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Category Archives: Self-Acceptance

Self-Care, Part 3

Lately I’ve been reading old blog posts in an effort to reconnect with myself. I have gotten better at practicing self-care. I am better able to recognize when I’m hungry, when I’m anxious, and when I have to pee. Those 3 used to feel really similar for some reason. Now I feed myself. Last week I cooked 3 meals, and I hate cooking. I just came back from the grocery store, which I also hate. My sleep cycle is more similar to the average person, although still night owlish. I don’t go to bed past 1 am, and I don’t sleep past 10 am anymore. I even do chores on the weekend, rather than lie around because I’m too exhausted to do anything. I don’t overstimulate my brain with games in an effort to prepare for some kind of mental apocalypse.

I’m working on taking care of my health. I just went to an orthopedic appointment last week because my shoulder hurts so much that I can’t even swing a racket. When the woman took me back for an x-ray she asked me how long it has been hurting, and I said since January. She was like, that long? What, did you think it was just going to get better on its own? It made me realize that I don’t take my pain seriously. I wanted to get my hip checked out, too, but I have to schedule a separate appointment. It’s been hurting for several years so I wonder what she’s going to say about that.

I also realized that I don’t get to decide what is strenuous enough to require an inhaler. My body decides. I may think it’s pathetic to need to take a few puffs to bring my trash can up and down the hill, which only takes about a minute. Or that cleaning doesn’t count as exercise. But if it makes me throw up, then I have to accept that my asthma is that bad and just take the darn thing.

I’ve gotten better at solitude. In one of my first posts, I talk about my newly single status and how challenging it is to live and be alone. At that time, I had never been without a romantic relationship because I thought being alone was worse than being miserable. I was terrified of something happening to me and no one knowing about it so I played tennis every night just so that people would worry if I didn’t show up.

At the time I figured out that feeling bad about yourself for being in a sucky relationship was not better than being alone. But I had no clue the extent to which boundaries were an issue for me. Now I do, and I feel fiercely protective of my boundaries. My home has become my safe space, and I am happy to have it all to myself. I am happy that everything in it, including the color of the paint on the walls and the art work that I created, is a projection of myself. I am not ready to have anyone in my space. If someone else is in it, then I feel them instead of me, and I need to know what’s me. I need to know what it is that I want. Even if the other person doesn’t ask, I intuit what they want and give it to them anyway without asking myself how I feel.

I try not to beat myself up for my codependency. It’s not my fault that I had to develop this skill. I’ve always told my therapist that I feel like I have a crack in my foundation. That something was broken from the very beginning, although I didn’t know what it was at the time. Recently she told me that those cracks can be repaired. That a house is a metaphor for our personality, and the first floor is our relationship to ourselves. Only after we’ve spent time on the first floor can we move to the second floor.

I do have some advantages this time around that I didn’t have last time. One is that my family lives nearby, so if I’m too tired to eat I don’t have to lie on my couch and starve to death. I can just go over there and let them feed me, which I do with some regularity.

The other advantage is my Apple Watch. Before I used to obsess about throwing out my back and not being able to crawl to my phone to call for help. Because one time my back was in spasm and I couldn’t move for a few minutes. I used to try to remember to keep a device in every room and to tell my friends that if they received a text or saw a Facebook post saying Help! I’ve fallen and I can’t get up! to take it seriously. They suggested getting one of those Life Alert buttons to wear around my neck, but that seemed extreme. But now that I have my Apple Watch, I will be able to call for help in any room of my house even if I can’t move thanks to Siri.

So thank you, Apple, for making solitude a little less scary.

A Downside to Optimism?

I was talking to a friend today about how much harder starting a new life has been than I expected. My new job has misled me about a lot of things that will result in working longer hours for less pay. I thought that when they pre-approved you for a loan, they couldn’t revoke it on the day you were supposed to close. I’ve never spent 6 weeks unpacking before. I still haven’t touched a racket yet. I still don’t have any friends.

In retrospect, I don’t know why I thought all of these changes would be easy. I was so focused on how great everything was going to be that I had completely forgotten I had a mental breakdown during my last move just 3 years ago. Such is the nature of my optimism.

