Perhaps the mission of an artist is to interpret beauty to people - the beauty within themselves. (Langston Hughes)
Two things that are hard for me to hear: compliments and criticism. Compliments are hard because I don't believe they are true. Criticism is hard because I don't want to believe it's true. I'm my own biggest critic and am really hard on myself: I don't give myself enough "credit" for my talents, skills, or good qualities and I focus too heavily on my flaws and failures. I churn and ruminate over every word I think I've misspoken and I fret over every little mistake I think I've made.
I am also overly sensitive to how I think other people see me. When I pick up on other people's facial expressions or a certain tone in their comments - especially when I don't understand the meaning behind them, I assume that they are directed toward me. If I feel a sudden distance from someone I was once close to, or sense someone's bad mood, the story I tell myself is that I must have done something wrong and I start replaying and over-analyzing my most recent exchanges with the person, trying to figure out what I may have done. When I don't know the answer to something, I make it up. And these stories, which may not actually be true, become my truth anyway and change how I interact with the other.
This is part of my daily struggle with being a sensitive introvert. I am in my head a lot, I overthink and over-analyze everything, and I take pretty much everything too personally. Even though I enjoy my time alone, I still have a deep need to feel connected to others. I want to be appreciated and liked, and any criticism or judgment - perceived or real - is a huge blow.
Part of my journey has been to change my relationship to criticism, and there are two major lessons I've learned so far. One is that a lot of the feedback we receive from others isn't really about us at all. It's about the other person and their needs, preferences or expectations. They want us to behave a certain way and when we don't, they give us feedback about how we need to change and conform to their wishes. When we receive this kind of feedback, we need to decide if there is any truth to what they are saying, and if it aligns to something that *we* want to change - not to appease the other person, but to evolve into our best self. If there's no truth to the feedback then we need to be comfortable with letting it go.
The second thing I've learned about feedback is: that which hurts the most *always* has some truth to it, even if I can't see it yet. This kind of feedback supports something I already believe to be true about myself, even if I'm unaware of it. Someone once told me that everything had to be my way all the time, that I left no room for people to do things their own way. This feedback hurt. A lot. I emphatically denied it and tried to prove how wrong the individual was. Only to realize later how true the feedback had been.
In addition to changing my relationship to feedback, the other part of my journey has been learning to see not just my flaws, but the beauty and the good within myself too. I am learning to acknowledge and appreciate my own good qualities, and to reframe my unique nuances as gifts. There are a lot of challenges that come with being a sensitive introvert, but there are a lot of benefits to it as well, many of which I'm really just starting to understand and appreciate. Instead of always striving for acceptance from others, I am learning to accept myself - flaws and all. I'm not perfect and I never will be because perfection isn't real. I'm learning to be more compassionate with myself when I say the wrong thing or make a mistake. If I feel like I need to apologize to someone for something I said or did, I apologize to the other and then I forgive myself.
These new ways of thinking and behaving don't happen overnight and require regular, ongoing practice. But one thing that has really helped me with all of this unlearning and relearning has been a consistent use of healthy reflective practices such as journalling. In my journal, I explore the feedback I receive, my reaction to it, and whether or not there is any truth to it. I get curious about other times I may have received the feedback, or look for other examples of situations where I exhibited the behavior in question. Through this examination of my behavior, I can make a decision whether or not it's anything I want or need to change, and why.
I've also been using my journal to explore my good qualities, to make note of when I observe them in action or when someone offered a compliment that was true. I also use my journal to support my self-appreciation, self-compassion, and self-forgiveness practices and inquiries. I once asked myself in my journal: "What do I still need to forgive myself for?" I filled pages and pages with examples of grudges I was still holding against myself, and I made the decision to let them go.
My journal has been a wonderful tool for increasing my self-understanding and self-awareness and has been instrumental to my personal growth. My journal is a safe space. It's the one place I know I can consistently show up and be myself. I don't have to worry about what others think and I don't have to be careful about what I say. I can just let my thoughts, feelings, and emotions spill all over the page without feeling like I need to censor anything. And often through this raw, unfiltered writing, a new truth starts to emerge. A truth that acknowledges that I have flaws and I make mistakes, sometimes serious ones, but these flaws and mistakes alone do not define who I am. The truth of who I am goes so much deeper and I'm eager to see what I have yet to discover.
Coffee before talkie. My choice of coffee mug this morning sums up my preferred way to start my day: with some quiet alone time. As a sensitive introvert, I appreciate the early morning hours when the house is totally quiet. I start my coffee brewing and while I wait, I stroll through my indoor garden, which helps bring my focus into the present, and provides a boost of beauty, appreciation, and gratefulness.
I then sip my coffee while I write in my journal. I reflect on the events of the previous day, as well as my thoughts and feelings relating to those events. I notice what triggered me and left me feeling overwhelmed, stressed, or agitated. If something left me feeling sad or angry, I write it out so I can explore my reactions and understand myself better. Why did the event or situation leave me feeling that way? How did I react?
By cultivating this ongoing practice of focused self-reflection and looking at my own behavior and choices, I've taken my self-awareness journey to a whole new level. Through regular review of my life experiences, it becomes easier to see the lessons I'm meant to learn. I can better see how and when my behavior and choices are out of alignment with my intentions, priorities, and values. We don't always choose what happens around or to us, but we are always in control of how we choose to respond to what happens. Are we choosing a response or path that is authentic to who we really are and that aligns to our values and intentions? Do our choices and behavior strengthen the connection with ourself, *and* our connection with others?
My morning ritual is one of the most important parts of my day and helps me start from a place of groundedness, feeling connected and centered. What contributes to your morning centeredness?
