24 Jun June: The Courage to be Self Compassionate
I had a big change in my life at the end of December 2013, and, in the following January I moved to Auckland with a new contract. With my marriage over, both my kids out of high school, and months between contracts in a new city, it was hard going. I got good at thinking about how many ways I wasn’t making it and getting into depression.
I don’t remember being hard on myself as a small child, although when I talked to myself from when I was at school, it was often about how I wasn’t quite good enough. And, probably falling for a lie, I believed that being tough on myself was the way I could get more things done. And so I became my own worst frenemy. So, if you feel your to do list at the end of the day and there’s not enough done, or you criticise yourself and go over how many things you did badly, then like me, you’re beating yourself up. Mine was a daily ritual. A self-fulfilling prophecy about the downward spiral of my life.
You might not have read the research, but as women, we are socially conditioned to be critical of our bodies, to be self -conscious about how we look and act, especially in front of men. Men are taught to view their bodies quite differently. As boys they are asked by parents and others to challenge themselves with how high, how strong how fast they can use their physical self. Even t-shirts show how we’re socialised. Boys T-shirts are about heroes and strength, while girls’ ones are about looking pretty and fairytale princesses and unicorns. Girls are praised for their beauty, not their brains. And so we hold that in our deep subconscious, the early deep thoughts we’re not aware of, and review our looks in a way men don’t. Women, on average, check out how they look up to 15 times a minute. All of this is not deliberate, it’s just the way we’ve been since there’ve been t-shirts on the planet – and that goes back a long way, baby! And if we’re not chosen by the handsome prince or we’re discarded, we criticise ourselves for the way we behaved. And if we don’t know any different, like me, we start to blame ourselves for so many things that don’t work out. And the unicorn on our t-shirt even flies away.
So what has this to do with self- compassion? Well, until I had a great coach, I didn’t realise that beating myself up was an unconscious habit of mine. When I realised and had the courage to reflect on what I was doing to myself I could see I hit a continual self-destruct button. It took courage to admit my stinking thinking, courage to review what that thinking was, and courage to make some changes to such a subconscious and therefore deeply ingrained way of life.
I also realised that all those amazing verses about how God treated and thought of me had been a head, not a heart exercise. Because deeply held thinking become beliefs and the sub-conscious always wins over the conscious. The Bible says I’m the apple of His eye, He made every part of me, He loves me through Christ, and He’s never had a bad thought about me. He says I am complete in Him. It took me a long time to believe I was that amazing to him, in my heart of hearts. For one thing, I had to get past my self-judgement!
How could I find my own groove of being self-compassionate?
I came across this great quiz on being self-compassionate, and with it, the work of Kristen Neff. She describes what I was doing to myself so well! I was self-judging, isolating and catastrophising.
Her definition? “Self-compassion involves acting the same way towards yourself when you are having a difficult time, fail, or notice something you don’t like about yourself. Instead of just ignoring your pain with a “stiff upper lip” mentality, you stop to tell yourself “this is really difficult right now,” how can I comfort and care for myself in this moment?”
I knew from her amazing work I could learn self-kindness, accepting my humanity (that we all fail and it’s OK) and being ‘mindful’ (which she describes as objectivel acceptance of thoughts and feelings, but so that we aren’t overwhelmed by them). Basically it meant giving myself a break! It meant not dwelling on the past. I am now much better at catching myself giving myself bad press. And to really do it justice I do nice things for me and treat myself like I’m my best friend! I pick myself flowers, I tell myself how lovable and cute I am, I have fun by looking up bad puns I laugh at, I jump in puddles, I dance crazy when I’m the only one there to enjoy it.
It does take courage because admitting something so fundamental, so core and changing it is anti-social. It’s not socially acceptable to say that I love me and I’m the best thing that happened to me! And it takes courage to find the cause of socially pervasive beat-up thinking and change it – and keep at it until it becomes a new habit.
I hope you learn the gentle art of self-compassion – be kind, accepting and self-aware. Because, in the near-words of that famous movie “You is smart, you is kind, you is funny”