My friend, who is full of words of wisdom, many of which I have included in previous posts (e.g., sometimes you can try too hard; surgery is not a competitive sport), told me that there’s a downside to optimism. We both pride ourselves on never giving up. 0-6, 0-5 in a tennis match? Then channel your inner warrior! Don’t turn off the TV, even when there’s .9 left on the clock, because it is still possible to win (e.g., see UVA basketball vs. Louisville in 2018). Knit that complicated dress! Solve everyone’s problems! Get 2 surgeries, quit your job, sell your house, buy a house, start a new job, and move to a new state!

Perhaps it wasn’t just that I was being optimistic. Perhaps I was being ever so slightly delusional.

Almost every day after some new disappointment I do the “move math.” What if I had stayed in my job? What if I had stayed in my townhouse? What if I had stayed in Virginia? Could I have made it work? And every time the answer is no. These are the changes I had to make to have a chance at freedom.

On the plus side, I’ve gotten a lot of steps from unpacking my house. I’m saving a lot of money on food by eating at my brother’s house and taking all the leftovers. My house feels more peaceful than my 2 previous townhouses did. I save a lot of money on gas because I work from home. And I don’t have to get one of those “Help! I’ve Fallen and I Can’t Get Up!” buttons because I’ve told my family to check on me if they haven’t heard from me in 24 hours. And I have an Apple Watch.

Sometimes my inner critic uses a lot of gratitude shaming to try to make me “feel better.” What are you complaining about? Your house could have burned down. Someone you love could have died. You could have a broken leg and not be able to walk up and down your stairs. All true, but definitely not compassionate.

But I’ve been practicing genuine gratitude to put things in perspective. My friends check on me and tell me that they miss me. My family here has supported me financially, emotionally, and socially. God cares.

So it’s going to take longer to have a life here. That’s OK. My relentless optimism is what has helped me survived all this time. Yes, there’s a downside to it. But even when I’m down, I can still get a blog post out of it.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Boxes

We all have aspects of our identities that have been rejected or belittled. One of mine was being Filipino. I grew up in a small rural town in Southwest Virginia where there were only a handful of Filipino families. When I was in elementary school, the other kids would call me names. They would say I had a pig nose. That I was ugly.

Once I wore a sleeveless dress that I got from our trip to the Philippines. I thought it was beautiful. It was red and had a pleated skirt, so you could twirl in it and the skirt would make a circle. It had this beautiful embroidery of flowers in the front. But my Kindergarten class was not impressed. Everybody said I was naked and didn’t want to play with me. Granted, it was winter, so they were all dressed more warmly, but nakedness was a stretch.

Kids would also say I wasn’t American. I wasn’t sure what it meant to be American so I asked my parents if I was one, and they said I was an American citizen. But I didn’t really know what that was, either. Maybe no one knew–the kids, their parents, my parents. Even to this day, people debate what it means to be an American.

Once when we were on vacation, my brothers and I sat near a fountain in a mall while my dad did something. I can’t remember what, but hopefully he had a good reason for leaving us there. My youngest brother had ice cream all over his face and some adult guy came over and wiped his face off. Then he hung around and asked us a bunch of questions. Where are we from? Norton, we said. I mean, where were you born? New York. Where were your parents born? Oh. The Philippines. Ding ding ding! Right answer!

When my dad came back the two had a good laugh about it. I was too young to be offended, and really I never have been offended when someone asks about my ethnicity. But sometimes it does take you by surprise when someone reminds you that you stand out.

I would also get questions when I ran into other Filipinos, and honestly, those questions made me feel worse. They would ask me if I spoke Tagalog in Tagalog, because they assumed that I did. No. Eat Filipino food? Sort of? Do you at least go to the Philippines? I did when I was 5. I got this really pretty red dress. Oh, you’re one of those Americanized Filipinos. Even my parents would call me Americanized because we preferred McDonald’s over my mom’s homemade meatballs.

Real Filipinos have gigantic wooden spoons and forks in their kitchen. They have a picture of “The Last Supper” in their dining room. They eat rice with every meal. My friends and brothers would joke about this, but it’s really true. It gives us this common history now and it helped us to make sense of being bicultural. But back then I felt like I was failing at being Filipino.

