Ever since I was fifteen years old, I’ve used a strategy to help me get out of the cycle of beating myself up. I didn’t realize I had been using this method for decades until after Charles died when I started writing “alter ego” posts here. It’s what I do to get myself out of the habit of self criticism.
When I was a young teen, I would join in those teen conversations about hating this body part or that. “My thighs were too fat.” “I am too tall.” I realized this self deprecating talk was dragging me down.
If I don’t lift myself up, how can I expect others to? Slowly, I eradicated all self-imposed meanness towards myself. But that doesn’t mean it was cold turkey.
Denying those feelings exist doesn’t work
The alter ego process was and is a way to work through those feelings and allow me to throw darts at myself with the end result being to end on a positive note–an agreement of such between me and my alter ego. It has helped me work through how others see this and might react. A way for me to work through the fear of stepping outside the lines into unknown territory. It’s what has given me permission to be bold.
It’s been through this process that I realize, “So what?” When I’ve gone through it, many social traditions we’ve held onto make no sense any more.
The sixth coping strategy is “make your alter ego your ally.”
This works in grief. But also works in pretty much any area of life
If you’ve ever fallen into the pattern of being self critical, this is a way to work through it. There are enough things in life to push me into dark places without my having to help dig the hole.
This is how I coped with the coulda, woulda, shoulda after Charles’ suicide. And when I wanted to go public with my family’s story, I was terrified. I had to use this process to find out what I was so afraid of and was it really that big? It does tend to whittle down big fears and make me realize what is the worst case scenario, similar to when my aunt would say, “Will the sky fall if you do that?”
So here’s how it works
This is one I wrote soon after Charles died as it pertained to publishing the emotionally naked stories written here including the ones about grief. It illustrates how I felt after writing this article. As you can see, I fight back with my alter ego to work through the arguments, eventually reaching an understanding.
Alter Ego: Are you really going to push that “publish” button and depress everyone?
Me: Well that’s not why I am writing all this.
Alter Ego: Then why?
Me: I am not sure why.
Alter Ego: Then why bring everybody else down? Who wants to read this crap? No one wants to be dragged into your grief about your dead child. Who wants to hear about that? This is your journey not theirs.
Me: They don’t have to read it. It’s not a required reading assignment
Alter Ego: You know people are going to feel forced or obliged to reach out because they feel sorry for you.
Me: I wondered about that at first. But friends and family have been very supportive. I don’t think we grievers give others enough credit.
Alter Ego: Then what’s this all about?
Me: I think it’s OK to express grief. We used to wear black to let the world know we are hurting. For some reason now we are supposed to buck up and deny the hurt, get back on the speed train and move on. People should not feel ashamed of hurting.
Alter Ego: Do you really think anyone cares?
Me: I do. Look. I’m not the only one out there hurting. That’s the point. I want others to know they are not alone, that “being strong” doesn’t mean glazing over things and jumping back into the saddle. That crying doesn’t mean you are weak, it means you are healing
Alter Ego: But why put that on Facebook Debbie Downer?
Me: Because that’s where people are. We’ve made Facebook our own fake reality show. A lollipop land of shiny faces, perfect families–sons and daughters.
Alter Ego: What’s the matter with that?
Me: When you look over the landscape it looks like everyone is having a perfect life. And it’s a dangerous façade. Those suffering think no one wants to hear what they have to say because it reveals the darkness in their soul. So they feel ashamed and they keep it to themselves. But we need to listen. Or we lose people we love– like I did.
Alter Ego: So you want to make social media depressing is that it– a big whine fest of hurting souls?
Me: No. I want hear the good stuff, too. But I don’t want to bury the hurt. Charles buried the hurt but used his lyrics to express it. It offered him relief. I am doing the same. It’s a release for me, too.
Alter Ego: Charles would want you to do this?
Me: Yes. I didn’t realize that until right…now. Thank you Charles.
Alter Ego: I understand now. Push that “publish” button. You’ll drive me nuts all night if you don’t and I won’t get any sleep!
Other examples are below.
This is unorthodox. Or maybe it’s not? But it does work. It takes time to shed the habit of self punishment but now, when people engage in self critique, women, especially, I don’t participate. I might listen but I’m not going there. Beating myself up doesn’t help me reach any goal other than hurting myself. So why do it?