The Tiny Spotted Elephant — and other manifestations of shame.
Today I am thinking a lot about The Tiny Spotted Elephant. What is The Tiny Spotted Elephant? It is the manifestation of that voice that shows up to say you’re not good enough. It’s that little itty bitty whisper in your ear that says “this isn’t going to work” when you’re trying something new. It’s that cackle that you feel in your heart when you hit a roadblock, and it says “I told you so.” It is the voice of your past — people who told you to stop being you, to be someone else. It is the grown ups that zapped your confidence as a kid, and then blamed you for it. It is you — trying, falling, trying again. It’s a very, very persistent creature, this Tiny Spotted Elephant.
Why do I call it “The Tiny Spotted Elephant?” well — one: because children think it’s hilarious, but mostly two: because the thought of it is so absurd that if I tell you to imagine it — you will. Then, you won’t be able to get rid of it. If I tell you that it is running around the room — you will see it, right there, on your dining room table -as I did today. It might be an elephant for me — but for you it can be a goblin, an amorphous shape, a scent — or most likely a very annoying, nagging feeling deep in your core. It’s that bubble that starts somewhere in your navel and travels up to your heart. It’s that creepy, crawly feeling that you just can’t shake off.
It is doubt. It is guilt. It is shame. And it is vicious.
The Tiny Spotted Elephant- your voice of shame — wants to be noticed, and it will use all its powers to do so. It will nag, it will pull, it will stomp, it will jump around until you can no longer ignore it. It wants you to feed it — to cycle through doubt — in your work, in yourself- in your future. It wants you to feel like your confidence has tanked — even if there is no reason for it. It feeds off of these feelings and grows…until it can be so big that you are crushed under it.
When I work with kids, particularly grade school aged kids, we talk a lot about how their experiences during the school day affect how they feel about themselves. A particularly negative encounter with a classmate can leave them reeling for days — or longer. A harsh word from a teacher can send them into spirals doubting their own abilities. Kids learn from their interactions in the classroom, and in their school environment. They might experience big feelings- anger, sadness, fear — with big reactions — tears, hitting, screaming — but have no one really hear them.
Likewise- a validating experience — where someone really hears them, sees them at eye level, and believes that what they are sharing is important — can make all the difference. Learning that there are ways for them to quiet those voices, feel the feelings safely, and even make different and better decisions can feel like a super power.
What makes the elephant go away? What makes it get smaller and smaller, and eventually disappear?
If your Elephant says to you “you are not smart enough to learn this new subject” — you can say “well, actually, I have been learning for a long time, so I can definitely learn more!”
If it says to you “give up — this isn’t going to work because people don’t like you.” Then you say to it, “well, actually here are some people who do like me, and here are some things that have worked.”
If it says to you, “it is your fault that you are struggling” then you can say, even as a kid “I have done hard things before, and I can do this hard thing too.”
I mean, come on — many children learn to talk, walk, dress themselves, eat, and use the bathroom all within the first four years of life. That is a lot of hard things that they have done!
The Elephant doesn’t know how to contradict self truth. It gets smaller, and smaller until it disappears.
Self Truth builds confidence.
Self Truth makes doubt disappear.
Self Truth weakens the hold of shame on your spirit.
Self Truth helps you walk stronger, even if The Elephant weighed down your steps in the past.
Try it next time you hear that voice, that rap on the shoulder from your Tiny Spotted Elephant.