Back then, people didn’t talk much about being bicultural, or bi anything for that matter. People need to be able to categorize. Our brains are designed to do it. Sesame Street teaches it. (Which of these things is not like the other?) It doesn’t make a person bad if they need to know what box you fit in. But the more cognitively complex we become, the more we see that people fit in many boxes at the same time. Even boxes that seem mutually exclusive. My spiritual guru, Richard Rohr, calls this nondualistic thinking, and it requires some soul searching to get there. So when you don’t fit in, maybe that gives you an advantage. I am an American. I am Filipino. It can look just like this. There is no wrong answer.

This struggle is not unique to me. Everyone has something about them, or their upbringing, or their family that makes them different from everyone else. We all have to make the journey from being put in a box and judged to understanding that we’re not supposed to fit. We can have a box all to ourselves that no one else gets to be in. I still struggle with self-acceptance, but every now and then, I really like my box.

Cultivating Solidarity

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Last week I read an anecdote from Richard Rohr’s daily mediations about a man working in a food pantry who was feeling overwhelmed by the number of people they had to serve since the pandemic. After meditating on it, he was able to shift his thinking about his work in the food pantry from an act of service to an act of solidarity. When we are serving others, it implies a vertical relationship where someone is up and someone is down. In contrast, solidarity is a horizontal relationship where both parties are equal, committing to being there for one another.

This anecdote struck me on a personal level because, as a therapist and someone taking care of my brother, I spend a lot of time helping people but not a lot of time receiving help. Not because people haven’t offered. I have lots of people who care about me and who encourage me to reach out to them. I just don’t do it very often. Because deep down I think I’m undeserving–of help, of a release from my pain, of happiness. I am serving other people because I’m the person in the one down position.

But the idea of shifting my mindset from service to solidarity reminds me that I am as deserving of help as anyone else. If we’re all in this together, then we can rely on one another for support. Which means it’s OK to ask for and receive help. It’s still hard to ask, but I’m committed to practicing.

I think, too, about what’s going on in the world right now. Arguments about masks vs. freedom, protests vs. riots. This is one of the few times that you would think we could all be on the same page. I often imagined that the only way we could accomplish this was in some alien invasion where we had a unified enemy. In a way, that’s what COVID is. But it seems that even something akin to an alien invasion is not enough to get us to fight the enemy rather than one another. Apparently, we are one another’s greatest enemy. It’s us vs. them. I’m right and you’re wrong. I’m up and you’re down. What will it take for us to be on the same page? Reason, force, shaming, and blaming are not going to do it.

For me, the answer always begins with self-compassion. What is making me feel vulnerable? How can I listen to my own thoughts and feelings with acceptance and forgiveness, even when I have been controlling, judgmental, and condescending. And wrong. Once I can sit with the discomfort inside me, it makes it easier to remember that we’re all in the same boat, doing the best we can to feel valuable, deserving, and equal to everyone else. The best way to fight the enemy within and without is to rely on one another.

We’re all in this together. Let’s help each other get to where we need to be.

Does This Shirt Make Me Look Fat?

Remember that time when I was getting a massage and I had to leave the office to go into another office to get to the bathroom and I was just wearing a robe and someone saw me, even though usually no one is ever in there? It was like one of those dreams where you’re forced to walk around naked. Or without shoes. Or in your bathrobe. Except in real life.

Isn’t it funny how things that are funny on TV are mortifying in real life? Like, that would have been a great episode on Seinfeld. I guess watching it on TV is sort of like dreaming, because in both scenarios you think, I’m so glad that didn’t happen to me!

Well, I just got an embarrassing massage story that tops the bathrobe one. 

Yesterday I had my first massage in about 3 months. I was long overdue and was really looking forward to easing my muscle tension. But then the very first thing massage lady says to me is, “I thought last time you were pregnant and now I see you really are! Congratulations!” 

There are so many insulting things about that sentence. Three months ago, before COVID weight gain, she already thought I was pregnant. But now I look 3 months-into-pregnancy fatter than that. Which would be around 8 months pregnant, maybe.

And she didn’t just ask if I was pregnant, which would have been bad enough. When I was in 5th grade, my family was at this elementary school festival and my brother asked this teacher if she was pregnant, and she wasn’t. And even at the tender age of 10, I understood that you should never ask a woman if she’s pregnant. Let alone tell someone that they are for sure pregnant. That the only thing left to say is congratulations. 

