Last week my family purchased a large hutch for our home from a furniture consignment store. When I say large, I mean it. Measuring nearly 8 feet tall, it's just short of our ceiling and more than 40 inches wide. It's solid wood and complete with heavy doors and glass inlay. Being a cheapskate, I had no interest in paying an additional $60 for delivery, and while renting or borrowing a truck may have been ideal, I chose to show up for pick up with nothing but my husband, my Outback, and a few straps to tie down the trunk. In the rain, nonetheless. You are probably wondering what this little interior design story has to do with mental health, but stick with me for a few minutes. My husband strolled into the store to let them know we had arrived for pick up and was immediately greeted with "I hope you brought some muscle". Upon hearing that he had only brought little old me, the sales associate almost immediately (and from what I understand, snarkily) insisted he sign an indemnity form freeing them of any liability for injury or damage. As we proceeded to cautiously, but may I say skillfully, load the furniture into my car we were met by further comments from another associate. "I don't see how you'll do that", "is there someone else you can call?", "she's not going to be able to lift that". That's just a small sampling of her direct comments as she went on to describe how the professional movers (men, clearly) had a hard time getting it off the showroom floor, and reminded us it is a "really nice" piece of furniture. I know women all over are recalling experiences of their own similar to this and I can easily recall many as well.
Now in hindsight I wish I had asked her to shut her trap (nicely, of course), but in the moment I chose to shut mine and allow my physical strength to speak for me. I must admit though, her comments were not just a little annoying, or even insulting, they were far worse; they caused a message of doubt to creep in. Doubt that could have derailed me. Doubt that echoed other naysayers and hecklers over the years when I've done things like put a roof on a house, fix the engine of a car, and drive a dump truck. Doubt I have fought hard to overcome time and again. Doubt that could have drifted into the heart of my young daughter watching eagerly. And doubt that continued to tug even after driving away, as I wondered how we'd get it into the house.
This isn't about me though, and it isn't about a piece of furniture. It's about the message. It's about how we speak to one another. And it's about identifying what voice is in our head. Is that voice an advocate or a heckler? What messages were we given when we were young and which do we struggle to overcome? Often people ask, why should I see a therapist? Therapy isn't always about trauma or debilitating symptoms. It's sometimes just about uncovering messages, bringing them into the light, seeing what shadow they cast, and finding a way to reorient, redefine, and reprogram ourselves. So much of the work I do with individuals is rooted in these kinds of narratives. What have you come to believe about yourself because of what others have taught you in their words and actions? Maybe it's time to stop watering those roots. What kind of freedom could you find if you were given the opportunity to experience yourself in a different way? What example would you set for someone watching if you could change messages of shame, doubt, fear or unworthiness?
Let yourself open up to new ways of seeing yourself. Allow someone to take the time with you to test and measure these beliefs. Cast off the ones that keep you from living into a life that is more fulfilling, more rewarding, more empowering. It's here that we learn to speak more messages of truth to others and allow them to be the best versions of themselves. And it's here that we cultivate relationships and communities that thrive.