In my recent post, “Gross Kids” I shared how I watched a teacher friend look at herself in the mirror and call herself gross. When I called her on that, she said she was just talking about her ______ body part. When I asked if she would say the same thing about the body parts of the chubby girl in grade six, she replied: No way! Of course not! That’s terrible!
Within a couple days later, I was talking with another dear friend. Her last year has been a significant struggle. I thank God for every day she presses on. I celebrate each of her tentative, wobbly, small steps toward wholeness. Like the recovery of a person ravaged by cancer or badly damaged by a horrific car accident each moment of healing is a victory. Unfortunately, due to the struggle, her school work suffered and the university recently gave her the gift of a year off; they told her to focus on recovery and reapply next year. We talked about it for a minute and then I asked:
ME: I suspect that instead of hearing this as “it’s good to focus on being healthy” you’re hearing “you’re a failure” or other hurtful things. Is that true?
ME: Is that what you would say to any other friend if she was in the same situation?
She said, “It’s different when it’s yourself.”
That’s essentially what my teacher friend was saying. While we would never shame, abuse, and denigrate another person, we have no problem doing it to ourselves because… well, because we are doing it ourselves.
Come with me to a playground. Imagine you’re supervising some children. You hear some angry and hurtful words. Looking around you see a few kids circling a child sitting on a swing. They are shouting: “You’re stupid!” You’re a failure!” “Nobody likes you!” “You’re fat!” “You’re ugly!”
What would you do?
Would you run over to the kids, chase away the bullies, and protect and comfort the victim of the abuse? Would you report the bullies to the office so that their behaviour can be stopped before another child is attacked? Would you then take every opportunity to affirm and encourage the abused child so they would know they are intrinsically worthwhile, valued, and loved? I hope that’s what you would do. Nobody deserves to be bullied, abused, and made to feel worthless, right?
But it’s different when it’s yourself.
Let’s return to the playground. Kids are playing and laughing. Sunshine, blue sky, warm with a cool breeze. This happy scene is interrupted by those same terrible, hurtful, abusive words.”You’re stupid!” You’re a failure!” “Nobody likes you!” “You’re fat!” “You’re ugly!”
Your heart is gripped with anguish. Someone needs help! You scan the playground but don’t see any problems. You begin to walk quickly around the grounds and you circle the equipment. You hear the shameful words again: “You’re stupid!” You’re a failure!” “Nobody likes you!” “You’re fat!” “You’re ugly!”
You want to help so badly. You want to wrap your arms around that child and say it’s not true, it’s not true, it’s not true.
At last, you find the child. It’s a little girl but you are surprised to find that there are no other children around her. She is simply standing in front of a window, shouting at her own reflection.