I have to get this onto paper. This is my example of how our subconscious or our unconscious is always at work and how mindful awareness can utterly shift and awaken us.
My amazing daughter currently loves gymnastics. She is seven. For three years now, she has incrementally grown and blossomed in ways I knew in my heart she would. She mastered cartwheels, backbends, splits and handstands. She had ups and downs on her journey where she felt overwhelmed, disappointed but also proud, capable and confident. Knowing and witnessing her grow uninterrupted by my agenda is how I strive to live. Key word, strive.
Some have told me don’t put her in gymnastics or dance because they are sports that require a certain body type and body image issues are common in these sports… but she loves it. She smiles and glows at every class. She learns and masters new ways to move her body and she loves to show off what she can do. That is emotional gold for a mother like me. We don’t push perfection, we don’t care about medals or competition, we just want her to love moving her body in a way that helps her feel strong, capable and healthy.
All her growth is lovely but I’m a hot mess inside and I know it’s my issue not hers. I know it’s my unhealthy internal messages and I’m so ashamed to project them (even though I do so silently) onto her. You see, gymnasts wear leotards or sports bras and biker shorts, the female form is on full display. My daughter loves to wear her kitty/doggy sports bra with her shorts, which leaves her belly exposed. She is a beautiful, healthy, strong girl. Her middle, her belly is different in comparison to her teammates. The other day I saw her squeezing her belly and giggling, and though a hundred worrisome thoughts raced through my mind; I simply giggled along with her.
Another day, she said, “mom do you think I’m fat, sometimes I think I’m fat.” Cue my internal hot mess of emotions and thoughts. What do I say? How do I hold space for her to just process her thoughts without indicating my fears and worries? What have I done wrong? Where did this come from?
Okay insert mindful awareness. There is nothing to say at this moment, this is an opportunity to listen, to be curious about her comments and her emotion, to allow her to be concerned or any other feeling that emerges. So, I say “What do you think love? What does the word fat mean to you?”
The dialog progresses, she shares that she sometimes feels fat. She cries a bit. I’m at a loss, so I hug her. We talk about words like fat, thin, skinny, big, small. We talk about all of her friends, mommy’s friends, her teachers, pictures in books or movies and family. We talk about how these words are adjectives (she is learning this in school) but how sometimes these words get attached to feelings and thoughts. I never answered her question. I don’t think my perception of her size is a relevant point to make. I do think it’s my place to help her think for herself and reflect what she knows to be true about her qualities and characteristics as well as those of the people she knows and loves. Was this the right choice? I don’t know, but it was the best we could do at that moment. It was enough.
When she entered the gym worries of judgment from others flooded my mind. I see others look at her attire, kids and mothers, perhaps silently judging, but none have said a word so it’s really in my head. She tells me matter of factly, the teachers tell her to hold in her stomach, stand up tall and physically this is to support her spine and strengthen her core, but mentally my fears of body image issues race through my mind.
Show me the most damaged parts of your soul, and I will show you how it still shines like gold
But I don’t say anything, I try to fight my impulse to say “are you sure you want to wear that” or “would you rather wear a shirt” or “do you want to continue gymnastics?” Sometimes, I’m tempted to give away the more revealing clothing so its just not an option, but her little heart loves the puppy outfit and to show her belly so very much. So, I resist urges to subconsciously imply that I’m worried about her appearance. Because my biggest fear is her feeling less than, feeling she has insufficient value. Fear that she worries too much about the way she looks, and values appearance over true substance. She is worthy, valuable and imperfectly human now, in this moment. Coincidentally, I can say the same to myself. I am equally enough.
You see, that’s a message that pervades my soul. A constant wonder if I am enough and if I’ll ever be enough. It’s a subconscious mantra that creeps in at the most inopportune moments. The moments where I need to be bold and brave.
This next part is quite personal, I’m reluctant to share it, but part of the mission of my work is to show how similar we all are and how the struggles of one are the struggles of many. So here goes…
I grew up believing that my physical appearance was never good enough to certain people in my life, primarily my mother. I don’t say this to be critical of her. In fact, I love my mom to my very core, she is my one and only mom and I am her only daughter. She sacrificed much in her life for me and I’m who I am today, in part, because of her.
Her well-intentioned comments repeatedly in my lifetime up until my 40s to “be a beauty queen, weigh 150 pounds, look like you do in this picture (at age 15), you have everything, brains, doctoral degree, good job, beautiful daughter, husband… if you had the looks you’d be perfect” In fact she said she’d pay me money if I lost the weight. You see growing up, she and I weren’t what you’d call emotionally close, she was busy helping care for all of her siblings who had immigrated from Vietnam and also getting her own college degree and working. So the quality memories I have with my mom are of her reminding me of all that I need to do and be. I know at my very core that this all stems from love, a deep love for me, and wanting the ultimate best for me. I know this now at 43, but I didn’t know this at age 10 … 18…. 26 or 30. At those ages, her words hurt, they led me to feel less than, not enough. That is a product of her subconscious beliefs, some mindless communication patterns that led to unintended consequences. The truth, the facts are, I am all that she wanted me to be and have all that is truly important and essential in life. Yet the subconscious messages she imprinted coupled with my own minds negative messaging has left me with a wound of sometime feeling insufficient, that I am not enough.
I unintentionally, subconsciously, project this wound on my incredible daughter. Every time I’m critical of her, embarrassed by some action she has made, disappointed by her tone of voice or argumentative nature, its all because of my own subconscious belief that I am not enough. When I scold her, I’m really scolding myself.
For what, for what do I warrant scolding? If I’m truly mindful to that question. The answer is nothing. I am complete, full of value regardless of my physical appearance. It seems so trivial now, so superficially shallow to get caught up in the rat race of NEVER enough instead of ALWAYS enough.
I don’t know when I will completely release this negative self-talk. I know it waxes and wanes as I’ve aged and become more aware. I know that recognizing my thoughts and slowing my reactivity to mindful responding will shift me towards growth and freedom from this self-perception. My mother is enough. I too am enough, just as I am. My daughter at age is seven is so completely enough and guess what… you are too.