I was enjoying a lovely hot shower, musing on things, daydreaming, when a question popped into my head: “What can I use for a gym bag, now that I just gave away the perfect one?” I hoped to join a local program and just this moment realized I would need a bag. As my thoughts meandered over the scarcity of my bag options, my thoughts drifted to the contents of the ones remaining in my collection, and to my dresser drawers. What was in these long unused bags and drawers? Sexy things, nightie things, sleepover things. Items that had not seen the light of day in almost 2 years. And then I realized that I’d love to have all of these bags be all worn out—not sitting there in a line, unused, on a shelf. 

As I wondered whether the bags I had bought over the years would ever be seen by anyone again, I had a strange but startling moment of clarity. It occurred to me that even if a man came on to me, flirted outrageously, or clearly wanted me, I wouldn’t believe him. I was stunned as I stood there with the water pouring over me, because I realized it was true. I wasn’t being self-deprecating. That’s what I actually believe. Not because of trust issues, not because I don’t believe that there are great men out there— I actually do—but because my internal conversation would tell me otherwise. The recording in my brain starts with, ‘Who would want you (echos of my ex right here)? You are fat, old and ugly. You have nothing to give. You are boring, empty and a loser.” I’m sorry to say it but that is the ugly message I send to myself. 

I felt defeated. I mean, who would want me if I don’t even want myself?

I felt panicky as these realizations hit me all at once. All I could hear were statements of my own hatred, of me. How can this be? How to explain all the nasty dialogue, the horrific feedback I give myself? Clearly these negative messages don’t reflect me. Or do they? Those thoughts that disable and discourage me every time I imagine putting myself out there in the world have to be wrong, don’t they? It’s odd, these notions I have of myself. I would normally describe myself as fairly confident, happy, and optimistic. I know—or thought I knew—my strengths and weaknesses. How is it possible to be those things and yet still send myself crippling messages of disdain?  

Then I read a post by a psychologist who deals with the fallout from relationships with narcissists. If she is right, I have been injured, and more devastatingly so than I have thought all along. It’s been a really difficult 8 years since my marriage broke up, and I feel like I have taken a lot of hits along the way. I thought I was doing fine, a little down after so many losses, but while not great, basically OK. I know we all have good days, and bad, and I just assumed that the good days overshadowed what I had to cope with with on the bad days.   

Do you live with a narcissist? Read this.

This internal conversation proved to me that I was dead wrong.  All those emotional bullets aimed at my mental health by my ex actually did their damage. I was shocked. I really believed that I was too strong, too resilient for that to have happened. After all, I’m an intelligent capable woman. I am too smart to believe any of the negative stuff he used to say to me. While I’d told myself over and over again that I could separate the things he said to me from my self-image, it turns out I was wrong.

No wonder it’s so difficult to put myself out there on dating sites. It turns out I don’t know who I am. Criticisms that I would never, ever direct at another human don’t seem too cruel to direct at myself. I don’t hate myself, but it is clear that I really need to change the voices in my head and make them like me. I need to refute the lies my brain tells me and find a new, more positive inner dialogue. 

Boom! I’d had a clarion call, an epiphany, and explosion of my awareness, all in the time that I stood in the shower. The incredible insight i received while shampooing my hair has given me strength and purpose, and I know I will prevail against the vicious negative self-talk I direct at myself. I made a pact right in that moment to make some big changes to my thought process. 

Wish me luck, sisters, because today my eyes have been opened, and now the hard work really begins.

Kate Finlayson: Musings on Self LoveKate has lived in Toronto most of her life, with a 10-year stint in the US. A homemaker, she has raised 3 children and spent most of their early years volunteering at their schools. She loved the other mom volunteers so much that she just kept on staying in school. She also did the books for her ex-husband’s business and enjoys the endless repair and maintenance of her cottage, painting and photography.

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