even read any of his books. What I read was an article written by someone else (don’t even remember who now) that gave a brief reference to a concept that Stephen Levine had developed. It was a life-changing little “tool” that I use to this day.
He suggested that when we are busy beating up on ourselves for some transgression or mistake that we feel we have made, that instead of visualizing a 12-step-esque “Inner Child” to try visualizing an inner puppy (or inner kitten, or inner ferret, or inner ______, if you prefer.) He suggested that we imagine how we would treat a tiny, nearly newborn, inner puppy that had simply made a mistake. Would we berate it, scream at it, even kick or hit it, deny it food, comfort, warmth, love or shelter? Or might we treat it with patience and loving affection, giving it everything it would need to thrive? Would we soothe it, love it, feed it good food, generally take good care of this infant puppy? As I heard these words I knew I had found my answer. It was so easy for me to vibrantly see that tiny puppy, full of innocence and life, and it became easy to just love and care for it. I began to visualize this amazing little ball of fur, happy, playful, trusting, loving, and dependent on me to take care of it. I began that very day changing the way I treated myself, my inner puppy.
I have done this consistently for years now, and while I have "hung up" my Championship Black Belt of Self-Flagellation, there are still moments (though infrequent now) when I’ll catch me in the act of being critical of myself, but now, that very action brings the vivid mental image of that beautiful little being, with silky fur, so tiny and dependent, with trusting, soft eyes gazing into mine. At that moment, I am reminded and my energy instantly shifts into love and compassion. So now my behavior is much more where I choose it to be, in that I can stop any negative self-talk early on, and my energy is in alignment with that behavior, in that I am busy feeling love and compassion for that sweet, innocent little inner puppy of mine.