Growing up, the idea that you might
love or even like yourself was anathema to me, and I suspect most New Zealanders my age. We didn’t think about ourselves in
that way – we were taught to focus outwards, not inwards. In some ways that is
helpful, but in so many ways it is not. So when I first experienced loss, I
didn’t know how to feel compassion for myself.
But what I read, and who I
talked to (mainly online), always came up with the same message. Be kind to yourself, be
compassionate, love yourself. I never really got it, as instantly – when I
would think about loving myself or showing compassion – my inner dialogue would
counter with a long list of why I didn’t deserve love or compassion. Sound familiar? Too
many of us do that. Just this last week, in a different blogging project, a
friend wrote her “Things I like about myself” post which was really a litany of
what she didn’t like about herself.
But then, in a book a friend recommended,
there was a simple exercise about how to love yourself, and how to show
compassion. It didn’t mean you had to love everything about yourself, or even
like it or approve of it. But it did mean that you were worthy of love and
understanding. I’ve written about it before here (in the Gifts of Infertility series), but I’ll repeat it because I think it is useful.
When we’re grieving, or angry, or
simply feeling down, we should try not to self-recriminate. Instead, imagine that
grieving, ranting, or sobbing person as the child we once were, clearly in
pain, clearly needing love and understanding. Who better to understand them but
us? Embrace the child, send all the love and understanding we can, because
their pain is our pain. Let them know that pain is heard with empathy, it is
understood, and they are loved nonetheless. I’ve done this exercise, and it
always helps when I’m in pain. Sometimes years go by without needing it, then
something pops up, and I remember how important it is to just express and feel that
Ultimately, isn’t this also how we
would react to someone we loved who was in pain? Wouldn’t we would hold them, comfort
them, listen to them, love them? Don’t we deserve the same compassion? Yes.
It makes life easier. It helps us begin to change what we don't like, or to accept what we can't change. It makes us better people too, more able to exercise compassion and extend love towards others. But it all starts with loving ourselves.