This year, I took a short, online course in self-compassion, taught by Dr. Kristen Neff, through Brené Brown’s CourageWORKS. I had been exposed to the idea of self-compassion before, had learned a little about it, and it seemed like a really good idea, since I’m working at not numbing, or at least numbing less, when I’m having a hard time. One strategy I’ve used in the past to deal with difficult emotions is, “Take deep breaths.” Sometimes that helps, but a lot of times I feel like I’m just gritting my teeth as I take those deep breaths. Mostly, I distract myself and I numb.
Basically, self-compassion is being kind to ourselves. Sounds simple enough. Unfortunately, when I tried to put it into practice, it was not at all easy. So I decided to pay attention to how I treat myself when I was struggling so I could see what I was doing, get a picture of what I do. After paying attention for a couple of days, I realized, to my horror, that rather than being kind to myself, I am usually mean or impatient or critical or judgmental to myself.
WHAT THE HECK?!?!
Because, guess what? I can’t get away from myself. I’m right there. When I go to sleep I’m there and when I wake up, I’m still there. So if I’m mean to myself rather than kind and compassionate to myself, I’ve got that going on 24/7, day in and day out, even on Christmas and holidays.
This is not good. If I walk around beating up on myself, is it any wonder that I struggle with anxiety and depression? Is it any wonder that I am a world-class numb-er? And I really had no idea I was doing this to myself as much as I was. I mean, I knew I would get annoyed with myself sometimes, but it wasn’t until I really paid attention that I saw how pervasive this was.
Realizing that I am so critical and mean to myself is pretty dispiriting. So now I’m struggling with that too. And, as I said, one of my main go-to strategies for dealing with difficult emotions is numbing, which, while helpful in the short term, is not good for me or my life, because usually after the numbing (or sometimes during the numbing) comes the self-loathing. And that is definitely not helpful. You can see how this goes: difficult emotions –> numbing –> self-loathing and more difficult emotions –> more numbing –> more self-loathing… Vicious cycle, party of one, right this way: welcome to Hell.
But at least now I know. I know the truth about how I treat myself, and so now I can learn how to treat myself better. And that’s the light, that’s where there is hope. Seeing the truth, and not turning away from it. I know what’s going on, and now I can learn how to change, I can try different things and see what helps.. It will probably take me awhile, because these are pretty entrenched habits, but that’s okay. Baby steps y’all. Baby steps, and not giving up. As Sister Glennon says, we can do hard things.