I am struck these days, in observing myself on this journey of aging and life, with how challenging self compassion can be. I would ask each of you, how often did you show yourself the same kindness and compassion that you are able to show others?
I recently had an experience that once again brought this topic to light for me..
I was having some work done on some trees, and needed my neighbor to move her car out of her driveway so that the workers could access a tree that they had to work on. She was going on vacation and so she gave me her keys to her Prius. Now, I have never driven a Prius, so she gave me a quick lesson on how to move it out of the driveway and back.
The day of the tree work arrived. The owner of the tree business kindly offered to move the car himself since he had, in the past, owned exactly that same car. Great, I thought, one less time I have to be nervous about moving it. Tree work done, and time to move the car back to its original spot. And so I started to back it up, and oh -the dreaded sound of the car hitting something. I had hit one of the low concrete posts on her retaining wall. I pulled forward and then came the next dreaded sound of something being further damaged. With much trepidation, I got out of the car and to my horror, I had managed to actually pull the bumper off on the right rear side….there it was, hanging there for all to see my shame. I stood there, not quite believing what I had just done. And then, and then, the internal voices of shaming and self recrimination began their relentless chorus of attacks. I was immobilized in my shame and horror and disbelief. I won’t repeat what those internal voices said to me, as it is unfit to print. (Needless to say, this was not helpful in the least.) And those voices did not let up for a moment. I was unable to focus on much of anything else for the rest of the day, and felt truly as if I was in a nightmare. Why couldn’t it have been my own car? What was I doing to have this happen? Was I losing my mind, ability to drive, ability to focus? The intensity of the self recriminations and attacks was something so painful to try and tolerate. I emailed my neighbor, who was due back that night. I called my insurance company (what the heck is the purpose of insurance, I wondered, as they told me that my rates would be raised 20% for the next five years….?) I texted my neighbor’s son, who lives locally. He was kind and reassuring, told me it was a good idea that I had let his mother know and “pre-heated” her. (What an interesting choice of words, yes?) And I stewed in my shame and humiliation and total horror at myself for the rest of the day and well into the night. As I look back, the punishment seemed a bit severe for the crime, but there it was. The level of stress and shame made it impossible for me to really think clearly. And waiting for my neighbor to get back so that we could talk and deal with this…..was excruciating.
Fast forward to now…..I have a friend who knew of someone who did really good auto bodywork out of his garage, charged a reasonable fee, and was less than 5 minutes from my home. Great! I called him, and he was able, with my neighbor’s agreement, to fit us in on the very day that I called him and was able to fix it right then (apparently the damage was more easily fixable than I could have imagined ). And charged me a really low fee (so low that I had to talk him up a bit!) My neighbor was happy with the repair, and I was so relieved ….beyond what I am able to describe. Problem resolved the very day after the dreadful incident. Insurance company called and claim cancelled.
So…looking back….What an interesting process to observe in myself. How deeply and quickly my feelings of shame can get triggered. How easily I can turn against myself. How I would never do to someone else what I do to myself internally. How fragile we can all be at times with our self esteem and how quickly and cruelly we can speak to ourselves – so much so that it can immobilize us.
I don’t believe that I am alone in my reactions, although the intensity and the triggers may be different for each of us. And how much time have we spent berating ourselves for things that were accidents? (There is a reason that they are called accidents, after all). How much we can expect the unattainable perfection from ourselves and then constantly come up short and lacking. And what that self cruelty can lead to….either in damage to ourselves or perhaps in ways that leak out in our treatment of others as well.
Self forgiveness can be one of the most difficult things to practice. Self compassion can get put on the bottom of the list after everyone else is taken care of first. Self love can be seen as selfish. (And sadly, that word (selfish) has become a word that has negative meaning attached to it). I would ask, if I cannot be kind and forgive myself, how genuine and real can be my forgiveness of others? Of course we need to take responsibility for our actions and face whatever consequences may come, but do we really need to add more punishment to that? I think not.
It’s time for us to recognize one of the greatest superpowers of them all…..kindness …..and that we, too, deserve that from ourselves.