I admit, I wasn’t very active during quarantine. Like many people, even though I had time to work out, I was unmotivated, struggling with depression and anxiety. I’m still struggling with depression and anxiety, actually, but since things have opened up I’ve been playing more tennis. And I just started working with a personal trainer. So I’m doing the best that I can.

And as you know, I do obsess about feeling fat, gaining weight, aging, and all that stuff. Even though people say I look young, and my boyfriend thinks I look great. I try to reassure myself it’s all in my head. But apparently it’s in my gut, too.

My boyfriend said he felt sorry for her. And I do, too. I would never be able to forget a faux pas that big. Or any mistake I’ve ever made because of my OCD. But I feel sorrier for me, because I’m never going to be able to forget what she said either because of my OCD. I gave her $1 less of a tip than I ordinarily do as a way to discourage her from insulting me. But it was still 20%, so I was still pretty generous, in case you’re judging me.

On the bright side, there are 2 positives that came out of this incident. When I told my friend about what happened, she said that was actually a compliment because she thought I was young enough to get pregnant. Which is true. I can get in better shape, but I can’t get any younger.

The other plus is that I can write a funny blog post and take a break from trauma and family crises. Which is something.

Resolutions vs Intentions

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This year I started out with too many New Year’s Resolutions, so I had to do something equivalent to an upgrade to eliminate the bugs. Version NYR2020.1, you might say. This version focuses on discipline in 3 areas:

  1. physical activity most days of the week
  2. going to the grocery store 2x/week
  3. cooking most days of the week

My drill sergeant had a lot more goals in mind. For the new year, for today, tomorrow, the weekend. Lots and lots of goals. For example, my drill sergeant would like #1 to be something like do one day of yoga, one day of strength training, one day of cardio, and show up for all of your court times. When, in reality, I’m not even able to make it to my court times. And that’s actually more like 5-6 goals masquerading as 1.

I’ve read that by the 3 week point, which is today–January 21–most people have abandoned their New Year’s Resolutions. In my opinion, failure to adhere to our goals is due at least in part to our inner critic (drill sergeant in my case), who

  • sets unreasonable goals
  • tries to motivate us with guilt, shame, and fear of failure
  • reminds us of how terribly we are doing compared to others
  • tells us that we are weak and lazy
  • creates more goals when we’ve checked everything off our list
  • never praises us when we do well
  • has an all or none approach to success, which usually means failure

I have to remind myself that I don’t have to listen to what he says (mine is a he). I guess this is resolution #4: to be more discerning about my goals. Does it come from the drill sergeant, or is it something that will directly benefit me?

For example, the drill sergeant doesn’t like it when I have clothes that have not been folded and put away. It is an incomplete laundry cycle if you have clean clothes piled on your bed. Or dirty clothes lying all over the floor because your clean clothes are in your laundry basket. This doesn’t even count as doing laundry, the drill sergeant says. The drill sergeant’s goal is to keep repeating this to me over and over again until I do what it says or lose my mind.

But that is one of the places where the drill sergeant tricks you. My goals do not always align with his goals. I can ask myself, does that really benefit me? Putting my clothes away? Compared to using that time to pack lunch for tomorrow so that I don’t have to spend money? If I only have so much energy left at the end of the day, I’d be better off packing lunch. Which still requires that I go to the grocery store. Which is already hard for me. But at least it’s consistent with my goals. Whereas having a complete laundry cycle is not.

Other reasons why we often give up on our New Year’s Resolutions is that we forget. We’re tired. We are unmotivated. We’re hungry. We want comfort. We want something to be easy. In other words, we are human. Which is OK, because not being human isn’t an option.

In fact, I try to think of my resolutions as intentions. Every day, these are my goals. And when I am too tired to exercise, too hungry to go to the grocery store or cook, then I practice self-compassion and do whatever will be most helpful for me in that moment. And the next day I start again, because intentions are renewable. Indefinitely.

The drill sergeant is usually saying negative stuff the whole time that I deviate from his plan, but I try cultivate an attitude of acceptance, forgiveness, and kindness in the midst of his negativity. Because I am my most motivated self in a loving environment, so that’s what I try to create.

