Learn to love yourself, be gentle with yourself, to forgive yourself, for only as we have the right attitude toward ourselves can we have the right attitude toward others. – Wilfred Peterson
I find that so much of the work that occurs in therapy is the healing work of self-compassion. Learning to feel towards oneself in a gentle, understanding way can seem quite strange in a world that values competition and “cool.” Yet, the emptiness that we all seem to feel, that drives us to the “empty calories” of material consumption, is really a feeling of “not enoughness.” We feel we are not enough, and so we try to attain being enough. I’ll be enough when I get that job. I’ll be enough when I lose this weight. I’ll be enough when I make this salary. I’ll be enough when I have that house/car/computer/outfit. When we attain these things, and we are still not enough, we use food, alcohol, mindless digital media use, and sexuality to numb and ignore this feeling of “not enough.”
How do we become “enough?” Each of us is born already enough. Unfortunately, this way of being is trained out of us when we learn that our big feelings (and subsequent behaviors) are bad, when we get poor grades, when we don’t make the school play, when we are faced with challenges and do not feel we have the tools to meet them. When we are vulnerable, and our vulnerability is met with criticism and shame rather than compassion and understanding, we learn to believe that we are not enough. We also learn, incorrectly, that enoughness comes from outside of us. We come to believe that we must perform in order to be worthy of belonging. We confuse the mastery of skills with inherent worth and value.
We connect with our enoughness when we notice our inner talk and become mindful about how we treat ourselves. Is our inner talk a constant stream of self-criticism, judgment, and fear? Do we keep a running list of things we are not good at, ways we have failed, things we hope no one will ever find out? Self-compassion means examining these things in the light and from the perspective of someone who loves us unconditionally. We use this to shift our inner talk from criticism and judgment to truthful compassion and understanding. We must forgive ourselves for being imperfect and give ourselves permission to make mistakes. It is when we have this space of compassion that we become free to open ourselves, take risks, and build the lives we want. It is also from this space that we are able to offer true compassion to others.
Karen J. Helfrich, LCSW-C
As a therapist, mother, daughter, partner, and seeker, I am always on the journey toward a more peaceful, authentic life. I hope to share knowledge, insights, and the ongoing unknowns I find along the path...