Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Cultivating Self-Compassion

It's pretty easy to have compassion for others. I cry when I see commercials about kids in Africa, documentaries about young women in Cambodia. I tear up when I see a family being torn apart in a TV drama. My eyes well up when students come to me asking for advice about their futures or worrying about the next exam.

However, when it comes to yourself, do you put yourself down when you fail or when you don't respond "correctly" to any given situation?

How many times a day do I repeat, "I am the worst mother in the world" inside my head? How many times do I say, "I shouldn't eat that. I'm too fat."? How many times a week do I hear myself asking a friend, "What is wrong with me?"

In this week's lesson, we were assigned to look back at old photos and find ones that were taken during the most difficult times of our lives. We had to think about what we would tell that younger version of ourselves. What kind of advice would we give them? How would we cheer them up so they can keep going?

I chose four pictures. There were other bad times in my life, but as I looked through my old scrapbooks and digital files, these four especially struck me as being times that I really needed some cheering up.

"Sometimes we do stupid things. It's okay!"
It was my last year of summer camp. I was 14, and I knew that it was the last time to attend summer camp with friends I had been seeing every summer for four or five years. We were the "cyclists", and during one of our cycling/camping trips, I was being my typical boy-crazy self, and Shelly and I found some boys to hang out on our day off. We were biking around the very hilly campgrounds in search of their campsite so we could ask them to come hang out with us, and I slid on a gravelly portion of the curvy road. In order to prevent myself from hitting the ground, I instinctively put my leg out and twisted my knee on the way down. It wasn't the first time I had injured my knee, so I knew I should have been more careful. As it was, my camp counselors had to call the camp and have someone come and pick me up the next day. I had to say good-bye to my friends, including one of my BFFs who was sad that our LAST SUMMER TOGETHER was ruined. I felt guilty about what I was doing at the time when I got injured. We weren't even on the road cycling. We were just fooling around, looking for those boys. Back at the camp, my mother met me to pick me up. I cried all the way home. For me, this last cycling trip marked the end of my childhood...and I had messed it up royally.

However, yeah, it's okay! Not a big deal in the big picture of life. I had banked up plenty of cycling camp memories over the years, and my BFF Amy and I are still awesome friends.

"This is just a phase and things will get better from here. Be strong!"
I had a six-month old baby, and I constantly daydreamed about leaving my husband. We were going through a really rough time. There were two issues going on, one that I was not fully aware of, and one that I didn't really understand. I didn't understand why my husband, who was adjusting to having a baby in the house, wanted to wield so much control. He had opinions about everything, and he threw out the D-word every time I disagreed or tried to stand up to him. I was miserable. It seemed like we disagreed on everything and were fighting constantly. Taking care of the baby and house were hard enough but these responsibilities were enjoyable. However, the fighting about every little thing with my husband made life a living hell. What I was not fully aware of were the problems he was having at work. The company he worked for was about to merge with another company, and he knew that some employees would lose their jobs. At the time, it was all up in the air. He worried and stressed about this for many months. Rather than admit that he was worried or felt he couldn't control what would happen, he attempted to gain more control at home. It got so bad we ended up seeing a marriage counselor because I was about to take the baby, the dog, and all my worldly possessions and leave the country for good. In the sessions with the counselor, it became clear that my husband's work worries were the main problem and all we could do was wait and see what would happen. The results would be in by the end of the year. When he found out he would be able to keep his job with the newly merged companies, he relaxed quite a bit. I still find him to be slightly controlling, but that year was definitely the lowest of the low periods in our marriage.

"Friends enter and exit our lives for reasons that are sometimes beyond our control."
In 2007, just before my daughter was born, I made a new friend. We were both expecting our first babies, and we became close very quickly. With all of our free time expecting and then later caring for our new babies, we had tons of stuff to talk about. We saw each other nearly every day. I was so happy to have found her. But, one day, when our kids were about 6 months old, she suddenly began to give me the cold shoulder. When confronted about it, she admitted that I made her uncomfortable due to the issues I was having with my husband. The photo shows the baby playgroup we formed together at one of the only/last family events we planned, a BBQ at the park. We thought we had created a great thing together! But, when she decided to unfriend me, she soon left the group, and later when my maternity leave ended, I took the opportunity to move on as well because the baby group remind me too much of my failed friendship. It took a long time to get over our "break-up", and for many many months, I doubted myself. When my son was born a couple years later, I avoided making new friends with pregnant women. I kind of regret that now. My daughter has plenty of friends who were born right around the same time as her, and we still socialize with them. However, my son has none because I never made the effort to meet anyone when I was pregnant with him and then on maternity leave. I basically kept to myself that whole year (except for the mom friends I had made with my daughter).

I realize now that the "break-up" was beyond my control, and that I shouldn't fear the possibility of a friendship ending, even if it seems sudden or for no good reason. Friends are really important even if some friendships don't last long.

"Things may seem sad and hopeless right now, but this is just the beginning of a journey for you."
I wanted to include this photo because it represents a spark that started a journey that I couldn't even have imagined at the time. It was a good-bye party for Karl, my BFF colleague, who was going back to the USA to attend grad school in a completely different field. I knew things would be different at work from now on, and it kind of scared me. We had also had a falling-out a few weeks before his departure and still hadn't patched things up. I was crying before this picture was taken.

What was this journey that I couldn't imagine at the time? It's a little complicated because I found myself pregnant with my second child a few months later. I wasn't planning it as I had just returned from maternity leave with my daughter. I was afraid to leave my job for another year, and I worried that I would lose control at work. (I didn't take it out on my family though...) Anyway, without Karl there to assist in running the ship, I had to depend on the people who were left, and it worried me a great deal. During my maternity leave with my son, I spent a lot of time contemplating my job and my future. I started to realize that I needed to begin detaching myself from my school, even if this would happen over a longer period of time. Back at work the following year, I found things had changed a lot and that I had, indeed, lost quite a bit of control. I was NOT okay with this, but I also realized there was not much I could do about it. I had new responsibilities (my children) and new ideas for my future. That year, I applied to graduate school and I continued to work while taking classes. It was rough, but I managed it. Back in 2008, I could not have imagined that within 6 years, I would have an MA and I would be putting in my resignation. I also couldn't imagine that I would become good friends with Adie and that our friendship would be so transforming or that our synergy would help us create such inspiring lesson plans and projects for our students. Back in 2008, I barely knew her even though we worked in the same office.

Finally, Brene asked us to find ways to be self-compassionate now. First, a quick phrase we can say to ourselves when having a rough time or when we doubt our abilities.

I say, "I got this!" I also say, "I can do this." or even better, "I AM doing this."

Then, we had to find some quotes or lyrics that are especially meaningful to us and give us courage to keep going.

Brave by Sara Bareilles
"Say what you wanna say"
"I wanna see you be brave"

Firework by Katy Perry
"So you could open one [door] that leads you to the perfect road"
"when it's time, you'll know"
"Ignite the light, and let it shine"

Unconditionally by Katy Perry
"Know you are worthy"

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