In this season of giving, we often are drawn to think of others. Its the most wonderful time of year because everyone seems to be loving, honoring, remembering and thinking of each other. We are all celebrating the season together whether we are celebrating the birth of Christ, the festival of lights of Hanukah, the spirit of Kwanza or the coming of Santa Claus – everyone is united in bringing joy to the season and focused on who they are grateful for in their lives.
How often though I have been shopping for someone else and find something I’d like for myself in the process. I always feel a little guilty buying it but it’s become a tradition to do my own Christmas shopping. I’ve used the excuse of, “I am taking care of myself.”
I take care of myself pretty good year round. I try and get a massage when my old bones are achy and my muscles are tight. I visit a salon every 8 weeks or so. I take time to read my favorite books even if I have to sneak it into the bathroom. I buy sweet scented candles, soap made of goat’s milk, I even have a regimen of moisturizing my face each night. I splurge on mostly organic foods and I put flower essences in my water. I even spend time everyday doing something to benefit my spiritual life. I feel like I do a lot of things to take good care of myself so that I balance the needs of others with my own needs. It helps me to be present when I am needed. I’m a better mother, wife and friend because of it. I’ve considered it good self love practice. And this time of year I find it even more important to practice self love because an opportunity to give to others can quickly turn into stress and take the joy out of the season if my own bucket isn’t full.
Well recently I had someone tell me I should look into practicing more self compassion. What?! I have been called selfish on more than one occasion by my husband or my children who want my attention the moment I am in my self preservation mode. In fact, I sometimes question if I might be putting my own needs as too high of a priority but I always come back to the fact that I take care of others better when I feel taken care of and only I am responsible for my own happiness. What more could I do to be compassionate and loving to myself?
Sure, I have those moments where I stare in the mirror and imagine what it would be like to scrape off the extra 5-6” of fat around my middle…and I may do my moisturizing regimen out of anxiety about the fine lines I have showing up on my face. And sometimes I really get down on myself why it is I can’t seem to get the motivation to be exercising more but for the most part I really do like myself. All those things I’d like to change are things millions of other women would like to change about themselves too so I know I’m not alone and I even admit I need to lower my expectations.
When God wants to get a message across to me, he usually has to send it more than once for me to get it. In fact, I often dismiss something unless there is a pattern of it showing up in my life in multiple ways. And so in talking with yet another person, it came up again, “You need to have a little more self compassion.” What does that mean?! I just didn’t get it.
Then in the last 24 hours, a multitude of things have happened that set off the light bulb in my head to show me just how I need to have more compassion for myself… First, I took a Christmas present over to a woman who is dear to my heart yet our friendship is estranged (more on that later). I took it to her at a time I knew I couldn’t talk long to avoid prolonging her dread of our conversation. When she opened the door one of the first things she said was something about me being “in her kinda tribe” referencing a post I made in Facebook about Brene Brown’s work on setting boundaries as a loving gesture. This woman even suggested we get together for tea sometime soon. It felt genuine. I stood there as if I had the devil on one shoulder saying, “Don’t believe a word she says – she’s just being nice and can’t wait for you to leave” and an angel on the other shoulder jumping for joy all excited! I wanted to jump with the angel but I didn’t make any suggestion of a time or place – our tea was left for something to be planned in the future.
Later in the day I went to our Young Men’s Service League board meeting. As I sat around the table with these incredible women with such heart , intelligence and goodness I felt so blessed to be there and yet that same little devil was tapping on my shoulder saying I don’t belong. On a few occasions in the beginning on my board membership I presented my ideas to the group more freely than perhaps I should have (I’m still not sure) and I felt I probably over stepped my boundaries and ruffled a few feathers. I was never given any direct feedback but my ideas were discussed/challenged and instead of embracing the productivity of a good conversation I took it to immediately believe the board doesn’t really like me. It stuck with me so long that when my position was up for renewal I asked the president if she was sure the board wanted me back. She said yes but that devil whispered, “She is just being nice.”
