No, you haven’t entered into a netherworld, this is about ‘Self-Compassion’. What is this strange term that I hear you ask? Well, take a seat and let me explain 🙂
When I was in hospital last year, I attended a course on self-compassion. I attended with the obligatory cynicism, and indeed, managed to get through the whole course maintaining this cynicism. I was so proud that I hadn’t been brain washed into self indulgence. Self-compassion is the realm of those who believe they are worth a damn. Those self-indulgent people who chose to look after themselves and sometimes (shock of all shocks) put their needs ahead of others. Like anyone could ever persuade me this was a good thing.
Except that now, many months later I finally get it. I actually get it, and I am trying to do it. And I’m getting there. I still feel a bit guilty, a bit self-indulgent, and sometimes a bit silly, but I get it and I’m trying it.
Let’s take a step back and explain. Self-compassion is about allowing yourself to be treated in the same way that you treat others. Allowing yourself comfort, from others and from yourself. If a friend told me they were feeling low, I would drop everything to help them out. I wouldn’t think twice about it. I would want to provide them the comfort and support they needed at that time. If they needed to talk I would listen. If they needed comfort I would hug. Turn the tables round to me though and you have a different story. I would never call for help. I didn’t deserve help. I was wallowing in my own self-pity and needed a good kick to get me out of it. I was weak and just needed to (wo)man up. No-one would want to listen to my misery anyway.
Reading this back now makes me feel sad, although these thoughts can still inhabit my mind from time to time. I’ve been seeing a counsellor for years and really thought I was opening up to her. I thought I was allowing her in to help me and I was paying her to do so. The payment was important as this was a business transaction and not someone putting themself out for me. I thought we were doing good work and she was certainly, for the most part, keeping me on an even keel. But I realise now, that I was just telling her things, with a general feeling associated with it.
It’s only since my hospital admission, and subsequent treatment, that I have really understood what letting people in means. And when I talk about letting people in, I include myself. I’ve shut myself out of this as well. It’s not about remembering past experiences and saying how awful or great they were. It’s remembering past experiences and remembering how you actually felt at that time. Sad, helpless, proud, ashamed, inspired, happy, worthless, worthy….the list goes on. And experiences do generally involve a huge mix of emotions, some of them even contrasting.
So, with encouragement, I have slowly started connecting with some of these feelings, and sharing them with close friends and family. I don’t mean just rushing everything out…but if they ask how I am, I stop and think, and try to tell them how I am actually feeling. And no one has run away from me, or told me to stop wallowing. I haven’t gone as far as letting them comfort me but we are taking steps in the right direction. I have to be honest, thinking about and identifying emotions is one of the hardest things I am having to do.
The other change I have made is that I provide myself a little comfort and try not to feel guilty. I booked a day off work when I felt things were getting a bit much, and spent the day watching movies. I even made popcorn and really indulged….or at least as much as a novice can. I couldn’t help feeling a little guilty and self indulgent but I would remind myself why we were doing this (‘we’ being my old and new self). I make myself a list of ‘healthy’ activities each day, and make sure I do them in an effort to take care of myself and maintain my health. If I don’t do one of them, I don’t berate myself and wallow in guilt, but think about how I can fit it in the next day. I went to a jewellery shop and bought myself my first ever piece of ‘proper’ jewellery, just because I could. I wear and notice it every day. It reminds be to be kind to myself and start to believe that I might actually be worth it.
So, how does this resonate with you? Are you a doubter, believing this is the realm of self-indulgence? Or are you an advocate and implementing some self care and spoiling?