“You yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love & affection”
Having a loving and accepting relationship with myself has been an extremely daunting task, as a small part of me seeks to I resist the idea of self-compassion. Every time I am placed in a stressful situation, whether it be a project deadline, conflict in a relationship, dealing with a frustrated and angry child, parent, or client, or simply trying something for the first time, I would find myself consistently, but subtly criticizing and judging every though, action or word I spoke.
No matter what, I was always able to find the “bad” in everything – myself, others, and the situation – sometimes even giving up before the day starts.
Judgment is biologically hardwired into our psyche as a means of survival. We need to be able to perceive imminent threats in our surroundings, or by other people who don’t have our best interests in mind. We simply can’t help but to judge.
But most of the time we’re the judge, jury, and executioner. We judge ourselves and others based on preconceived ideas and beliefs of what’s right or wrong. We wrongly condemn ourselves for every thought, feeling, or action that doesn’t conform to our beliefs or the ideologies of our culture; and we carry out our own execution with such powerful and endless self-denigration, we’re left feeling bitter and broken. Sometime our self-defacing judgments become so powerful we’re left powerless, stuck in perpetual victim-hood.
The heart can only contain so much self-hatred before the dams break, bleeding our toxic venom into every aspect of our lives, and damaging everything we love and treasure. For some, the shame, guilt, pain, and suffering reaches such intolerable levels, the only way to escape our inner demons is to totally numb ourselves from ALL feelings, disengaging from our lives by abusing drugs or alcohol, hurting the people we love most, engaging in other self-destructive behaviors, and in the most extreme and desperate cases, attempting suicide.
I’ve seen the destructive power self-hatred breeds in my professional experience working in substance abuse and clinical mental health.
Many of us were taught certain myths in our childhoods about who we should be and how we should behave. Because many of us are starved for attention, validation, and love we construct our thoughts and beliefs around what to do, say, and be as our way to seek pleasure and avoiding pain.
We will quash our beliefs, betray our values, and compromise our dreams to please those we love most, desperately hoping we won’t be rejected. Sometimes we use intimidation and manipulation to protect ourselves from harm. Throughout our lives we’re told by our parents, peers, teachers, and the media about who we should be, what we must do to be worthy of love, and how we can find more happiness in our lives if we buy this makeup, work in this career field, or obeying certain rules and laws.
But the more we pretend to be anyone else but ourselves; the more we buy into other people’s ideas and expectations of who we “should” be, we start to lose our authenticity, uniqueness, and creativity in the myriad of personas, façades, masks, and hats we begrudgingly wear every day.
The vulnerability it takes to be authentic in our world today is like a fragile flower. So gentle, delicate and elusive; yet beautiful, powerful, and captivating. Once damaged, it may never be willing to bloom again.
Vulnerability allows us to experience the intense euphoria of love, intimacy, passion, joy, and peace or it can create unimaginable pain when we’re betrayed, harmed, or exploited by those we love and trust most. Opening our heart to love is the most vulnerable we can be. It’s the willingness to expose the raw nakedness of our being to another; with all our cracks, wounds, and imperfections uncovered for the world to see.
Many people today are too afraid to be themselves; too afraid to be real. They are filled with so much self-doubt of having nothing genuine or substantial to offer others, and so terrified of judged and ostracized from significant relationships, they are willing to sacrifice their time, healthy, energy, and resources to obtain just a little recognition, love, and acceptance. But deep down we’re truly ashamed of ourselves, and disgusted with who we’ve become.
Despite all the masks we contrive to deceive others and ourselves, we can only prop them up for so long something has to give.
The restlessness and agitation of inauthenticity always starts off silent and subtle, but as we continue conforming to the expectations of others, and uncontrollable pressure intensifies deep inside our hearts, waiting for the right time to erupt into devastating chaos. Every time we subjugate our beliefs and values to another’s, we betray ourselves, generating self-directed enmity and resentment. Every time we were meant to feel ashamed and guilty for expressing our deepest needs and desires, we believe we’re unlovable, and have nothing real to offer the world. Every time we reject ourselves in favor of imitating or idolizing others, we reinforce an inauthentic identity we’ll never be able to live up to. Every attempt to become perfect only leaves us feeling overwhelmed and out-of-control in an unpredictable and imperfect world.