Finally, the gift I am giving to a few of my neighbors this year are Poinsettias. Poinsettias are the Flower of the Holy Night and their petals resemble the Star of Bethlehem. One legend behind the poinsettia is that a child went to visit Jesus in the manger and she had nothing to bring fit for a king. She was told anything given with love would be accepted so she picked some weeds along the way and the moment she gave them to the babe, they turned into a beautiful poinsettia. To give something with love that will symbolize the guiding star to find Jesus would be such a meaningful gift – perfect for celebrating the Christmas season and that is why I chose to give it to my neighbors.
As my good friend Lisa Bader from www.WrapWithLove.com taught me, “A gift full of meaning is best given when the meaning and intention is explained.” Lisa has all kinds of great tips on gift giving so I set out to write a note of the meaning of my gift.
When I say write a note – that is exactly what it was. Nothing fancy, no lace, no envelope or card, just a green piece of paper with the meaning printed upon it and our signature. If there is anything I know about myself, I am not crafty. My gift wrapping abilities are poor at best and this note could have been done just as well by my grade school niece.
So I took my poinsettia and my note (which got crumpled trying to carry the two together through the snow) to give it to my neighbor and although I did wish her a Merry Christmas, the next words out of my mouth were, “And here is my makeshift card.” As soon as I said it I questioned myself why I did – I’d been told years ago if I think something isn’t good, I should never bring attention to it because someone else might not notice. But I did bring attention to it and degraded the gift, the meaning and me in the process.
I was not showing myself any compassion by judging myself through what I THINK others might be thinking about me.
When I got home I found an article titled, “Does Compassion Make You Selfish?” by Jill Suttie with The Greater Good from Berkley on my desktop http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/does_self_compassion_make_you_selfish?. It was the magical 3rd time self compassion was brought to my attention so I knew it was important.
The article talked about people who exercise self compassion tend to be less stressed, have an increased sense of well-being and improved relationships. This is exactly what we all need to get through those stressful times during the holiday season but even in life in general.
The article also claimed that we hold ourselves to a higher moral standard when we have a greater amount of self compassion. Perfect for preparing our hearts for this advent season!
Self compassion is described as recognizing we are not alone in having our faults and being willing to accept our faults as a perception and not to be ashamed of them. And finally self compassion is responding with kindness and gentleness when we acknowledge our perceived faults.
I recognize there is no such thing as perfect – that just because I see good things in my friends, board members and neighbors, doesn’t mean they don’t have their moments like me.
I’m only a little ashamed of my lack of craft abilities – perhaps if I put more effort into making a pretty card I would have felt better but it’s not something I enjoy so it’s not something I choose to spend time doing. I was hoping my words would make up for my craft.
But where my self compassion really lacks is when it comes to being kind and gentle about my perceived flaws. I seem to be able to accept my faults with some compassion or perhaps more reason when I’m the judge but when I think others are judging my faults, I am ruthless to myself.
I suddenly realized that so many of my relationships that could stand some improvement are shaky because of my lack of self compassion about what I think they think about me.
How many times has what someone else thought or even said mattered so much to me that I’ve destroyed any bit of self love or self compassion I might hold for myself? In my head I know that the only opinion that really matters is God’s but I just crumble when I think someone else might not like me.
And then as though my life were passing before my eyes, I replayed the many times I have said aloud to the people I am with what I think they are really thinking about me and how doing so has not only hurt our relationship but it has also hurt me. Each time I have done that I have not only been extraordinarily cruel to myself, I have made other people believe the perception I present as my truth.
If someone admits to giving you a “makeshift card” does that make you feel like you matter? No! Why would I do that?
If someone tells you they feel like they don’t belong, does that make you trust they want to belong? No! Why would I say that?
And such an important relationship with my dear friend I mentioned earlier was lost when I said what I “knew” she was thinking in efforts to try and be compassionate about the situation even though what she was thinking was untrue. I was trying to be on her side. In the process, I was utterly unkind and cruel to myself but I couldn’t undo what I said.
I share this story not only because it has been so heavy on my heart for years that I am ready to release it, but I also share it because it has been such an “ah ha” moment for me about self compassion that perhaps you can relate to the destruction that takes place when we put our desire to please others over what Brene Brown would call our “authenticity” of being imperfect. Perhaps together we can support one another in practicing self compassion as I strongly believe now that it must have been a practice of Mother Mary’s.
