Making healthy choices that stem from a solid sense of self-worth isn’t my strong suit. Treating myself with kindness out of sheer self-respect and believing my body is a temple isn’t my nature. Historically, the idea of self-care has always been an elusive concept for me, falling somewhere between seeming too cheesy and not knowing if I’m entitled to participate in acts that appear self-indulgent.
Recently and without much effort, however, I realized I’ve been engaging in more self-care and doing so without the usual nagging of guilt. If my body feels tired, I let it rest. If I’m hungry, I eat. If I don’t want to be social, I cancel my plans. No protesting or attempts at bargaining with myself. When trying to decipher where this new sense of consideration arrived from, I realized it started to occur around the same time as the Charlottesville white pride parade…I mean the Charlottesville riots. Something about those white supremacists and Nazis broke (or maybe fixed?) something inside of me and gave me the ability to start treating myself with more kindness and respect.
I attended college in a rural town in Southwest Virginia, and although it was a decade ago, as I examined those screaming faces on my TV, I felt a boiling sensation well up inside me as if I recognized those rioting men. The first time I heard the word "kyke" was from one of those guys. I managed to go an entire 18 years without hearing that slur, and then it appeared, laughing, out of the mouth of a khaki-wearing, whisky-burnt-face guy during my first week in that small town. I’ve been hurt by those guys, listened to them slut-shame me, and seen them hurt my friends. Ten years ago, out loud racism, homophobia, and white supremacy weren’t as in vogue as today, but of many of us still experienced it on a quieter level.
While I haven’t always subscribed to practicing positive self-management, turning spite into action is a skill I’ve always been able to access. At the moment, I am literally spitefully taking care of myself. Every time I decide to listen to my body and change a negative thought to a positive one, I feel as if I’m slowly dismantling the system. The initial realization of this seemed insane, but I quickly realized I. Don’t. Care. We all need a hook to get started, so if you too require a Neo-Nazi to get pumped about taking care of yourself, have at it.
Spite is an effective initial motivator, but I know I need a more sustainable outlook to continue long term. While radical self-love is the ultimate goal, I need a bridge from self-tolerating to full blown acceptance. For me, doing well on the behalf of others has been easier than just doing well for myself, so when I heard about the idea of collective healing I was intrigued. Collective healing promotes the idea that caring for yourself also gives others permission to do the same. The thought that healing myself can make me a better friend, spouse, colleague, daughter, sister, etc. makes so much sense to me and will hopefully be what I need to sustain my spiteful self-care. We all need to be at our peak mental condition to survive this political climate, and as someone who constantly looks for ways to participate politically this seems like something manageable I can do everyday.
For me, part of self-care is actively shutting down the negative voices that rattle inside my skull. Recently, I devised a more effective system for combating these all too loud critics that focuses on differentiating between the sound of negative self-talk and internalized misogyny.
Until recently, I wouldn’t have believed I harbored internalized sexism. After all, I’m a lesbian, I voted for Hillary, and I was an active Girl Scout for six years too long, so it was difficult to realize. But internalized misogyny, however, is inescapable. We’re all misogynists. Admitting it, recognizing it, and then combating it is the only way to end it.
Internalized misogyny is a combination of explicit and implicit values we learn from our home and culture. We internalize sexist messages put out by TV, magazines, movies, music, our friends and our family mostly without our conscious knowing. This process occurs through years, a lifetime really, of socialization. Growing up, every time we heard a woman say, “I hate my thighs," “If I could only lose 10 lbs.,” never been able to accept a compliment, etc., we digest this information and begin constructing an idea of how “normal” women behave and speak. When interacting with males, we take in messages, too. Anytime we hear a man call a woman a slut for engaging in sexual behavior, see a friend get broken up with for not being sexual enough, or hear adults call boys smart and women hard workers, our brain organizes and pieces together all these messages. Over time, exposure to these types of incidents internalize into ideas about sex, relationships, and self-value. A lifetime worth of targeted advertising, pop culture, and a lack of legal protections for women efficiently culminates into internal misogyny that affects both women and men.
Internalized sexism mixed with a slew of personal factors relating to one’s own history can also cause a rise in negative self-talk. Negative self-talk is different in that it relates more to having thoughts or feelings directly about ourselves that get in the way of doing the things we want. Neither is healthy for our brains and can interfere with living our lives in a positive way. The good news is anything that can be learned can be unlearned. With enough practice, both internalized misogyny and negative self-talk can decrease and free up some positive mental space in our minds.
Knowing the difference can help figure out the best way to combat negative thoughts. The chart below serves as a guide in differentiating and problem solving. At the very least, it will give your brain something more productive to obsess about.
Top photo by The Ewan/Flickr Creative Commons
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Samantha is the author of Putting Out: Essays on Otherness. She regularly contributes to BUST. Reach out: firstname.lastname@example.org