We don't want little fuzzy creatures to suffer...
You know those commercials with Sarah Mclaughlin and all the animals that are shaking and covered in flies, as you hear "in the arms of an angel" and start ugly-crying on your couch? That feeling you get? That's big fat compassion. We don't want little fuzzy creatures to suffer. I don't know about you, but if I make it through one of those commercials, my poor dog gets attacked with excess snuggles and treats. That's a little projection of my compassion. A compulsion to sooth my sad heart. While most of us can agree that compassion toward abused and neglected animals is pretty much a given, few of us practice the same compassion toward ourselves. In my world, I hear a lot of folks being extraordinarily hard on themselves. I mean- BAD. For some reason, we expect to have the wisdom and foresight to make perfect choices as children and beyond, even if we didn't have understanding or guidance to project such flawless judgement. It's not fair. Do we hold others to that standard? Rarely.
My blooming internal artist thrived on the drama...
I used to be the queen of this internal guilt trip. For over a decade, I beat myself up for just a few years I chose to take the long route to responsibility in early adulthood. I'm not going to lie, I had fun. I was waiting tables, staying up until the wee hours of the morning, and navigating friendships with intermittent success. A few of those years were sprinkled with frequent visits to pubs/dance clubs (the late 90's offered excellent club music) and coffee shops. My blooming internal artist thrived on the drama that surrounded me, and I learned a lot about my own character- for better or worse. Mistakes were made. Foibles if you will. Enter metaphorical self-flogging. That darn perfectionism that quivers in the face of failure. Yikes. A little understanding for a growing human? Heck no.
Younger slacker me...
I was fortunate to find a therapist to pull me out of that space. She gave me a little homework assignment. My nerd-self loves therapy homework. Again, all good therapists have been to therapy. We have to know what it's like to be vulnerable- on the other side of the couch. I'm in my 30's at this point. She says to me, "I want you to picture yourself with younger you. Perhaps sitting at a coffeeshop having a conversation. What would she talk to you about? What worries and concerns would she share with you? How might you advise her with compassion and understanding?" Mind. Blown. That certainly turned it around on me. I mean, I was a mother now. Life was all about nurturing and comforting- unconditionally even. So I pictured myself sitting at this coffeeshop called Dreamwalker. It was a slacker hangout I frequented to write in my journal, play gin rummy, and oogle over my latest crush. Younger slacker me would be about 90 pounds (modeling), hungry, dysphoric (think Eeyore), and literally hurting over something that had shattered in her social circle. The definition of lonely. Then I pictured older Audrey. Social worker, mother, healthy and confident, striding across that coffeeshop to the corner booth where crumpled up and broken younger Audrey sat buried in her journal. Holy huge wave of compassion. I looked at younger me, survivor of domestic abuse, drowning in an eating disorder, and uber depressed. This girl needed a hug! If it wouldn't break her tiny boney body. Geez. I pictured a conversation. Validation. Unconditional positive regard. Understanding. Empathy. These were things younger me needed, but was totally unable to find. I told myself, you're going to be OK. You have an amazing career, a beautiful daughter, and the highest quality friends on the planet. It doesn't all come easy, but it comes. You're going to be fine. You're a beautiful human.
Humanity is a beautiful thing. Let's embrace it.
I'm a big deal too...
Self-compassion is just that. Compassionate. After I processed this dusey of an exercise, I was covered with a sense of peace. I was doing everything I had the capacity and understanding to do at that time of my life. If my daughter were in that situation? Endless supply of running love until the cows come home. That's the worth she holds in my heart. Am I less valuable than that? Heck no. I'm a big deal too. I deserve all good things, and none of those things come from a place of judgement. So how can you cut yourself some slack before busting out the tar and feathers? Check in with a few of these simple suggestions:
- Talk to younger you. If it's with your therapist, journal, or a mirror- process the heck out of it. I think you'll find that self-compassion will rear it's head in a surprising and beautiful way.
- Remember that no one is perfect. We are all slaves to our egos or fears at some point. These things make us human. Humanity is a beautiful thing when framed with compassion.
- Be a friend. What if your best friend was toiling over a bad choice, a foible of their own? Would you agree- "Yep. You're a total loser." Or would you comfort them with compassion and understanding? Sometimes talking to ourselves like a friend can be a bit easier than the real mccoy.
- What fabulous thing came of this? There is always something unexpectedly awesome to emerge from a challenge. I often tell my patients that if I hadn't been laid off from my last job due to a buyout, I would have never found this wonderland of joy I come to every day. No mistakes, just different paths to walk.
- Celebrate your growth. Look at how far you've come! Dare I say- you've learned something! The process of growth is often met with a few twinges of pain. It lets you know you're alive and healing. Tomorrow is filled with new opportunity. Well done.
If you have felt badly about something, or have fallen short of perfection- welcome to my world. Yesterday is soooo over. It is time to look forward to new and exciting opportunities that will continue you down this ever-evolving story of you. You are exactly where you're supposed to be, and I for one, am super excited to be on this path with you.