The undoing of my relationship with a dear friend happened one summer when she was riding home on her bike from the pool with her kids and I was headed out to an appointment. We had bushes in front of our driveway that blocked much of our view of the street unless you were at the top of the driveway where you could mostly see over them. As I was pulling out from our garage, I could see her (not her kids) coming on her bike and I knew her kids were close by so I planned to wait for everyone to pass.
I should have stayed at the top of my driveway and watched everyone go by from there but I didn’t as I was in a bit of a hurry. I continued to the bottom of my driveway where I customarily waited for cars, people, bikes to go by that I had seen from the top of my driveway and then I would inch out slowly past the bushes to check for any other oncoming traffic rounding the corner in between my journey from the top of the driveway to the street.
I stopped at the end of my driveway ready to wait for her crew to pass when 2 seconds later her youngest passed by on the sidewalk. We were both surprised – I had no idea he was that close and if I had not stopped when I did it could have been a terrible scene. I thanked God for handling things perfectly in that moment and whatever role he played in stopping my car not an inch too late. I was stopped before my friend’s son ever was in my view because I knew he was coming, I just didn’t realize he was that far ahead of his mother.
You could tell he was shaken by seeing/hearing the car right there and when his mother passed she too thought there was a close call. I felt terrible for frightening them both and I wanted to apologize and make everyone feel better. I figured she was cursing the bushes at the end of the drive as a hazard and I didn’t want her to be mad at me so although they kept biking, I pulled the car out and stopped to say I was sorry.
What I should have said then was, “I am so sorry I frightened you and your son. I saw you coming and I should have waited at the top of the drive – I didn’t mean to scare you.” But what I said – what my pattern of behavior is when I think someone is mad at me – is what I thought she was thinking of me…I said something like, “I’m so sorry I almost ran over your son!”
I didn’t almost run over her son! I was stopped. I knew he was coming. I anticipated him riding by so I stopped behind the bushes. If I had inched closer to see beyond the bushes like I always did, I very well may have hit him but I didn’t – my plan was to wait for him to pass before I inched out.
Now who in their right mind would ever think I did anything other than “I almost ran over her son” after that is what I said? My husband rolled his eyes at me when I told him the story and said something like, “You are always so dramatic about things…you should have never said that” – Duh! I knew that but how do I take it back?
There is something about facing the unknown in relationships head on and being straight forward that relieves a great deal of stress for me. The worst absolute feeling for me is to sit and imagine all the awful things someone might be feeling or thinking about me or planning around me. But I realize that is what I do every single day. I’d much rather know what they think of me than imagine it (I’ve got a really good imagination). The second absolute worst feeling for me is knowing someone is mad or disappointed or doesn’t like something about me.
But if I think someone is mad or disappointed or doesn’t like me, to make the blow less painful, I’d rather beat them to the punch and let them know just how flawed I really am. I’m not good at pretending I’m not flawed so I’d rather admit my flaws before they do. Then they can’t yell at me about what I already know. Faulty logic I know but rather than argue with them, I’d prefer to agree with them on how rotten I am to take the steam out of their engines. The conflict may not be solved but it is recognized and I can let them know I am working or will work on improving it.
Nothing about this tactic has any self compassion.
So although my logic may have worked the first few times I tried it (it must have otherwise I hope I wouldn’t have kept going), I started jumping the gun on agreeing with other people’s opinion of me by guessing what their opinion is of me before they say a word. Sometimes I would call it my intuition and right out of the gate I would call myself the worst possible names and in this case, admit to the absolute worst possible scenario just to be on the same side as the person I think might be mad – I don’t want anyone to be against me. (With God on my side who can be? Perhaps a little faith work is needed too.)
I’ll say to my kids, “I know you are going to hate this meal but it’s whats for dinner.” before they’ve even sat down to eat. Or to my husband, “My hair is a mess but do you think I can still go out looking like this?” I put words into people’s mouths all the time that actually in turn make me believe they don’t like me and make them believe they shouldn’t either. This is not being compassionate.
