The other weekend I was at a fabulous poetry retreat in the Poconos. I used to write poetry, when my kids were young. In those hectic days, I could barely grab time to put together any coherent writing. Poetry gave me a place to put down images, capture a metaphor, and feel creative. During this poetry weekend, it felt glorious to play with phrasing as if I were finger-painting. There were no expectations. We wrote, we shared and we cried when images from poems touched us.
Even without violating the—what happens in the Poconos, stays in the Poconos—agreement, I want to describe an important aspect of the retreat. Our leader, Molly, told us that we’d owe her five dollars if we apologized before reading our poems. None of—“this isn’t really that good”—or anything else. You wrote and you shared.
Each of us had to stop ourselves, or at least I know I did, from apologizing. It seems almost engrained--this tendency to apologize. We use it to create a space so that someone else won’t jump in with a disagreement or a criticism. If we already downplay our work, then we won’t be injured if someone else criticizes it. Yet, that isn’t true. It will still smart if someone puts down something that we’ve said. And by apologizing, we have already taken away our own power. We allow others to not take us and our ideas seriously.
Think about how you operate in your life. Do you find yourself apologizing a lot? Do you put your thoughts, opinions, comments down even before you utter them. “This might be stupid, but…” It is as if people try to take away the sting of any potential criticism. If someone disagrees with them, it is easy to say, “Well, I thought it might be stupid.”
Journal about any phrases you use that either directly or indirectly disparages yourself. Even times that you compare yourself to someone else, “I don’t think I’m as good as you…”. You’re different. Everything is not black and white. Good or not good. It just is.
As you journal about these remarks that you make—try to understand where they came from. Did someone else criticize you so that you started to incorporate their words? Were you compared with others? Did you often feel that you came up as lacking?
As you write about these apologetic remarks, stay aware of how often they slip into your speech. Watch for them and weed them out.
Practice journaling your own opinions so that you can understand what you think and believe. If you’ve been trying to please others for a long time, it will be very difficult to disagree. So write to understand what you think about current events or about life. Start some sentences….I believe…and write what comes. Discover beliefs that you have been carrying around. Are they healthy beliefs? Or not? If they are beliefs that make you feel bad about yourself, then work to weed those out too.
If some tries to belittle you, set boundaries. If you can’t in the moment, then journal about it so that you have words in place the next time this happens. We need to limit others when they treat us badly or when we talk badly about ourselves.
Journal positive affirmations. You probably criticize yourself more than you even realize. Remind yourself that you are a unique and fabulous person. Because you are. We all are.
So, go Write On!
Martha Peaslee Levine, M.D.