Self-compassion is not inches lost, although getting fit would be easier and your body image more favorable with self-love. It’s not money earned, although you may have more enthusiasm for your vocation (or realize you need a new one) and your self-worth less dependent on dollars. It’s not relationship-perfecting, although self-love will always radiate outward and you will become less attached to what other people think of you.
It goes deeper than all of those benchmarks. It’s the healthy foundation on which you can build the rest of you life. It’s discovering your own bright shining light to use as a beacon to guide you through this crazy life maze. It’s waking up to who you really are: a perfect and loving spiritual being having one hell of a human experience. With it, you will become healthier and less anxious, and learn to live with more ease. I know this because I’ve lived it and I want to share my story with you.
“How can you hate yourself? You’re tall, pretty, smart and nice. How can YOU have problems? I didn’t like you when I met you 3 days ago. I didn’t think you belonged here with rest of us who had “real” issues. Thanks for proving me wrong.”
Umm. Wow. I wasn’t really sure how to take this comment from a woman at the end of my Woman Within Weekend Training a few years ago. But, I knew what she meant. I knew because I had been faking it for a loooooooong time. I had a wonderful childhood filled with love, security, and amazing opportunities. At the same time, I learned (at a very early age) what to do and say, and how to act like everything was just fine all the time. I learned what was acceptable behavior for being the youngest of four girls, growing up half-Catholic in a small town in the South. I learned this well before I learned who I was or that I had a choice in the matter. I didn’t know what was going on at the time, but the older I got, the more uncomfortable the facade became. So eventually, I started drinking, like we all did where I grew up. That seemed to ease the tension, numb the discomfort, and make me feel like I belonged a little bit more. I definitely didn’t know how to talk about what I was feeling and I often felt desperately alone, but I also got the sense that I wasn’t the only one. “So this is adolescence,” I thought.
One particular emotion that was NOT acceptable for a youngest of four girls, growing up half-Catholic in a small town in the South was ANGER. Nice, pretty girls don’t get mad. They charm, they soothe, they feed people, they placate, they DO NOT hurt anyone else’s feelings even if this means being less than honest about their own. So, I didn’t get angry; at least not to the outside world. Every time I felt anger or aggression, I would turn it all inward. Even when someone or something was hurting me, I took the blame. I only got angry at myself. I was responsible for all my actions, right? This continued for years and eventually as enough piled on, it turned into full-fledged closeted self-loathing with a healthy dose of shame on the side.
Don’t get me wrong. I wasn’t depressed and miserable all the time. I’ve lived a great and adventurous life, had nice friends, great jobs, and fun experiences. But, a big chunk of me was faking it. From the outside, things looked spiffy. But there was always this low level foundational feeling of self-disgust and ‘not enough-ness’ buzzing around. I felt like I didn’t fit in anywhere. It was very difficult to truly connect with people because I didn’t want anyone to know how awful the real me really was, like the nasty little voice in my head was constantly telling me. That voice became hard-wired into my brain; like a little side-kick I couldn’t get rid of. It became an automatic response to many situations and circumstances. However, as the inner-loathing trenches deepened, I just became more sophisticated at pretending everything was great. And many things were. But, anxiety set in. Drinking continued. I still didn’t really know there was another way.
It is amazing how long one can sustain this pattern. For me it lasted longer than I would comfortably like to admit and caused pain and heartbreaks I wouldn’t wish on anyone. Without a healthy outlet for those intense emotions, often drunken, earth-shattering flip-outs would occur at the most inappropriate times, directed at less-than-suitable people. (You can ask any of my exes or besties about this. #notsocute).
I would dare to guess there are people reading this now who are currently living some version of this pattern. As Brene Brown says about shame, it is a "silent epidemic" in American society.
I can’t tell you the exact moment I started to understand there was a different way. It was a slow gradual process, as most things are in my life. Maybe is was through yoga or living in Austin, Texas where being a weirdo was revered, not condemned. But something clicked around that time and I began to reach out for help because I knew SOMETHING HAD TO CHANGE and I couldn’t do it by myself. I’m the one that got me into this mess. It was going to take more than just me to get me out. I also started understanding that it was going to take more than just human help. You could say that was the beginning of my spiritual quest as well.
Then my dad died and shit hit the fan for awhile. It was messy. Things got worse before they got better. But better they did get. I found the right help and my slow ascent of self-recovery began. I recruited help in the form of therapists, healers, bodyworkers, and spiritual guides and a handful of super amazing, kick-ass friends. I found great connection in more than a few different communities where I finally felt like I fit in. I started letting people see the real me, as scary as that was. I started better discerning who was worthy of that privilege. I learned that having needs did not make me needy. I learned to express my feelings in a healthy way without needing to numb out. This process has been painful and exhilarating. It’s the hardest and most rewarding work I’ve ever done. It’s been my job at times. The job being not just to get back to par or neutral, but to see how good it can really get. As I’ve healed and practiced, my self-compassion has grown beyond measure and the self-loathing has taken a back seat for good.
Don’t think for a second, however, my work is done. Self-compassion, like mindfulness, is a lifelong practice. Things aren’t perfect, of course. My inner critic is still quite chatty on the daily. But, armed with self-love, that’s totally fine. I can sit with imperfections and the screw-ups. It’s still not pleasant, but I don’t need to fight it nor do I need to run and hide. I’ve finally learned to live like I belong wherever I am. Can I get an 'Amen' here?!?!
The motivation for this post was not to brag about how far I’ve come, although I don't shy away from celebrating it. The impetus was more from reflecting back on 2015 and the last ten years and also knowing 2016 will be the tenth anniversary of my 30th birthday (the big 4-0). I looked back gently and lovingly at what I have accomplished and what shifts have occurred. As stated above, it may not look like much from the outside. It’s not a super striking before and after photo. If anything, at times, it may actually look like I’ve taken steps backwards. However, waking up in the morning with love and not hate, the gratitude I have for most everything, being able to tap into something greater than me and know I am supported, and the way I can compassionately communicate with my inner critic are some of the greatest achievements of my life!
In addition to self-compassion, there have been some other amazing, more tangible achievements and there will be so many more. But without moving beyond that energy-draining, life-sucking self-loathing none of it would be grounded or have any staying power. It’s all surface stuff. As cheesy as it sounds, truly loving yourself is the greatest gift you could ever give... to yourself and to the world. It’s the foundation for real and true connection with others. Moreover, unlike self-loathing which is based solely in the ego, self-love is NOT selfish. It enables you to serve people from a deeper, more genuine healing place.
This story may sound bizarre or foreign to some if this isn’t an issue for you. If that’s the case, I applaud you. Please keep up the great work! For some, it may seem you’ve just read your own memoir with a few names and places changed. If so, I honor you, too, my friend. You’ve got this. Wherever you are on your journey, you’re exactly where you are supposed to be. And if you are still struggling, GET HELP! You are so worth it. Let me repeat that.
Self-compassion is not something anyone can ever have enough of. It’s like love. It’s infinite. And the more you have, the more you receive and the more you have to give. It’s a practice; a daily practice that can be reinforced and supported by your teachers, mentors, healers, and inner circle of amazing peeps! So, go for those 2016 goals with gusto, but remember to make your relationship with yourself a priority. Otherwise, none of it matters. Show the world how to treat you by example. Be good to yourself. Learn to love yourself. It’s the most important and longest-lasting relationship you’ll ever have.
Peace & love to you in 2016!