The chain reaction of self-worth
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I grew up thinking that intelligence meant knowing how to predict outcomes. That a life well-lived was a strategic chess match mapped out ‘til the end.
I remember years ago when a woman in my therapy group moved from her parents’ house into a friend’s recently-vacated apartment. It was an apartment she loved, in an area she’d always wanted to live. She said the entire thing felt like a dream.
Yet she was nervous. She’d lived with her parents for years as an adult and the idea of finally having freedom, and her own space, scared her.
Our therapist was thrilled. He predicted something that I still think about years later: once the woman made the choice to value herself and live in the kind of place she’d always wanted, other changes would follow.
I keep thinking of the phrase, “a rising tide lifts all boats,” but I’m not sure that’s it. More like, a four-legged animal steps with one paw onto a ledge that feels good and realizes the other legs must follow to be balanced.
Living in a new apartment in a new neighborhood indeed brought further change to my therapy friend’s life. After a year or so, she quit her horrible job. She left a toxic relationship and had a baby.
It’s not like her life became perfect—this is not a self-help hack. What it is is a great example of how taking the risk to value ourselves in one aspect of our life can cause a chain reaction in others.
Change is disorienting. It can be sad to shed old layers and realize they never fit. It can be sad to realize we accepted mistreatment for so long based on a mistaken idea that somehow it was deserved.
The negative voice in my head has been loud recently. It seeks to control and belittle me. Who are you to think you can pull that off? How ungrateful would you be to throw this all away?
The voice is good at hitting my weaknesses. It opens my closet of skeletons and rattles the bones in my face. The skeletons are always scary. But they are also old.
I’m able to talk to them now. Hello, skeletons. It’s true I’ve failed many times. It’s true that if my life were a game of chess, I’ve already lost.
Skeletons are scary. Fear is designed to keep us in our place. And the negative voice in my head? I think that she, too, is trying to protect me in the only way she knows.
I bet that voice is tired. It takes a lot of energy to control someone.
I define intelligence differently now. Instead of predicting outcomes, it’s about knowing when to trust something in the softness of my body and not only the hard reason of my mind.
I’ve lived in constant vigilance against being controlled for so long that lately I realized I’ve forgotten how to be soft.
Life is not a chess match. I will never be your pawn. But maybe, if you want, we can play a different game together. One where you live in that beautiful apartment and I write my book.recently reminded me that the process of making art is so much more enjoyable than selling or promoting it. It’s never worked, for me, to think things through to the end. I am no good at chess.
The chrysalis is a place of change. I’ve been here before; I remember the disorientation. I remember the shedding and the tenderness and the need for a protective shell.
I fear what happens when I stay too rigid. When I channel the negative voice and express her outward. Those are my skeletons, not yours. I’m learning to live with them.
I wonder if my negative voice knows that the worst things have already happened. That it’s impossible to keep me safe, truly safe, while also alive.
She’s just doing her best. We all are. And maybe, if I ever learn how to play chess, I’ll see that the white pieces are skeletons. Maybe this is all part of how the game is played.