When I accept myself as I am, then I can change (Carl Rogers)
Most of us were taught that virtue lies in beating ourselves up. This is also called self-flagellation. How many times have you found yourself saying: “I am so stupid!” after making a mistake? This is what we learned – to equate what we are with what we do. This, to me, is the worst disaster in human development because it camouflages our real identity. And what is that identity?
We have learned to always strive for more, we cannot afford to be satisfied, we have to keep acquiring more and more, and the more we acquire, the more likely we are to be unhappy – it is a self-fulfilling prophecy and a vicious cycle. When we strive to become infallible and to retain our position at the top, we cannot escape suffering (Emma Seppala). We have learned that we MUST be the BEST, and sometimes, at all costs. This perpetuates unhappiness and loneliness because we treat ourselves harshly when we do not measure up.
How many of us had some experience of being compared to another person? As a child, I remember being told: “Why can`t you be like Regina? She is so good mannered, excels in school, and helps her mother a lot at home”. This made me start looking at Regina with contempt – she was the object of my humiliations. I felt inadequate, I could not measure up, there was something wrong with me. I learned to dislike myself, to always compete in an unhealthy way, to want to be at the top – this is the only version that was acceptable. When I was able to beat Regina, I was happy, because now I could ward off painful feelings of inadequacy. So, I learned that self-esteem lies in competing successfully.
It is practically impossible to always be at the top, and for most of us, when we lose, we start doubting ourselves, being extremely self-critical. When others criticize us, we become even more defensive, and enraged. We become insecure, anxious, and our inner peace is replaced by stress. This can lead to stress and a sense of worthlessness, powerlessness, loneliness, vengeance, and even physical problems. When we are under stress, our sympathetic nervous system shifts to the fight/flight mode. Stress hormones (adrenalin and cortisol) are released, putting our brain on the survival mode. When we are on survival mode, other faculties in our systems shut down, because all energy is concentrated on the danger at hand. We therefore find it difficult to learn, to reason, to reach out to others, and fail to see the opportunities at hand. How do we change the trajectory of our life for the good? The answer lies in self-compassion. In self-compassion, feel good hormones (oxytocin etc.) are triggered, hormones involved in caregiving, affiliation, and love, which leads to see our worth despite what we have done or not done, and extend this to others.
Self-compassion involves re-learning about our loveliness and worth. When we come into this world, we do not have preconceived ideas about who we are – we are open to everything, we view everything with open eyes, ready to receive and absorb whatever is offered to us. We are born impeccable. We are worthy, we are lovely, we are adorable. How many times have we used these words when we look at a baby? And we mean it… We need to return to this state – we are love; we are sacred. If you reorganize the letters in the word “scared”, it becomes “sacred” – and that is what we discover of ourselves when we let go of fear and anxiety.
We need to be our best friend. This means that we need to exercise patience on ourselves. Jesus said: “Love your neighbour as you love yourself” – implying that we need to love ourselves first, and well, in order to extend this to others. We cannot give what we do not have. When our family members, friends, or acquaintances make mistakes, we tend to excuse them, to empathize with them, to be patient with them. Why can`t we exercise the same on ourselves?
Self-compassion does not mean avoiding our goals or being complacent to our flaws, or becoming self-indulgent, but it is a great motivator that leads us to see things as they really are – that we are both divine and human, and that it is normal to have weaknesses. It helps us to alleviate suffering, to heal, and be happy. It helps us to authentically reach out to others in compassion, because we know what it really means. It means taking responsibility of our own life, opening up to the Spirit that is in us for guidance – connecting with our entelechy (that part of divine me that sustains, loves, and guides me, the purpose of my being).
When we exercise self-compassion, we have a good relationship with failure – we see it as an opportunity to learn, to become better. Lack of self-compassion may lead to bitterness, resentments, and anger, which leads to self-defence or self-flagellation. Instead, with self-compassion, we view failure with calm and embrace it as part of our being human.
Self-compassion helps us to invest our energy in the right place. When we over-criticize ourselves, a lot of energy goes in there, and we feel depleted. With self-compassion, we maintain peace of mind and serenity of heart, thereby seeing more clearly what we can learn from the situation facing us. We therefore experience a sense of well-being and become of service to others.
Self-compassion helps us to accept the fact that we are enough. Our value lies in who we are, not on the approval or validation of others. Some of us may have learned to always be there for others, at the expense of our own needs. We therefore literally “deny ourselves, take up our cross” and follow other people`s needs. This can lead to resentments because at one point, we feel taken advantage of, misused, abused, and even mistreated. We alone can break this cycle by believing that we are enough, and whatever we do is born out of conviction, and we accept ourselves, warts and all, without giving in to self-flagellation.
Self-compassion can be learned. Stop everyday and spend some time with yourself in meditation, appreciate yourself, affirm yourself, and recognize the divine that is in you. Mindfulness helps us to be in touch with our deepest self, the discovery of our entelechy, and gives us a sense of infinite goodness. Just like when a child is learning to walk. When they fall, they do not beat themselves up, but get up immediately and continue, until they stop wobbling and reach their goal.
We need to be role models of self-compassion for others, we cannot underestimate what this can do to others. We need to be Auntie Rosie to ourselves and to other people (Read what this means in my book: Breaking the Cycle). If we treat ourselves with compassion, we shall consequently treat others in the same way.
Exercising gratitude on a regular basis even for the most minute things is important and it boosts self-compassion. This is the recognition that there is so much good happening in our life. It brings acceptance, balance, and harmony in our life, and leads us to invest our energy on what really matters, since what we pay attention to and practice grows stronger.
Let`s be kind to ourselves, and we shall be amazed at the way our life takes a shift towards fulfilment. Self-care is part of self-compassion. Let`s dispute those limiting beliefs that we have harboured in our lives, that caring for ourselves is selfish, and shift towards seeing our sacredness and taking responsibility to preserve it.
If you are a parent, remember that you deserve to take time for yourself, have the courage to say and do exactly that without feeling guilty. We need to practice the warmth and tenderness we give to our families on ourselves as well. As parents, we make mistakes, and beating ourselves up and constantly getting stuck in regret does not serve us or our families at all. Let`s not judge ourselves harshly or indulge in self-pity. Acknowledge what you have done, make amends, and move on.
If you are a worker, have the courage to say no when others demand your attention and you feel you would be sacrificing self-care at this expense. You cannot be all things to all people, boundaries are important. If we care for ourselves, we see clearly what needs to be done to contribute to the world we live in without feeling resentful or overwhelmed.
Let us remember that we are not alone in this, we have never been alone, irrespective of whether we feel it or not – our entelechy is with us, the divine, as well as other people – we are in this together, and together we shall overcome. Let`s not go down the self-pity avenue of “why me”, or “poor me”, but exercise the gift of who we really are, and live our life to the fullest, for this is why we are here.