Adventures in Blogging: Six Years Later

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I wrote my first blog post on September 24, 2013.  At that time, my goals were to take some preliminary steps towards writing a book. Like writing stuff down and letting people read it. Because I had never written anything about myself that I thought was good enough to share. I figured blogging could be my version of exposure therapy–just throw myself out there, with all my weaknesses, secrets, and embarrassing moments. Make myself vulnerable to the world.

Fortunately, not many people read my blog, so it wasn’t too painful. And the people who read it were mostly my friends and family. And people who could relate to my problems. Which turns out to be almost everyone. The response has been overwhelmingly positive, in fact. It turns out that the things I was so reluctant to share are the very things that have improved through the process of blogging. So I thought I’d share my progress with you, since you helped me to be the person I am today.

  1. Self-care. This has actually become one of my areas of expertise. Which is kind of ironic, because I was pretty terrible at it when I started my blog. I never got enough sleep and often had to binge sleep on weekends and breaks. I would get hypoglycemic because I wouldn’t make eating a priority. I coughed all the time, couldn’t breathe, and threw up on occasion but didn’t bother to find out what was wrong with me. I would only allow myself to consult my therapist in emergency situations. I had a terrible relationship with my body. To be honest, I still struggle with all of these things, but the difference is that I’m committed to making self-care a priority. When I falter, I forgive myself and renew my vow. And it makes a big difference, having someone who is committed to caring for me.
  2. Self-compassion. At the time I started my blog 6 years ago, I was separated from my second husband and dating someone who I couldn’t stand and filled me with self-loathing. We broke up shortly thereafter, and that was the first time I had ever been single. Most people never knew what was going on in my relationships because I feared that people would judge me, and I already judged myself harshly enough. I didn’t need the extra guilt and shame. But in freeing myself from the pressure of seeming like I had it all together, I was able to forgive myself for my mistakes. And I have become less judgmental of other people, too. Or at least I am committed to being less judgmental of myself and others.
  3. Boundaries. Before I started my blog, I only had a vague idea of what boundaries were. Probably because I didn’t have any. I never said no. If someone needed something and I could provide it, I felt it was my duty to give them what they wanted. I couldn’t distinguish my feelings from someone else’s feelings. I knew what other people wanted but I had no idea what I wanted. There were no boundaries in my thoughts, either. Everything ran together in this litany of worry that played over and over, like an anxiety playlist on repeat. Practicing mindfulness has helped me to put some boundaries in place, but I still struggle in all of these areas. But that’s OK. In mindfulness, there is no goal to achieve. No grade to earn. I just need to keep practicing.
  4. Warriorism. I love a challenge. A difficult relationship. A complicated knitting pattern. Being so tough that I can throw up during a match but keep going, win or lose. But I have learned that, while it’s good to know that you are capable of doing hard things, that doesn’t mean that you need to make everything hard to do. So now I take my drugs for all my conditions, take time off from playing when my body tells me to, let go of people who do more harm than good, and sometimes knit really easy things, like scarves. Because I imagine even warriors take it easy when they’re not in battle.

2019 has been a tough year, and the school year has already begun with some unique challenges. But I feel up to the task. I am committed to caring for myself. Being kind to myself. Saying yes to what I want and no to what I don’t want. Being selective about the challenges I take on. And blogging.

How Do I Learn to Love Myself?

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You know how people say you can’t love others until you love yourself? Well, it’s trite, but true.

The reason you have to love yourself first is because, if you don’t, then in every relationship your focus is on getting the other person to reassure you that you are lovable. Which is not a reliable source of reassurance. Sometimes people are distracted, or in a bad mood, or equally preoccupied with wanting you to prove that you love them. Which leads to a lot of fights that center around accusations and demands.

Before I could even say what the rules were, I learned that I had to prove I was worthy of love in a variety of ways. And it wasn’t enough to be good. I had to be perfect. The best, if possible. The #1 seed on the tennis team with an undefeated record and no unforced errors in any of my matches, for example. And in the rare cases in which I could achieve this moment of perfection, the target moved. The carrot stick just a bit further, still out of my reach. I needed to work harder. Be better.

