I recently took a self compassion class. It was interesting because even though when I signed up I thought, “Oh my god, please let this finally teach me how to be nice to myself!”, I resisted almost everything about the class.
I kept telling myself the teachers were delusional if they thought it’s this easy to just be kind to yourself. I found the exercises cheesy. And my over blown egoic therapist part found it all too basic. And it clearly wasn’t helping because I had actually been out-loud mean to myself once the class began.
I shared this in a class in an attempt to demoralize the teachers. “See! This shit is stupid! Its making me WORSE! I knew you couldn’t fix me!!” But because I was still curious enough, I kept listening. And then what do you know? Something struck a chord in me.
I am not USED to kindness. Don’t get me wrong. There are wonderful things and beings in my life. BUT…deep down inside there is this little kid part of me. And that kid isn’t used to trusting myself.
I am used to relying on the parts of me that manage and carefully orchestrate my life. I would like to update this kid like you update the apps on your phone. But, Jesus, it isn’t that simple. Which is why I was resistant and distrustful of this whole self-compassion idea.
My father was an intense man. (I just wrote “mean” instead of “man”. So, yeh. Not a Freudian slip there.)
He was critical and unrelenting in his eagle eye approach to molding me into, what? Perfect? Whatever it was, it’s something I don’t know I have reached yet. After he passed the outward criticism faded a bit. The inside critical voice though, it took up the baton and kept running with it. Still grinding away at trying to make me immune to his eagle eye. This brings tears to my eyes.
It is sad that I have spent a good chunk of my life TRYING hard to be someone else while simultaneously trying to allow myself to just be me.
Hence, the desire to learn to be compassionate towards myself.
I must confess. This isn’t my first class on self-improvement. Being a psychotherapist kinda makes you focus on this quest for inner peace. For yourself and others. To help this along, I have an impressive collection of self-help books. I start them, feel they are too simple, get angry at the author for making a killing on what appears to be common sense and let them collect dust on my kitchen table.
So, I take classes instead. Always with an intention to update this kid inside with a new operating platform. After all this, I haven’t found the magic pill yet. And frankly, there is some shame in that. Because I sit with people for a living and I help them unpack their tangled inner workings, their old programming, and help them show kindness to themselves as they rework the new operating platform.
I mean, this is my shtick. This is what I offer clients. And yet…physician heal thyself. Still over here toiling away to find some peace myself.
So when I woke up to the reality that I did not know how to be kind to myself…that stuck. That was Truth. If I was vulnerable as a kid, or dropped my guard around my father, he pounced. Stuff I never thought would be of interest to him to “correct”. He corrected. The inner critical seed was planted very early on and even though he stopped tending to it, I took over and exceeded all his expectations.
The self compassion class re-introduced me to my kid inside. I now have kind feelings for her. She didn’t “deserve” that treatment. She was constantly shocked someone she thought was supposed to support her and show her kindness, even teach her kindness towards herself, instead, continually berated her for being herself. I have empathy for the shit she went through.
And it’s a starting place.
Remembering her as I berate myself for any number of normal every day human actions hurts. The inner critic translates those actions into a doctoral dissertation of evidence I am failing as a therapist, friend, partner, daughter, sister, neighbor, global citizen. It tells me, the kid inside, I will never get my shit together. I’m not “okay”.
Relearning how to take care of our internal parts is a commitment because the inner critical voices come from so many places and the roots are deep. The measuring stick we use to determine our worth is both blatant and subtle. And freaking pervasive.
There is real pain in the constant buzz of criticism and comparison and perfectionism. Which is why I gravitated towards self compassion. It took a while to slow that inner voice down. I am still in the process of softening the voice. But I feel the difference between harsh and soft. If that awareness is all I took away from the class, then I feel grateful.