The sun is coming up and the house is quiet. I make some coffee to wake me up, unaware that a woodland creature is about to wake me up in a different way.
Someone (me) forgot to run the dishwasher last night, so I’m forced to use the only clean mug in the kitchen. It’s Pepto Bismol pink, with a faded Precious Moments image of two saucer-eyed kids inside a house made from an overturned cardboard box.
It reads, “Home Sweet Home.”
As I am wondering why I own something this nauseatingly saccharine, a loud “Thud!” jolts me from my morning stare.
Something hit the window.
Outside the sill sits a bright red bird. He looks stunned, and possibly a little embarrassed.
Must have flown into the glass.
Poor little guy.
I go back to my (tacky) coffee. Then…
I glance over and see the same bird, wearing the same befuddled expression. I decide that nature moves in mysterious ways, and choose to ignore him.
Reaching the end of my pre-caffeination patience, I walk to the window expecting to see the same bird with the same dazed expression. However, though his feathers are disheveled, his eyes are ablaze and he is glaring at me. This bird isn’t stunned; he’s pissed.
Refusing to be bird-bullied, I fight back. I knock on the window and mouth the word, “Shoo!”
He staggers, pauses and then quickly resumes his kamikaze mission as if to say, “That all you got?”
That is not all I got.
I step outside and, with arms flailing, improvise an all-purpose predator yell, “Bwaaaah!”
He retreats to a nearby branch to wait me out, and to process the absurdity he just witnessed.
Determined to assert my food chain dominance (and to drink my coffee in peace), I turn to my last resort.
I Google: “stop dumb bird crash window.”
It turns out that during mating season, a territorial bird will build a nest and instinctively attack any creature that comes near its vulnerable home. Because birds lack self-awareness, they will sometimes end up attacking their own image in reflective surfaces.
This angry bird isn’t attacking me; he’s attacking himself.
He’s afraid he will lose the things that matter most to him: his safety and security, his home, the place where he will love and be loved. This beautiful bird has the ability to fly through the sky, to build and to sing. Instead, he is using his energy to fight an unwinnable battle against himself.
He can’t see how full of color and fire he is. How perfect and alive. He can only see an enemy.
Then it hits me; people do the same thing. We regularly attack ourselves for not being what we think we should be. I’m not thin enough. Young enough. Attractive enough. Rich enough. Successful enough. Organized enough. Disciplined enough. Educated enough. Ambitious enough. Relaxed enough.
We attack ourselves for decisions we make or don’t make. For things we say or don’t say.
In other words, so much time, energy and talent are spent fighting unwinnable battles against ourselves.
Why do we attack ourselves so ferociously?
I think we do it for some of the same reasons the bird does it: We’re afraid. We don’t feel safe and secure within our deepest, truest selves. At times, we don’t even know or recognize our deepest selves. We are not convinced that love is secure or that we truly deserve a place in this world. We are afraid of becoming invisible, excluded and forgotten. Of being emotionally homeless.
To protect ourselves from the pain of this vulnerability and shame, we turn to self-attack. At some level, self-attack gives us a sense of order and control by explaining our experience in terms of our lack, inadequacy, and badness. And it carries a false hope that if we just keep trying, if we become thin-young-attractive-rich-successful-organized-disciplined-educated-ambitious-relaxed enough, we will be secure. We will be lovable.
As with the bird, the cost of self-attack is high. It shuts us down. It disconnects us from our truest selves. Our hearts stop singing. There is no soaring.
I sip my coffee, and remember something my clients have shown me over the years: While we may attack ourselves, we are not birds. We can find another way. Another way to protect and defend our vulnerabilities that doesn’t destroy us. That doesn’t cost us our lives.
We can go within, arms flailing, and yell, “Bwaaaah!” at our shame, self-loathing, self-rejecting and self-defeating.
We can come to see the invisible, essential self inside of us that is who we are, and build a home there.
A home, sweet home.
In this Precious Moment.
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David and his wife live in the western suburbs on Chicago with their two children, who David says “fill my days with laughter, excitement and a significant amount of property damage.”
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