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Highly Recommend: Self Compassion

A while back, Joe kept talking about this book by Kristin Neff. First off, it's a genuine miracle he was trying to talk to me about a book that wasn’t written by Robert Caro. Second, he had that nonchalant tone I get when I’m super excited for my kids to read a book, but won’t actually suggest it, because then it’s curtains. So I was suspicious. 

I finally cracked it open and they were the most terrifying words I’d ever read.  I kept trying to get through the first chapter but I couldn’t shake the urge to shove it in the freezer like Joey/Rachel did with all the scary books on Friends.  

What was so scary? This Kristin Neff person wanted me to (hurl) be kind to myself and if that idea was too awful, to at least stop berating myself in my mind. 

Feelings have always been super scary for me and expressing them always got me into trouble. When I experienced strong feelings I would try to shut them down by being super harsh with myself. (Childhood patterns die hard ) Joe would be so nice to me, but not only did it not help, it caused physical pain. Meanness was the only road to relief in my own brain. 

But now here was Joe, with this book he left lying around the house, just walking around saying things like, “This is a moment of suffering” so much that it became a kind of inside joke. We said it for everything. Kids won’t put on their shoes. Just missed the train. We’ve run out of coffee. “This is a moment of suffering.” But it also really helped! Just acknowledging that whatever crazy, stressful, painful, weird thing was happening ... was real. It gave us a way to be in that space together. 

And then it would pass. 

Looking back I can see how that is the essence of compassion. The origin of that misused word, comes from compati, “to suffer with” 

Eventually, and with the help of a good therapist, I was able to dip my pinky toe into entering into a kind of neutral space with myself and then wondering, what might it be like to “suffer with” myself? To just be in the space and then let it pass. 

It’s been hard work and some days it’s too heavy a lift but I’m still practicing! I’m grateful I got a head start because ... I know more than anything the children learn what is modeled for them. 

This quarantine time is so challenging and precious because we are engaged in such real, intense work with our relationships. There are so many relationships flying around here it’s nuts. Marriage. Sibling. Parent to child. Ourself. 

We have worked really hard to be mindful of modeling and practicing relationship repair with these interpersonal relationships. 

But yesterday I was having a hard time. My daughter kinda knew it and she drifted near at the end of the day, just wanting to be close. She sat next to me on the bed, writing in her journal. After a few minutes she put her hand on my head and said, “Mama you’ve been doing so much for everyone else are you doing anything for yourself?” This dear child. 

Yes, I told her. I took a walk and a bath and asked Daddy to make dinner. 

Did that help, she asked? 

A little. I’m just feeling sad and strange today. 

Why? Because of coronavirus? 

Well yeah and sometimes I just feel sad and I don’t really know why. So I’m trying to be nice to myself. I’m trying to think about what I would say to you when you’re feeling sad, and say that to myself. 

Like this morning, when I was crying on the couch because I miss my friends? she asked.

Just like that. I’m telling myself, Of course you feel sad. This is a hard hard thing. It’s ok to just feel sad. Everyone feels sad or worried or stressed sometimes. It’s ok to cry or just take a rest. 

You say that to yourself? 

I nodded. 

Her eyes were all shiny, and I could see that little light turn on behind them, what happens when she learns something new. 

She smiled.

It feels so good to hear you talk like that, she said. It’s like the other night when I was really mad and I couldn’t calm down and Dad told me that maybe if I was more gentle with my feelings they might come out calmer. 

Yeah. It’s exactly like that, I said. I don’t want to be mean to you so I’m not going to be mean to myself either. 

We sat together on my bed, in that kind of magical, sacred space that bubbles up between people when you deeply connect. 

I think this is what it means to show our imperfections to our children. We don’t just toss our hands up and say, oh well nobody’s perfect, nothing to be done, let's all watch Netflix and paint our nails. We let them see this process of our becoming more accepting and loving of ourselves. We model what deep, connected, real self-care looks like. And we hope this plants a seed.

I always wanted to be the mom who had it all together. But I’m the mom who’s always working on it. I’m in it with my kids. I’m in it with Joe. I’m in it with myself. 

Self compassion. Highly recommend. 

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