I didn’t learn self-compassion at home or at school. I grew up in a semi-remote area in Alaska. My mom left my reclusive engineer dad and me when I was around 7.5, by the time she got around to making a brief reappearance I’d had enough and I ran away from home midway through my 14th year. Isolation was an air-tight deal for me. Self-reliance was a necessity early in life but self-reliance is not self-compassion. After running away I fell into a bad situation with a sociopath who robbed me of any remnants of self-esteem I had had through mind games and more isolation. He once made me wait outside while he had a couple friends over because he didn’t trust me not to flirt with them.
By the time, I extracted myself from that mess and started looking around for a more constructive lifestyle I was in rough shape. Entering college helped enormously, but the self-esteem issues continued to get worse. I didn’t like myself; I thought there was something wrong with me, in part because of the type of people, particularly men, that I attracted – was I wearing a sign on my back?
The process of recovering a positive sense of self is not an easy journey, it takes time. The component that makes the difference is self-compassion. You can’t take a girl who hates herself and tell her she needs to be nicer, less critical. There are steps and stages, and for me the first one was to accept that there was stuff about me that wasn’t so great. I wore a tee-shirt in college that said, “Rude girl” that was my way of giving myself permission. I systematically used this ‘permission’ technique for several years. I was sharp-tongued, irreverent, sarcastic and often insensitive, not the end of the world. I had to become a ‘tough girl’ before I could allow the real girl to peek out. It was just too damned scary to be vulnerable.
I stood ‘outside’ everywhere I went. I didn’t fit in. It was painful working through the aspects of me as I identified them. Piece by piece I forgave and accepted and looked more closely. One day stepping outside myself I saw her, and her pain and I wept like I had lost my best friend. It’s hard to describe how it came about, but self-compassion happened for the first time.
The man I loved like I had never loved before, had delivered an ultimatum, accept his infidelity or break-up. Although we lived together, he didn’t always come home. I knew many of the women he spent time with; some were friends. The grief drove me outside mind and body like a near-death experience. I could see myself – big picture, and it was shattering. That was the first in a series of experiences that helped me become kind to myself. Breaking that relationship took 6 years and spanned three different countries. It would be easy to dismiss him based on his behavior, but the qualities that kept me there then are the same qualities that have maintained our loose friendship for the past 30 years. Loving him taught me a great deal about myself over the years.
Self-compassion is an emotional maturity; it required me to step up, and show up for me. I’ve learned to mother myself, self-soothe, comfort, and support and to become a fan. I can rely on my own kindness regardless of the situation. When I’m down, I acknowledge it and look for creative ways to BE with the fear or pain or confusion. Self-compassion saved my life by showing me that I am worth loving.
If you have a self-compassion story, you are willing to share I would love to hear from you! Please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org