I’m not saying this to blame my parents. I know that they were under the same kind of pressure from their parents. Which they learned from their parents. And I did the same thing in my relationships. It’s painful to remember all of the unreasonable demands that I made on other people. How nothing was ever enough to reassure me that I was loved. If I wanted him to buy me flowers, and then he bought me flowers, I’d be like, you just did that because I told you to so you don’t really love me. It was a no one situation for both of us.

Not so long ago, I hit rock bottom. I couldn’t stand being this person in my relationships anymore. Which is why I embarked on that 4 year journey of solitude. I was determined to love myself, even if it killed me!

How does one learn to do this, you ask? Because you can just be like, I love myself! Done. Ready for love. I didn’t have examples of what that looked like, and there weren’t any textbooks on it in grad school. Self-love 101. So it has been a very slow process. Like learning a second language on your own. It has only been in the last decade or so that I have found any helpful advice on how to cultivate self-love, and that was when I learned about self-compassion. Which I write about a lot. But rather than make you go back and read 300+ blog posts, I’ll give you a cheat sheet on what I have learned so far.

  1. Forgive yourself for the love you didn’t give. We are all going about life, trying to love and be loved, using whatever limited resources we have at our disposal.
  2. Forgive others for the love you didn’t get. The same thing applies to them.
  3. Remind yourself that your feelings count. Even if you don’t know why. Or it doesn’t seem like a good enough reason. Or the feelings don’t go away when you want them to. Be willing to be there, with your pain, for as long as necessary.
  4. Embrace who you are, exactly as you are, in this moment. Your flaws. Your mistakes. The embarrassing things you’ve said and done. You don’t have to be perfect to be worthy of love.
  5. Strive to love better. Most forms of self-improvement come from a place of unworthiness. I don’t think we ever convince ourselves that we are worthy, but we can try to love ourselves–and others–despite all of our glorious imperfections. And it feels way better than blaming and shaming.

These steps have become my daily practice. My self-love workout. But despite my daily practice, my internal monologue still doesn’t sound very loving at times. But I try to forgive myself. Try to accept wherever I am in this moment on the path to wholeheartedness.

A History of Trauma

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There were 3 mass shootings last week. Three. Last week. Although there is only talk about 2 of them, because I guess not enough people got killed in the first one. I used to think about how hard it would be to live in the Middle East, where children are trained to be suicide bombers whose goal is to kill as many people as possible before sacrificing their own lives. Have we become a culture that does the same thing?

I just finished reading All the Light We Cannot See. It was interesting to read what WWII was like from the German side. And a reminder of how traumatic war is. It seems the only way to survive was to forget–all that you saw. All that you lost. All of the things you did. All of the things you didn’t do. Forget that you saw dead bodies strewn about, or piled up in large heaps, and just went about your business. Maybe you even contributed in some way, directly or indirectly, to killing them yourself. But what other choice did you have, really, but to focus on your own survival? How could someone who lived through something so horrifying not have PTSD? It’s too much to process. Too horrible to make sense of.

In the book Waking the Tiger: Healing Trauma, Peter Levine argues that war is a reenactment of unhealed trauma that repeats itself at the individual, generational, and cultural level. That’s deep. Even in the Bible humanity begins with murder. Brother killing brother. And the aggressor survives, earns his right to pass down his genes to the next generation.

In my own family, I can see the effects of trauma in some of my nieces and nephews and can trace the pain of it back to my grandparents. I’m sure it goes further back than that. I just don’t know their stories. Although I wasn’t consciously aware of it at the time, this is why I chose not to have kids. At some level, I knew that I would do more harm than good. People who know me would say this isn’t true, but I know that trauma happens all the time and is often invisible to us. Even when we see it, we can become desensitized to it. And even when we know it’s happening to people we love, we sometimes look the other way.

I also read Maybe You Should Talk to Someone, by Lori Gottlieb–a therapist who talks about her own therapy, as well as the work with her clients. A book that I had wanted to write, by the way. The very reason I started this blog. So she beat me to the punch. But she isn’t as crazy as I am, so maybe there is room for 2 books about therapists who are also clients.