We commonly hear how we “can’t love someone until we love ourselves”, and how we “should” love ourselves more; yet many of us truly struggle to embody genuine self-compassion. Many of us understood it was selfish if we wanted something for ourselves, including love, and that we must give to others first. You are not alone if the idea of self-compassion seems alien or unimaginable, or those of you who combat the endless self-criticism and struggle with self-acceptance.
During one of my meditation classes I truly experienced the value and healing power embodying self-compassion. We were taught the Tibetan Buddhist practice known as tonglen. Tonglen is a maitri (translation: loving-kindness) practice used to cultivate deeper connection, openness empathy, compassion, and a non-judgmental awareness of the shared human experience of pain and suffering.
Tonglen is a practice of “giving and receiving”, where one visualizes receiving the hurt and suffering of himself/herself or others on the in-breath, and on the out-breath giving acknowledgement, compassion, and acceptance to all beings. Tonglen helps to open our hearts by turning towards the suffering every human experiences, not forgetting ourselves. Tonglen reduces selfish attachment to past pain and grievances, cultivates an unconditional positive regard, and an unconditional acceptance of ourselves in this very moment. Tonglen also helps us relax into and discover our courage and willingness to be vulnerable in times of distress and despair.
So stop hating a person that isn’t the true YOU, and create a life that makes you come alive. Don’t wait until later and don’t give up!
4 Steps to Start Your Path of Self-Compassion
1. Acknowledge your present experience: Since rejecting ourselves and refusing to accept who we are in this moment is the root of our suffering, we must be paradoxical and do the polar opposite of what we are so use to doing. Take a few deep breaths in, and acknowledge what you’re experiencing in your mind, body, and heart in this moment. Put all of your future worries or past regrets aside for the moment, as they are of no concern to you now.
2. Turning towards instead of away from pain and suffering: When you’re ready, turn towards the pain as it arises. Breathing in deeply, open your chest and heart, exposing your tremendous courage and vigor as you come face to face with your hurts and fears. As you begin to sense the tenderness of your pain, exhale deeply, sending enough space outward so your heart and mind becomes big enough to hold all of your discomfort, fear, anger, anguish, and despair.
3. Listen to the underlying messages hidden within the pain: Fully opening our hearts and embracing our pain and suffering is the most challenging of tonglen practice. Give your hurt, pain, fear, or suffering a voice, being open and curious to what arises. What is it trying to tell you? What happened to cause this pain and make it hurt so much? What does your heart need to heal? Listen to closely and notice any underlying messages, recurring themes, or beliefs hidden within the pain.
4. Offering yourself wholehearted loving-kindness: Offering ourselves loving-kindness can take many forms - words, praise, prayers, gifts, affirmations, or actions – as we embrace our suffering with unconditional positive regard. Reflect on what you need in this very moment and give it to yourself, even if only in imagination. Maybe it’s forgiveness you seek, acceptance you desire, understanding you never had, or even a simple hug. See if you can enlarge and extend this nurturing compassion to other areas of your life.
As we continue to practice giving ourselves loving-kindness in times of pain, fear, anger, or suffering we give ourselves a new beginning, a fresh start towards wholehearted living. When we extend our hearts instead of shrinking away from the obstacles that prevent us from developing a greater understanding and caring for ourselves and others. When we choose to live a life congruent to what we truly love and value in our lives instead of what others expected of us, we cultivate renewed confidence, courage, and engagement in our relationships, careers, family, and lives.
For those of you who want to take this practice of self-healing a bit further, here is an additional challenge for you:
5. Offering those who hurt us loving-kindness: Many of us struggle forgiving those who have hurt us most, and it can be absolutely unyielding to suggest offering those same people benevolence, kindheartedness, and compassion. But when we are able to detach from our own suffering and reflect on how they too are human and are experiencing grave pain and suffering, maybe even greater than our own, we open our hearts by offering them loving-kindness. Why? Because when we offer kindness, we allow forgiveness to our seep into our hearts. When we’re willing to forgive those who hurt us most, we are truly able to let go of all the pain and suffering that has kept us bound to pain and suffering caused by this person for far too long.