The discussion this week on empathy and self-compassion takes me back to the tension between by competent, competitive and driven side and the gracious side of me that is willing to be self-compassionate and fair with myself. I have worked for several years on learning to be more gracious with myself and others and a part of this struggle is wrestling with those internal gremlins that point out all the places where I have fallen short, where I have not lived up to my own expectations (as unrealistic as they sometimes are) or I have perceived my own weakness. It wasn’t surprising that when I took the Self Compassion inventory designed by Kristen Neff that my two highest (negative) scores were on self-judgment and isolation. When I feel weak or like I have failed the internal gremlins interpret my own actions in the worst possible light. Even though I am normally a very confident person, in those moments I do tend to isolate myself until I can get past the messages in my head. Recently I’ve learned how to speak back and to lean into that gracious side of my values to get to a more honest place with myself.
I had an experience last week where I was dealing with several frustrations and my language towards myself was becoming accusing and settling into the patterns of self-judgment that I learned at some point in my past. I was getting ready to go into an event where I would have to do a lot of mingling and introducing myself to people I didn’t know, initiating conversations and all of these energy intensive things were coming at a place where I was already exhausted by the trials of the day. I had worked through the issues, I had a solution, but I was frustrated, I knew that the solution in a different situation could have been easier and cheaper and my internal gremlins were comparing the action with the best possible solution and, of course, I was being measured and found wanting. I sat down and began to write out the things I was saying to myself and the accusations I was making and then I responded to them. My responses were from a place that I would speak to another person, how I would respond to them telling me these things after working through the same situation. That helped to me to hear a more gracious voice and to acknowledge that in a situation with a lot of stress away from home I had worked out a solution. I had reached out and sought help, something difficult for me to do, and the process of working through those feelings in a kinder way helped me be in a better place to engage the day. It also helped make clearer the number of issues that I was wrestling with and how in many ways I was already in a place where a lot of healing was occurring.
I will probably always be hard on myself. I will probably always have those critical questions come up and attack me at the points when I feel weak, but part of my own practice of self-compassion is learning to speak back to the questions. To not allow my drive for competence to lose the value of being gracious to myself and others. To embody this in the practice of writing down and responding to these questions in a way that is more grace filled and realistic. I’ve learned how to be empathetic with others and I am learning better how to be more empathetic with myself.