Sometimes seemingly meaningless interactions happen in our life. They can be harmless or feel like no big deal because we find a way to cope through it. Those coping patterns we develop from that interaction can lead to more unhealthy patterns and so on.
Have you ever wondered what the impact of an offhand comment or a nasty remark might be on someone? Would it ever occur to you that they could have a life long impact on a person? We all have a record of self-talk that only we can hear. Some people are very lucky and their self-talk record is confident, strong, empowering as a result their sense of self is strong and often times unshakeable. However, for others that self talk record plays a very different tune. It plays one that undermines confidence, erodes belief in self, belief in abilities. If this record is allowed to play long enough that is what we can start to believe. Even when the successes occur, or the friendships form, or the love comes it can be easily dismissed as luck for success, or pity for friendship or even loneliness for the love. Of course, rationally and logically we know these things aren’t true but when the Tiger takes over it is hard to fight. But how did the Tiger to grow, who put that record on and why the fuck did they leave it on repeat?!
Once there was this little girl she had lived overseas with her family for a few years. She had a strong sense of self, she knew she was loved; she was secure in her place in the world. She was confident, smart, worked hard, and understood the “rules”. When you are compliant, friendly, work hard then that is pleasing to other children, family and teachers. When you act out, throw tantrums, don’t try then that is upsetting to others and you get left out by friends or in trouble from parents or teachers for not trying hard enough. This makes a lot of sense even now to the adult woman that little girl grew into. However, what that little girl was about to discover was that sometimes the rules aren’t specific, sometimes the rules change at a moments notice and even harder to understand sometimes the rules are very different for different people in her life and it was going to be very difficult to keep all of those people happy AND still be the happy, confident, friendly, smart little girl. At this point in her life the tiger was really only tiny, it was fluffy and cute.
Starting high school can be a daunting moment in life for everyone. In fact it is probably a pivotal point in most people’s lives. This was the second time that this little 11yr old girl started high school. The schooling system she had come from was different and had placed her based on academic ability a year ahead of her peers in Australia. However, on return to Australia even though academically she could have gone into the second year of high school socially really the last year of primary school would have been best. So a compromise was achieved she went into high school starting in Year 7. This first day was incredibly overwhelming there were nearly 2000 girls in the school with 200 in her year alone. The school she had come from overseas was much smaller with around 300 in the entire school and 50 or so students in her year. Her safe, secure world was about to crumble. There was a scratch in her record it got stuck on scared and her cute, cuddly, fluffy tiger cub started to grow.
It turns out that being yourself is not enough to make friends, teachers have certain expectations based upon reports and results, parents know what you were achieving previously so in the middle of this a little 11yr old girl gets very confused. Her self-talk record is starting to change, her confidence is shattered, and her tiger cub is starting to gain a life all of its own. The rules it seems were no longer working.
What we want to happen is that we want the record to keep affirming our sense of self, our tangible sense of connection to people and place, to keep the tiger as a cute and fluffy tiger cub. Unfortunately this isn’t what happens. It is a very Australian pastime to keep people in their place, to make sure that we don’t get too ahead of ourselves, it is almost a favourite pastime to ensure people don’t get too big for their boots. A healthy dose of reality is never a bad thing in the self-talk for someone who has a strong self-talk record and a cute and fluffy tiger cub.
For this little girl starting high school changed all the rules. She no longer had friends, girls would pretend they were her friends and then do awfully cruel things to her or her things, she was no longer sure of her place in the world. She developed strategies to be more likeable, unfortunately these strategies meant that she would also have to break other rules and disappoint the adults in her life. She once had a teacher tell her that she “was stupid and would amount to nothing”, as an adult that little girl can see that he thought this would motivate her to try harder unfortunately that message got stuck on her record. So too did the messages from the other girls that she needed to be different things to them she wasn’t good enough, and that ultimately the friends she did make she became sure it was out of pity not because she was worthy.
Her record was changing fast to one where her sense of self was undermined by those around her, she believed she was useless, worthless, a disappointment, unlovable. Her record got stuck on repeat and her Tiger cub grew. By now she was an adult.
Her strategies for coping with her Tiger and record were to appear incredibly confident (while dying on the inside). In friendships she would always be the one helping out, organising get togethers, going above and beyond to ensure that her friends couldn’t do without her in their lives. But deep down she actually questioned whether they really actually liked her and yet she hated that feeling of loneliness so would do anything to keep a friend in many cases to the very point of driving them away. She was like this in relationships too. All the while her record kept playing telling her that her success at work was not because she deserved it or had worked hard for it. Her record kept feeding her tiger and undermining her at every turn, the harder she tried to outrun the tiger, the louder her record played.
It turns out for this little girl who has by now grown into an adult, who appears to the outside world to have it all together, she has a family who loves her, she is surrounded by friends who care for her not for what she does but for who she is, she has a home, she has an education yet still the tiger grows. The record still tells her that she is a failure as a parent, wife, friend; a disappointment as a daughter; useless, worthless, needy, unlovable and everyone would really be better off without her around.
This little girl is learning that this record is not the right one for her. She is learning that the Tiger has had her in his grip for far too long and that it is time for the Tiger to let go. She is slowly reprogramming her record. It is hard work to change. Especially when these beliefs have become so real that in fact it is hard to think of her in any other way even though the reality of her life tells a different story.
Never underestimate the power of that offhand comment to someone. Words have so much power; I guess that is why the Internet seems to proliferate trolls because some people get a perverse sense of pleasure from seeing others hurting. The thing is though that pain can turn to suffering and suffering becomes unbearable.
Like the little girl you need to believe in yourself. You need to cut off the food supply to your Tiger. This will be incredibly hard, it will feel uncomfortable because you are so used to feeding your Tiger, you almost believe that you don’t deserve the happiness, the contentedness, the good things that might come your way. While you cut off the food supply the Tiger will continue to ravage in your head, it will fight for supremacy and as you starve it into submission it will hurt. You need to show yourself self love, self compassion, forgiveness.
Believe that you are strong. Believe that you are capable. Believe that you are loveable. Believe that you are a good person. Believe that you have so much to offer to friends, family, work whatever it is that you struggle with. Remember if you wouldn’t let a friend talk about herself in a way that is less than how amazing they are then don’t accept less than that for yourself. It is time to set that Tiger free and reclaim how amazing you really are.