Do you journal? I have journalled off and on for years. As a sensitive introvert, I find it incredibly helpful in terms of exploring my emotions and keeping things moving *through* my heart. My journal used to be a place to keep track of my experiences. I'd write about what happened each day, and vent about what other people did.
But over the last few years, my journal writing has been shifting. I still write about my experiences, but I've also been writing more about how I *feel* about them. And instead of just venting about what *they* did, I explore my side of the situation too, my own reactions. My journal writing practice is helping me to better understand my own behavior; to see how various situations trigger me and impact how I respond. I find that over time, exploring these experiences in my journal has helped me get better about noticing my mood shifts in the moment when they happen.
And for this sensitive introvert, that's important. Because I'm in my head so much, my mood can shift several times each day and I don't always see that its happened right away, or understand what caused it. Through the practice of writing and exploring in my journal, I'm getting better about noticing in the moment when I'm feeling agitated, sad, or overwhelmed, and what's led to those feelings. It's increasing my self-awareness significantly because I better understand what being a sensitive introvert means for me. I'm learning what kinds of situations, experiences, and interactions trigger me. I can't always avoid those situations, but by learning more about myself, I can learn to respond to them more effectively when they arise.
The universe is always sending us signs about our callings and our path. We are being invited to grow beyond our limits and evolve into our highest potential. The messages and clues can show up anywhere. But do we notice them?
I love being surprised by the discovery of hearts where I least expect them. Whenever I find one, such as on this painted rock lying along the sidewalk, it reminds me that my purpose in this life involves learning to truly love. My journey has taken me through some challenging experiences to show me all the ways I have been blocking love from flowing into and through my life.
I'm a sensitive introvert, so I spend a lot of time in my head, telling myself stories about how unlovable I am. I'm also a recovering over-achiever and people pleaser because I believed the only way to receive love was to prove how good I was, and that I deserved it.
Through my life experiences, it's been made very clear to me that I've not been good about loving myself. And because I'm not good about loving myself, I'm also not good at loving others, or accepting love from others. The past few years, I've been learning and practicing the art of self-love.
It's not been easy practice for me. There are a lot of old wounds that have needed to be healed. I have been learning how to forgive myself for all the wrongs I have done. I have been learning self-compassion and how to stop beating myself up for every mistake. I have been learning to make self-care a priority and caring for all aspects of my wellbeing. I have been exploring the old beliefs and stories about my lovability, and I'm still working to rewrite them. None of these lessons have been easy.
But as difficult as it's been, it's been equally rewarding. Because breaking my heart open to expose all the hurt and wounds and brokenness inside has allowed my heart to finally begin the healing process, which is creating space for love to flow in. 💜
Our flaws do not define who we are
Periodically, I revisit my old journals to see where I’ve been, what I’ve learned, and to discover patterns related to my personal and spiritual growth (or lack thereof). In a recent review, I noticed an alarming trend: how many times I wrote about the ways I failed at something. Pages were filled with what I did wrong, what I didn’t do but should have, how I should have behaved differently, and countless other ways I let myself down. Too many sentences began with “Why can’t I just…” or “Why do I always…”
And these are just the thoughts that made it onto paper. Countless other self-defeating thoughts have swirled beyond my conscious awareness. As a sensitive introvert, I am indeed in my head a lot. I process everything that happens very deeply. A stressful morning can send me deep into retreat mode - I just want to hide out and avoid all interaction with the world. I find it hard to function when I am overwhelmed, and it can take hours or sometimes days to recover from these overwhelming events or situations. I take things too personally, over-think, over-plan, ruminate, and worry. And when my behavior and choices don’t align to my own impossibly high standards for myself, I beat myself up. A lot.
When our thoughts fill up mostly or even entirely with self-judgment, self-criticism, and self-condemnation, we don’t learn. We don’t change. And we don’t grow. The more we bully ourselves for our behavior and our choices, the more we solidify unhealthy patterns that occur out of habit and become our default and stall our personal and spiritual growth.
So, what do we do? The first thing we need to do is to notice when we are swirling in self-judgment or self-criticism. We can’t change what we aren’t aware of. I do find journaling incredibly helpful for this. When I put my thoughts down on paper, it becomes so much easier to see the patterns in my behavior. (If journaling is not your thing, I recommend you find another tool to support your self-observation and self-reflection practices.)
Throughout the day, as soon as I notice myself feeling overwhelmed or stuck or stressed, or if I notice that I feel like hiding out or escaping from something (or someone), I stop and reflect on what’s happening. I try to “catch myself in the act,” so I can pay attention to the voices running wild inside my head. Sometimes it’s easier to reflect on these situations the next morning.
But whenever you choose to do it, to move through and out of self-criticism, I have found it helpful to examine my self-defeating comments and explore self-reflective questions, such as:
These types of questions shift us out of self-judgment, self-criticism, and self-condemnation into self-compassion, self-kindness, self-forgiveness, self-care, and self-love. Ultimately, they increase our self-awareness and contribute to our personal and spiritual growth.
Our journal is indeed a safe place to let it all out. I can write anything I want in my journal - what I did, how I’m feeling about something, and what I don’t want to repeat in the future. So yes, let it all hang out. Explore it, examine it, learn from it. And then release it. Let it all go. Don’t get stuck in the negative stories about yourself.
We are all human. We all mess up. It’s a normal part of life. But our flaws do not define who we are. Every choice we have made - even the “negative” ones, have gotten us to this exact moment in our life. We move through life one choice at a time and along the way we are learning valuable lessons about ourselves. Every situation presents us a choice about how to respond and how to move forward. We may not always choose well, but we can always choose again.