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It Matters to Me

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Last week in our body image support group, every single client prefaced an anecdote about something that upset them with a disclaimer about how it’s not that big of a deal. This thing that bothered them enough to bring it up. Not important at all, in the grand scheme of things.

Why do we do this to ourselves? Trivialize our feelings? I do it all the time, but it’s more noticeable when other people do it because it sounds so mean.

For example, if I tell my opponents before a tennis match not to be alarmed if I throw up, I feel like I’m just trying to get attention. Because I secretly enjoy telling them about my GERD/asthma/allergies and listing all the drugs I take for each of these conditions. And if they make some comment about what a trooper I am for continuing to play, I feel guilty. Am I misleading them into thinking that I am strong? Maybe I’m exaggerating how bad it is.

I get it that this is a defense mechanism. I am going to beat you to the punch. I am going to say upfront that I know this thing I am about to tell you is trivial so that you can’t hurt me by not caring about it. I am going to shame myself out of being upset to try to make the feeling go away. I am going to compare my pain to other people who are suffering more than I am so that I will feel guilty and stop complaining. I’m going to repeat to myself how stupid it is to be upset every day, hundreds of times a day, until the pain goes away.

Except it doesn’t make the pain go away. So we just end up invalidating our feelings hundreds of times a day, every day. Or, if you’re successful in being able to cut yourself off from your feelings, then you end up invalidating other people’s feelings, too. Which is why they preface all of their comments to you with a disclaimer about how what they are about to tell you is not that big of a deal.

Even though I am now aware of the harm I am doing to myself with these comments, it is effortful and time-consuming to come up with something nicer to say. Which is a bit disconcerting, that being kind to myself would be so difficult.

It was even more difficult for those clients, who did not even realize they were invalidating their feelings until I brought it to their attention. They sat in silence for a few minutes, straining their brains to come up with something they could say to themselves that would be more compassionate.

Which is exactly why we need to practice.

That’s why I help clients come up with mantras in advance to counteract their inner demons; it saves time and energy. So if you are in need of something to say, here’s one you can use: it matters to me, and that’s all that matters.

About Christy Barongan

I didn't know it at the time, but I wanted to be a psychologist so that I could figure out how to be normal. I think many people come to counseling for the same reason. What I've come to learn is that feeling good about myself is not about trying to be normal. It's about trying to be me. But it's a constant struggle for me, just like it is for everyone else. So I thought I would approach this task with openness and honesty and use myself as an example for how to practice self-acceptance.

17 responses »

  1. “it matters to me, and that’s all that matters.”

    I really like this!!

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  2. When I was really actively blogging about my personal struggles (as opposed to now, when I am much more invested in getting others’ stories out there via BFMH and Canvas), I often found myself feeling ambivalent in a similar way to that which you describe with your tennis matches. I was just writing to write, entirely for myself, in part trying to sort things out, in part simply to keep from going mad — in an entirely different way than I already was.

    So while there was some minor filtering going on — pretty much just refraining from talking about instances with individuals in my life, as I did not feel I had any right to share information about any relationships specifically — basically everything that made it to the screen was a very honest and raw discussion of what my reality was then.

    It wasn’t pretty, in fact it was (still is) absolutely horrifying. And while on one level I knew that, it had become so much the norm for me that I didn’t really have any concept of how it would read to others. I never made the “it’s not that big a deal” statements, because it was. It was my whole life, and I at least had enough. . . perception? Understanding of myself? I don’t know what you’d call it, perhaps lucidity would be best, I had enough lucidity to validate my own experiences and feelings — mostly.

    But then I would get comments like, “You’re so strong,” or, “I don’t know how you keep going, you’re such an inspiration. . .” etc. Which for me was (and frankly still is) very hard to wrap my brain around. While I understand why so many people felt like they couldn’t have lived my life and kept going, for me giving up just was never an option. It had nothing whatever to do with strength, it just literally wasn’t ever an option in my consciousness to do anything other than to keep on. It was hard-wired into me, I guess.

    In any case, the way I saw it then, the way I still see it, what I would tell people in response to those comments was that we don’t compare suffering. None of us suffers any more or less, we all just suffer differently.

    And as you say, if it matters to you, it matters. That is all that matters.

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  3. I used to play tennis before the doctors *whoops* rendered my lungs the equivalent of two burlap sacks. Another difficult tale amidst so many. It matters to me, I tell myself, but then, increasingly, find a “but.” Yet, even without the lungs it feels as though I’m still running, still striving to reach the end of a road that seems too long. For 55.5 years I fought the struggle and wouldn’t give in. For 55.5 years I found a way to summon the hope that had fallen to a whisper, but now…now I’m not sure. I’ve related that 55.5 year story and heard “You’re so strong” or “I can’t believe you’ve made it through all that,” but there’s no solace in those words.

    Now, I’m supposed to summon a blog post this Friday about compassion and the only compassion I’m feeling is for those who would be subjected to what’s really in my heart at the moment. All those people mean a lot to me, and yet again I’ve allowed myself to fall out of the compassion equation. The 55.5 year story is now nearly 56 and the struggle continues. I relate the tired tale to my therapist and she relates “You’re so strong” and “You should be proud of all you’ve made it through” and there’s no solace.

    I’ve done this so long I know what’s supposed to work. I know about mantras, mindfulness, self-forgiveness, meditation, yoga, and even communing with nature. I read the books and can recount the list, but I’m tired and the road is so long. And still the Friday post awaits and I don’t want to hurt anyone, don’t want to disappoint.

    So, I’ll thank you, for I’ve left here what I might have written at the end of the week. The sun is out and the day is mild so I’ll take the walk I must take to keep my lungs from shriveling up and look to nature for…I’m not sure, but I’m hoping I find it and leave my disclaimers in its place.

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  4. Good. Very good. It bothers me that The Hurricane (my daughter), who is a young adult and very strong woman, will not admit that she has a certain physical problem. She would rather go out and try to keep up with everybody else until she faints. She denies that this malady exists within her even though she was diagnosed at Johns Hopkins. She can’t stand for me to bring it up. She will let me know, however, if she has fainted. She calls me with an alert. Then when I express sympathy or ask questions, she gets angry and says nothing is wrong with her. I wonder if she would do the same thing if she were a man.

    Love,
    Janie

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  5. I stopped trivializing other people’s issues (if not mine, necessarily) when someone said it wasn’t about what it felt to me, but what it felt to her. This was many years ago and I never stopped that persepective. Now, if I could only apply to all the things I apologize in advance for…

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  6. “Except it doesn’t make the pain go away. So we just end up invalidating our feelings hundreds of times a day, every day. Or, if you’re successful in being able to cut yourself off from your feelings, then you end up invalidating other people’s feelings, too.” Food for thought, such deep words. I am going to mull over this and try and take corrective action.

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  7. Tracy @ Crazy As Normal

    Thank you for this post. I needed it today.

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply

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