There are times when I find it challenging not to be hard on myself. Just last week, for instance, we took a family Spring Break trip. We traveled through Joshua Tree and Zion National Park.
In Zion, we set out on an afternoon canyoneering and rappelling excursion. Now, I have rappelled in my life—this wasn’t my first rodeo. In fact, there was a time when I rappelled deep into caves and down steep cliffs, like a pro. So, I felt very secure in my ability to scale the giant rocks of Zion. I also was pretty psyched about showing my kids my rappelling ability.
With the children looking on, I harnessed in, secured my helmet, and down the rock, I went. Then, I slipped… My rope swung me out and slammed me into the rock. I hit the back of my head and saw a flash of light. As the kids looked down from above, there was Mom — fortunately still attached to my rope — but laying on the side of the rock, stunned and dazed. How I climbed back up to the belay, I still do not clearly recall.
I sat on a boulder far from the cliff’s edge, while being examined, and was asked a series of questions to see just how severe my obvious concussion was. It was a mild one, but the bump on the back of my head felt like a soccer ball protruding from my skull. Every muscle in my neck felt torn and my back was battered. Yet, I climbed back down — through tight crevices and over slick rocks — until I reached our car.
I wanted to cry but, the kids were there. A mom needs to be brave, doesn’t she? The truth is, I did cry but not until I was back at camp and alone in my tent. My head and body were swollen and aching but it was my ego, honestly, that had taken the biggest hit. I want my children to see me as strong and able to climb mountains and conquer giants. On that day, though, they witnessed the giant conquer me. My kids saw their mother as who she really is: a real woman who sometimes slips and falls.
I stumble. I mess up. I’m human.
So, why did I bury myself in self-criticism on that afternoon? As if I wasn’t bruised enough, I gave myself a series of self-critical talks. I fell, without a rope, deep into the dark canyons of the mind. Questions began tumbling around in my head: I really blew it…why did I slip? My kids will never see me as strong again, will they? I messed up the entire afternoon, didn’t I? The mental canyon that I was in, at that moment, seemed too challenging to escape. I felt layered with shame and embarrassment.
Then, I realized something that I think is very important: my ability to get back up and climb that rock — the one that tried to knock me out — was the true example of this mom’s strength, agility, and ability. My kids may have seen me slip and fall, but they also saw me rise!
I climbed back up and I kept going, moving forward despite my physical injuries and the sting of embarrassment.
Self-criticism is far more damaging than any fall against a rock. Self-criticism is far more hurtful than a few bumps and bruises. Self-criticism takes swipes at our spirits. It diminishes and it depletes the very essence of who we are. Within a space of self-critical talk, we cannot hear the truth. And, the truth is that we will fall, slip, stumble, and dangle from the edges of this life … but it’s how we get back up that truly defines us. It’s how we move forward and rise up that sets the standard.
If I had been tied to a rope of self-criticism, then it was time to release that rope and let it go. It was time to practice self-appreciation over self-judgment. In other words, I need to love myself more. I need to appreciate the part of me that continues onward — the warrior within — and I need to forgive the part of me that sometimes takes a misstep and falls. I will cherish those in my life who love me through the missteps, and I will release (with a blessing) those who do not.
I went up to Zion and I believe that God met me there with a message: He loves me in my brokenness and through my flawed and battered ways. He has given me a family that loves me in the same way, too. And, for these gifts, I am completely and eternally grateful.
Here’s a question for reflection: How might you be talking to yourself in a self-critical way? Write it down and then exchange the self-criticism for self-appreciation. See your strengths and your courage. Don’t focus on the fall — focus on the rise.