Most of us carry around an invisible backpack which weighs us down with its heavy contents: the nasty comments others have made about us throughout the years, the times we’ve felt not good enough, our failures, rejections, disappointments. We save these insults, heartbreaks and wrongdoings as proof of our inadequacies. We take them out when we’re feeling bad, repeating the harsh words to ourselves over and over, as if to say, See? I really am not good enough/smart enough/pretty enough/loveable/etc. The proof is right here, in all this evidence I’ve collected and saved. It’s all right here, in this invisible backpack I carry around, always.
I bet if you ask most people for an example of something someone has said to them that really hurt, they can give you more than one example, no problem. For me, I can remember several, going as far back as the second grade when a classmate told me my teeth were yellow. (Perfect to play a character with stained teeth in the class play, she said, as we rode the bus home. I’ve been obsessed with teeth whitening ever since.) Or when my “best friend” told me at a sleepover in the fourth grade that she thought I was “not as pretty” as the rest of the group. (Cue the crippling insecurities about my looks that have only been further bolstered by mean girl comments from “friends”.)
Why aren’t the nice, kind things people say the things that stick? Why can’t I be carrying around a backpack full of the wonderful things people have said to me over the years?
But, if you ask those same people to give you an example of compliments that they can recall from second, or fourth grade, or even last week — it’s much harder for people to give you an example. Why? Why can’t we remember the praise we receive? Why isn’t that what we remember? Why aren’t the nice, kind things people say the things that stick? Why can’t I be carrying around a backpack (OK, a cute purse) full of the wonderful things people have said to me over the years? Because I’m sure there’s been plenty of things that people have said to me — things people have genuinely meant, even — that I should be remembering, rather than the time an older boy told me it was “called sleep” as he pointed out my dark under eye circles when I was in sixth grade. (No, it’s called genetics.)
Today, I decided to start carrying around compliments as well as the insults. I probably won’t be able to put down the backpack, or the negative thoughts that are in it. After all, for almost 32 years, I’ve shouldered its burden (and apparently, it goes with every outfit I own). But maybe by adding some positive thoughts to it, it won’t be so heavy.
So as I drank my coffee, I thought about the nice things people had said to me lately. The texts from friends that really resonated with me, the compliments that made me feel like I am special, worthy and great — the things that made me believe, hey, I am amazing.
And I actually wrote these down. On big pink post it notes so that when I start to feel a negative thought creeping out of that Jansport back there, I can thwart it with a wee little compliment from Meadhbha: “So glad to know you and call you a friend,” or Katie, “I think you’re incredible.”
I hope doing this helps me not only focus more on positive things about myself, but also allows me to start giving other more positive compliments. We’ve all got baggage, but there’s no rule saying it’s all got to be bad.