Of all the times I’ve used this coping mechanism, I was most shocked at what I said that day and I could tell by having said it that my friend was furious at my carelessness.
I laid in bed all night that night and for many nights for months and even years afterward thinking about what had happened and how my friend must be feeling. I could have seriously injured her son if I really did almost run over her child – but I didn’t and not by accident, but on purpose I avoided any horrific outcome.
I had this strong need to set the story straight. I couldn’t bare to imagine what she was thinking of me as I knew she had misinformation. I walked to her house the next day and I don’t remember what I said exactly but the more I talked, the more the look on her face grew even more angry. I could tell she thought I was trying to shirk my responsibility in the incident and her child’s life had been at stake so it wasn’t going to be forgivable. Not knowing then what I know now, I didn’t have a reasonable explanation as to why I would have said or admitted in her eyes that I “almost ran over” her son.
Years have gone by and our friendship has never been the same. I don’t blame her – I did some things wrong. There is the polite hello here and there and a few quick catch up conversations but I’ve never been able to figure out how to ask for forgiveness while being true to myself. Which is more important?
It’s not a matter of who is right and who is wrong…I know what I did wrong. It’s a matter of whats true and whats not true and that is what feels irreparable. I wouldn’t believe someone if they changed the story – so I understand why she wouldn’t believe me.
This should have been the light that went off in my head that my way of handling conflict needed to change but it wasn’t. I knew something needed to change but I couldn’t find the light – I didn’t know the way.
I guess all these years it has felt better to me to know she is angry over misinformation – untruths than it would be to actually think she had a real reason to be mad. I can forgive her anger easier than I can forgive myself for causing the mess in the first place. Another compassionless act.
Suddenly it has become crystal clear why I need to learn about self compassion. And in the work I do and the messages I try to share about Mother Mary, I have no doubt that this was a skill, a practice that she must have learned as well.
Mother Mary was tested her entire life to uphold a higher moral standard – a sign of people who practice self compassion. She did things differently than others and she had to overcome other people’s doubts in her abilities and character. Why if she did not practice self compassion, she would have been filled with far to much fear to ever accept the blessing of becoming Jesus’ mother. Her anxiety over being an unwed mother would have been toxic to her relationship with Joseph, not to mention to the child who resided within her. She must have been kind and gentle with herself to feel worthy of her role. And how much greater an influence her role is having that she fully embraced it even if she made mistakes along the way. I’m not saying what mistakes she did make, I only know the she must have – she was human.
If Mother Mary would have imagined all the bad things people would be thinking or saying about her like I have done, she would have created even more resistance to her son’s abilities and her faith would be weakened. Mother Mary was a truth seeker. She sought the truth of not only her son, her God, but of herself. The truth set her free from all the worry and doubt and fears of perhaps who she thought she should be to just being who she was authentically called to be. She had to be self loving in order to feel worthy of God’s love.
That is something each of us needs to work on. Easier said than done. I thought I had worked through most of my negative talk habits about myself. I really did. What I actually did though was talk nice about myself to myself but talk cruel about myself to other people – it’s almost worst.
This didn’t happen over night. It has happened slowly and gradually and now I see it is an epidemic. My life completely changed for the better when I started seeing the truth about how God made me and loves me unconditionally. Now my journey is to have faith that others can see me in that way too.
Like the little girl who gave Jesus weeds with love and they turned into poinsettias, I offer myself as I am with love and I pray you will find a budding flower given with the intention to bring joy. In return, I am sure that my habits are the source and the outcome of other untruths and judgements so I vow to seek and act on the truth in not only myself but in you and others too. Like the Star of Bethlehem, this Christmas the poinsettia has led me to the love of Jesus.
Not everyone will like me and I will do things that will make people mad. As I am learning in my yoga class – it is important to be comfortable in being uncomfortable because there is something to learn and grown from in every moment. It builds resilience, it makes us stronger, more flexible and forgiving yet it helps us to stay focused on what is true – not what is embellished nor what is made small but what is true about our worth and the light of God that wants to shine through us.
May you too become a truth seeker and have compassion for yourself as you have compassion toward others and together we can take one step closer to living on earth as it is in heaven.