Shadow and Light

Pic_10-16A lover once told me I should read detective novels. One sunny afternoon he had come home and found my face a bit soggy. “Have you been reading spiritual books again?” he asked. I nodded. He hugged me and said “You should stick to detective stories.” I presume he was referring to my obvious struggle with imperfection.

Many years later I went on a binge, I read detective books. I also read Dean Koontz and Stephen King for a year. My lover had been right; it helped me immensely. Nearly all the heroes in the Koontz stories are misfits. These characters didn’t save the day so much as they persevered. If it was one thing I had, it was perseverance.

In my early 20s I did not have the self-compassion to hold myself up in the face of my own critical scrutiny. When I read spiritual how-to books, my self-esteem plummeted. I felt inferior and hopeless. My standards for myself were very high, impossibly high. In my late 20s my goal was perfect equanimity, unshakable detachment…right!

When someone we love makes a mistake that hurts them, we feel for them. We put ourselves into their shoes and imagine how they feel based on our experience and what we know of them. Feeling empathy helps us understand the behavior of others. This is how self-compassion helps take the sting out of our missteps as well. In turning that empathy on ourselves, we learn to accept that we’re doing the best we can.

As we move through the highs and lows of life, self-compassion provides stability as well as a life preserver when necessary.

Many people think that considering one’s own needs first is selfish. But think of an oxygen mask on an airplane. Self-consideration can make us more authentically available and loving to others because we’ve taken care of our immediate needs. We are free to be responsive to the other person. The difference comes down to healthy boundaries.

Boundaries were not a functional commodity in my life for a long time, and it was a messy way to live. I was often confused about just whose business I was in. I wasted a lot of my energy trying to fix, help and anticipate the needs of people I cared for, generally to my own detriment. I had emotional agendas, loose ends, trauma and unfulfilled needs.

These were just a few of my shadows, and honestly, I couldn’t face them until I learned to be kind to myself. I had to learn how to discern if someone’s criticism was a projection, or something I needed to hear. I had to mop up my emotional quagmire with compassion, love, and consistent support.

I learned to care for myself, and I’m so grateful for that. I believe self-compassion changes everything. It makes us better people. Perseverance helps too. We are encouraged to “keep trying.” “Get back on the horse.” I teach my clients how to self-support and to keep showing up for themselves! It’s important to recognize when you’re hurting, and take a moment to consider what you need from the inside. It may be that all you need is to speak these words aloud, “it’s okay, you’re okay… breathe.”

I teach women to become self-compassionate and how to develop the boundaries they need to increase their self-esteem.

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