Surely you know the story of the Tortoise and the Hare. And surely you know the the lesson: slow and steady wins the race.
Still, when it comes to our personal journey of healing, we often feel we want and need to address all our issues at once. We feel we need to go from suffering to thriving in one big leap.
Of course, that is not how it works…
When we learn about the toxicity of our parent, partner, colleague or whoever is being emotionally abusive, we start on a journey of personal growth and healing. The realization of what has been going on, and the implication of that in our everyday life are huge. We may finally experience the euphoric notion that ‘this was not my fault’. However at the same time we will begin to learn in how many ways the abusive experiences have affected us, and manifest in our current behavior. The combination of all these emotions and realization may very well get the better of us.
Learning and growing take time. However impatient we are, we need to take small baby steps in order not to become overwhelmed.
Clip from: What About Bob? (1991)
Slow and Steady
Some days we leap forward, and other days we may take two steps back again. Nobody can overhaul their entire life all at once, and at some level I think we all know it. That would be like wanting to eat better and going vegan, gluten-free and expert kale-juicer, all in one afternoon (and sticking to it). Still so often I see survivors express frustration with their progress. It seems we all feel a need to work at ten things at once, and want to have perfect results every time.
We would be better off, setting small attainable goals, and building on those once we achieve them. Every step can lead to the next step, and before you know it we have changed. We can start by acknowledging a problem. Proceed to understanding the triggers. Grow to identify the behavior as it occurs. Learn to stop the behavior in its track. Until finally we stop showing the behavior. Achieving the Baby Step Goals will give us confidence. As such it will contribute not only to our personal growth, but helps us built our damaged self-esteem too. Have a look at What I Learned about Saying No for a practical example of this.
The baby steps are not just the best way for us to proceed; it is also the most surefire way to manage and maintain our learning and growth. Sticking to manageable chunks is important when we think of those who travel along with us, too. Our partners, children, family or friends are also dealing with our choice to overhaul our lives. They need time to adjust and grow with us. Some people may not want to, or be able to. We need to accept that, and may choose to either make room for that or leave them behind. Still those who want to join us on our journey, need to be able to keep up.
Patience, Kindness and Self-Care
In order to progress in our healing at exactly the right speed, we need to be patient and kind. Not just to those around us, but in fact mostly to ourselves. For me the moments of frustration often occur when I start looking outside myself. When I see another person conquering a lesson before me, or when I feel I am letting the people around me down. I am beginning to learn that the baby steps of healing can only be taken when they are taken in the warm embrace of self-love.
A Recovery Journey is all about healing from the inside out. We cannot truly change self-destructive behavior, until we address the underlying issues. We will continue to feel the bite of our fleas, continue to engage in toxic relationships, continue in fact to be victims until we face ourselves.
Loving yourself. Being patient and kind to yourself. To truly practice self-care. These are not skills we have learned. More often than not we learned to dislike ourselves. We have learned that self-reflection directly induces guilt and shame.
The Baby Steps Get Lost in the Race
I used to hate looking at myself in the mirror (literally). I would only see the hair on my chin, the roundness of my face, the bushiness of my eyebrows. In short I saw all the things that my bully highlighted to me over and over again. All the things that I felt I could have changed, if only I had not been so lazy and undisciplined. I felt guilty and ashamed for who I was.
It has taken me many years and many uncomfortable hours in front of mirrors, but I made myself look. With little baby steps I managed to see a new image. The image of sparkly eyes, the image of a contagious laugh, the image of a proud person. I enjoy my job and can see the merit of what I do. I am able to stay on top of my house work (another frequent attack), and forget about guilt if I am just too tired to do the dishes some days.
When I think back to the person I once was, I barely recognize myself. I have changed so much… I have in fact made leaps and bounds.
When I look at the entire journey, I cannot make out the little steps that moved me forward.
At the same time, when I look at the little steps, I cannot oversee the distance I have traveled.