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What You Tell Yourself Matters

It is always wonderful when family comes together. I especially love the stories we tell as we go through old pictures. Good family memories bring laughter and love to the surface.

Recently, we were all enjoying the memories of times gone and recalling fun moments. But then one picture struck me with such force I thought I would fall off my chair. It was as if I was physically punched in the gut. My reaction was immediate. I was mortified. Humiliated. Embarrassed. I wanted to run out of the room. At a minimum I begged that the picture be shredded. I was not kidding. This was not even near funny.

The picture was of my 15-year-old self. As I gazed upon it with my 53-year-old eyes, I saw an awkward teenage girl and absolutely cringed for her. As I write this I would like to say I was able to laugh about the photo and my reaction. But I can’t.

I don’t know whether to laugh, cry or scold myself for my overly harsh criticism. I should have recognized my former self in the midst of figuring out who she was. Never did it occur to me that the picture I was looking at was actually of a pretty confident 15-year-old girl. As I sit here thinking about it, I can’t remember myself as a confident 15-year-old girl. I wish I could. All my memories are of a shy girl who constantly struggled to fit in. Yet that girl in the picture was anything but shy.

What’s happened to my memory? Which memory is real — my current memory or what I saw in that picture? And perhaps more importantly, what has happened to my views? Why did I feel shame and disgust? I should have been very proud of her bravado. That girl had a healthy dose of boldness. Audacity. Instead I want to turn to my mom and ask her what she was thinking — how could she ever let me behave like that? As if my behavior was her responsibility and not my own.

But as I write this, I see out of the corner of my eye a poem that I have carried around with me since high school. This poem has helped me to be kinder to and more forgiving of myself. The words have helped me understand perspective is reality. My lens, while truthful for me, can lead me astray when it comes to viewing others.

That girl in the picture was beautiful. She had a lot to offer. I am proud of her for moving forward, finding her true self, and accepting no other definition for her but her own.

Each day I grow into who I am supposed to be. I am sure of whom I am today.

Be thankful for your journey and those who you have met along the way. Reintroduce yourself to you, now. Be ever mindful of what you allow your voice to tell you. It can be a powerful stepping stone or a major obstacle on the way to meeting your goals.

Our thoughts directly impact our feelings and our behavior. Our inner voice rules. It directs our self-fulfilling prophecies. Once we accept who we are, others will see the beauty too. We need to stop being victim to our own verbal abuse.

Here are some tips that have worked for me: (1) Control and direct your thoughts. If you notice a critical or negative inner voice, stop it immediately. Focus on the positive. Take time away from thinking and criticizing. By all means stop worrying about the future. Be here in the present. (2) Be as kind and real with yourself as you are with loved ones. If you are beating yourself up for not being able to do something, take a moment and hug yourself and be thankful you tried. Stop measuring yourself against others who are not in your shoes. (3) Balance self-improvement with self-acceptance. You don’t always have to strive to be better. Just be. Be who you are. Let that be enough. (4) Train your brain with positive mental strength exercises. Silence the toxic self-criticism and replace it with acceptance. You are not who you were. Stop wishing for more and really celebrate the good things about you now.

We all have value. Identify and celebrate yours.

Insight

I took a step

out of myself

to see what I could see.

How I wish I could

read the thoughts of others

to know what they see as me.

It’s amazing how our friends

describe us and can be so definite

as to who we are,

when we ourselves

even though we’ve been inside

will never understand that far.

Lesslee Dort, an Alpena native, is a board-certified patient advocate who firmly believes knowledge is power when it comes to being in control of one’s health. She spends her days helping others navigate their healthcare and her free time exploring. Reach Lesslee via email lesslee@friendstogethermi.org. Read her here the third Thursday of each month.