It’s not your job to like me – it’s mine. Byron Katie
One of the most significant blocks to our inherent sense of esteem and worth is the mental dialogue we have in our heads. This dialogue can erode our ability to perform effectively, reduce our resilience to stress, negate our ability to deal with challenging situations and lower our levels of optimism. Over time, it can move us towards depression, overwhelm and resignation.
If you are like me, you find it easy to berate yourself. Tell yourself off. Put yourself down. Compare yourself adversely to others. It seems natural to have compassion for others. Their pain and discomfort can seem almost palpable which in turn generates a warm-heartedness towards them and a desire to help. Yet, compassion for yourself seems so alien. Somehow wrong. Almost self-pitying. Weak. Selfish. An avoidance of responsibility. It feels like you are not worthy of such consideration.
When I have made a mistake, it is too easy to call myself ‘stupid’. When I have not achieved something that I hoped for, it seems natural to see myself as ‘a failure’. When I am in challenging situations, and I haven’t lived up to my ideals, it seems obvious to pile a ton of self-criticism on top of my perceived wrongdoing. Moreover, when describing myself to others, it feels a little easier to talk about myself in terms of my weaknesses and insufficiencies, rather than my strengths.
How can we let go of this demoralising self-reproach and embrace the attitude of compassion towards ourselves that we might offer others and, in turn, restore our sense of self-liking?
I believe this is something we must learn to do. And practice consistently. It is something we must ingrain through repetition. We must train our monkey mind, our spoken words and our deeds toward ourselves to be supportive, understanding and kind-hearted.
I’ve used this image before in these emails, but it bears repeating: Imagine two bank vaults in your mind. One vault is filled with gold coins from floor to ceiling. However, on closer inspection, these coins have a darkness about them. This darkness represents all the negative and undermining comments said to you over the years and the critical, judgemental and harsh words you have spoken to yourself.
In contrast, the second vault has a few sparkling gold coins sprinkled on the floor. These few coins represent the kind, positive and compassionate words that have been spoken to you both externally and internally. Words that support, encourage and appreciate who you are. This vault is noticeably empty compared with the first, full vault. And yet it can be filled gradually, over time, with deposits that will accrue….with interest.
I have been working on filling the second bank vault in my mind so that it too can become full. Perhaps so full that the other vault pails into insignificance.
I have been taking time daily to focus on gratitude, caring, understanding and compassion for myself.
When things are not to my liking, and I am feeling triggered emotionally, I do my best to hold a gentle acceptance for myself and my negative reaction. Quite simply, I make reassuring comments to myself about my response. This approach does not mean that I abandon my moral code. It means I live within it, doing the best I can with softness for myself and my mistakes.
I believe we bolster this second vault through recognising we are worthy of this inner support. From that sense of deserving, this self-compassion can strengthen us and enhance our sense of value. Yes, it is going to feel uncomfortable at first. We won’t believe a lot of what we are saying to ourselves but, with persistence, it gets easier. Over time we get used to this self-sustenance that encourages us on.
To conclude, give attention to your relationship with yourself. Sometimes you will forget. Sometimes you will feel too tired to bother. However, when you remember the first vault filled with the darkened coins of negativity, be reminded of how necessary this practice is! It does not make you weak or complacent. In fact it makes you more able to be generous towards others. It enhances your relationships.
As Tibetan Buddhist Nun, Pema Chodron said ‘The root of compassion is self-compassion’.