But I digress. One of the clients she talks about is a woman who is about to turn 70 and is going to commit suicide on her birthday unless Gottlieb can convince her that life is worth living. Talk about pressure! Turns out that part of the problem is that she doesn’t want to be happy. Or rather, she doesn’t deserve to be happy. Among her list of crimes is that when she was married to an alcoholic and abusive man who beat their children, she would walk out of the room. And she didn’t leave him for a long time. She knowingly, willingly, participated in their abuse by looking the other way. None of her children have forgiven her. Why should she?

But what power do I have to stop a cycle of violence that began with the first offspring in the history of humanity?

My client asked me this question yesterday. Felt powerless, disoriented, and anxious in a world where children can buy weapons of mass destruction and are given permission to kill other people—particularly those who are deemed to be less than human. Everyone points fingers, argues about who is to blame, but nothing happens. What can I do to have some control?

In East of Eden, John Steinbeck also wrestled with what to make of the sibling rivalry that kicked off humankind. How do we go forward after we’ve killed our brother? The answer eventually comes from Adam’s Chinese servant Lee. He decided to study Hebrew with some ancient Chinese wisemen for several years. So that he could accurately interpret the 16 lines of the Bible in which Cain’s story is told. Just for kicks. And the answer is: not matter how deep-rooted the sin, there is always a chance for redemption.

In other words, we do have some power to stop the cycle of violence. And, in my opinion, it begins with self-compassion. I told my client that he has the power to be kind to himself. To commit to creating a space in his mind that is loving. That is dedicated to self-care, acceptance, and forgiveness. It takes practice, but with time, healing takes place. And the energy you create within you and around you will be filled with compassion, so that others can feel it when they interact with you. And so forth, and so on, until we create a cycle of love that breaks the cycle of violence.

So I’m trying to take my own advice. The cycle of hatred ends with me, within me.

Self-Forgiveness

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So I am trying out this new strategy in my self-compassion practice. I am trying to focus more on forgiveness. Forgiving others, of course, but more importantly, forgiving myself. Because I beat up on myself way more than I beat up on other people.

In the self-compassion retreat I attended a few years ago, they told us that trying hard will not stop our suffering. In fact, they called trying hard “the subtle aggression of self-improvement.” True acceptance is actually doing less.

We were all like, huh? What the heck are we doing in a 5 day meditation retreat if not trying hard to get rid of our suffering? Isn’t that the whole point?

It is still a difficult concept to wrap my head around. But I remember reading somewhere that we don’t practice self-compassion to get rid of our suffering. We practice it because we are suffering. Because in the midst of our pain, we need to do something that is loving, kind, and comforting, rather than judging, criticizing, and improving ourselves. Because self-improvement implies that it’s my fault that I’m suffering. That I’m the problem. When in reality, suffering is an unavoidable part of life.

One of the things I feel like I need to improve is my fitness. I’ve gained weight since my brother moved in and don’t play tennis as much, and it really shows. I used to play tennis almost every day–sometimes several times a day. I’m not saying that was healthier, but I was physically able to do it. Now I think 4 times a week would be a lot. And while I’ve never had a super great relationship with my body, it has significantly deteriorated in direct proportion to my weight gain. If I have nothing else to obsess about, my body, my fitness level, and my lack of exercise are the things that are on my mind. If I’m not trying to improve, what should my goal be?

The other thing that has taken a hit lately is my belief that I’m a good therapist. Taking that leave at the end of the term last year and all of the fallout that have resulted from it has really been tough on my self-esteem. I constantly have to remind myself that therapy is not about me. My goal is to be there for them. They don’t have to get better working with me so that I can feel like a good therapist.

I’ve tried to reason with myself, although I know that’s not always compassionate. I have tried not to look in the mirror as much, which is a little more compassionate, I think. I meditate and pray. I repeat my “I’m doing the best that I can” motto. Does all of this count as trying too hard?

I don’t think I know how to not try.

This self-forgiveness thing actually does seem to work. For every time I tell myself I’m fat, and then scold myself for telling myself I’m fat, and then reason with myself, and then tell myself that reasoning isn’t compassionate, and then go eat a Drumstick, I forgive myself.

For every client I worry I have disappointed, every time I make it about me, every time I tell myself that I suck, I forgive myself.

I will make mistakes. I will make it about me. I will be hard on myself. I will obsess. This is who I am, and it’s OK. I can forgive myself for all of it. Today, tomorrow, and every time it happens.