As much or as many as required - sufficient, adequate, abundant.
Can I be enough just as I am? Can I allow myself to be truly myself without self judgement throughout all of the changes and sacrifices my illness has forced me to take? Acceptance of who I am now is something I still struggle with. I honestly feel that I do enough, I have enough but to accept those three words, 'I am enough' is difficult for me because I know that the choice to be who I was before my diagnosis of a chronic illness was taken from me without my consent.
As humans, we are all adapting, navigating and evolving through life. But when a chronic illness suddenly comes into your life, it doesn't feel like a natural transition. For me it felt like a sledgehammer came smashing through the wall that was my life. As I tried to put back the pieces, I had to make lots of structural changes in order to survive and cope. But somewhere inside me, I'm still not fully happy or accepting of the finished wall. It's as though a switch was flipped, I'm not sure I can pin point when it happened but I was left feeling like all of my worries and anxieties were amplified and my confidence was really effected.
I don't feel the same as I used to before and I'm not sure I ever will. It's something I'm still working on and that's ok. I know that will never achieve ‘health’ in a way that others without an illness will and I will never meet society’s standards of health, wellness or wellbeing but I do everything I can to find happiness and balance within my life, where I can.
Meeting our edges, what can they teach us?
The realisation of all of this actually came to me in a transformational and healing breathwork session of Conscious connective Breathwork with Make Some Breathing space. Duncan, the facilitator asked us a question at start of the breathwork, how would your life be if you could believe that you were enough? This immediately triggered feelings of resistance that I wasn't even consciously aware of before I thought about this question. I noticed that I couldn't quite fully mentally grasp the question.
The breathwork started and breathing into the theme, to believe that we could be enough just as we are, I couldn't believe the resistance that came up from inside me. I shed tears, I found that my mind just wouldn't believe the statement. My breath was constricted, I couldn't even meet my edges, let alone push past them. I really struggled mentally with this breathwork which is something I don't usually feel. I'm quite open to moving into my edges and meeting my shadows but this session just felt so scary for me.
Breathwork can be like therapy, it can help us access deep rooted emotions or beliefs that talking therapy often can't and part of this is because our minds often push part difficult situations in order for us to move on hit our lives, yet our bodies store the emotions and feeling from the situations. The emotions can stay unprocessed in the body without our minds really being involved.
I met something within this session and it left me feeling really out of control. I felt that the work and therapy that I have done in order to live with my condition and get on with my life was no where near enough. Breathwork can give us perspective. In this case it highlighted to me that I need to put more energy into soothing my critic, breaking down some of those judgemental beliefs and set thinking patterns that I'm not enough of a person as I used to be.
Could our greatest fear be our greatest teacher?
What is all of this teaching me? I am learning that it's ok to be gentle with myself. Most of what we encounter are thoughts, not reality. The inner critic gets involved and wears us down when we're already low. I personally need to work on disempowering the critical voice within myself.
We can’t stop the inner voice, but what if we could allow the voice to be there without the need to act upon it?
The inner critic usually speaks to try to keep us safe, a survival mechanism that we have created through our own experiences and lives - it's there to stop us from embarrassing ourselves, or check risks, or if we are doing things wrong, because doing it wrong feels dangerous and the critic is essentially our guardian trying its best to keep us safe with what it knows from our past. It may be trying to keep us safe but it can be incredibly harsh and actually the compassionate voice within us, if we allowed it to, could be just as helpful at keeping us safe as the critic.
We can't stop the inner voice, we can't ban it, but we can watch it objectively, learning to free ourselves from the cycle of negative chatter and go about our day without it controlling us. I recently read a really brilliant book The Untethered Soul, by Alan A Singer. I the book, he explains the importance of how our own minds can limit our lives and how to consciously move past those boundaries by changing how we view our thoughts and emotions. It has really helped me to understand how I respond to situations within my own life and I am learning to change my relationship with my inner critical narrative.
“There is nothing more important to true growth than realising that you are not the voice of the mind - you are the one who hears it.”
Michael Alan Singer, The Untethered Soul.
As you are the only one who hears your inner voice, you are the only one who can give it power. The critic has no power when we can understand and believe that it’s not us talking. If we think it's ourselves talking, we will be forever trying to understand and analyse it. Just witnessing the voice without trying to understand or even acknowledge what it's saying can help to build a detachment to its words. If you watch it, you can see that most of what the voice says is meaningless, it doesn’t change the outcome of your experiences, life will continue to happen with or without these thoughts. The sun will still rise and set.
Self compassion is the antidote to our critical self
We live with ourselves 24/7 so we need to be careful about which voice we listen to and act upon. The self critic is un-motivating, causes anxiety, low self esteem, limits our confidence and creates a self focused state.
In order to access our compassionate voice, we can use mindfulness practices. I recently read a practice that Dr Rick Hanson PhD, neuropsychologist shared within his TED talk. "Try regarding your inner critic as something that lacks credibility — imagine it as a ridiculous character, like a silly cartoon villain." I love this idea because when we picture it as a silly character, it allows ourselves to disempower the critical voice and also lets us detach from it being our own voice. We can start to learn how to notice when it's that voice talking, and not reality.
As it speaks, it's important to remember that the words are not your thoughts but you do hear them. Just let the words wash over you and remember as long as you don't allow the words to affect you, you're not allowing the villain to have any power.
Another lovely mindfulness practice which I learnt in therapy was to create a compassionate image. This can help when the inner critical voice is loud, we can self sooth with this compassionate image. This mindfulness practice allows you to create an imaginary idea of compassion that you can turn to when you need support. Connecting inwards, in your mind's eye, start to build the image by thinking about;
What would they look like? Human, animal, light, nature?
What would they look like if they were wise, understanding, kind and accepting? What expression would they have as they looked at you with wisdom, understanding, compassion and acceptance? How would they communicate or interact with you? What voice would you give them? What would their voice sound like for them to sound wise, understanding, kind and accepting? What words are they saying? What do you feel as you spend time with your compassionate image? What do you notice?
As I mentioned, I am learning that it's ok to be gentle with myself and I will continue to work on my own relationship to my inner critical voice. When I came into the world, this voice wasn't with me. Its been built up over years, through my life and experiences.
I'm realising now that I have the choice to allow it to have power or not.
If you would like to know more about how, when and where you can breathe with me, please feel free to get in touch, you can send me an email firstname.lastname@example.org. I am planning on hosting some online group breathwork sessions for Make Some Breathing Space and will share this information on my newsletter and on my social pages.