How to show self-compassion
A reader asked me recently how you forgive yourself for letting your husband and kids down when you were drinking. How do you move past feeling so terrible about yourself knowing you so royally screwed up for so many years? How do you move forward, knowing you hurt the most important people in your life? There is no simple answer, but it obviously takes forgiveness, willingness and a lot of self-compassion.
I worked with my therapist on the self-compassion piece for a long time, and boy did I have to work hard at it. This was something that I was lacking. I had to learn how to get rid of the negative self talk. I was extremely hard on myself for at least the first year of my sobriety, and still to this day I can be a tough self critic. Everyday, it takes constant reminding, to be kind to myself. To quiet that certain voice inside my head. It is important to recognize that others are going through the same thing. I am not alone.
Dr. Kristin Neff talks about self-compassion as the same kindness and care you would give a friend. Instead of constantly beating yourself up for the things you have done wrong, you need to start to show kindness and love to that part of you. Do not isolate and feel sorry for yourself. Instead of taking the stiff upper lip, you must stop and think about how you can comfort yourself. You must admit when things are hard and that it is okay to be experiencing such difficulties. Everyone goes through their own "stuff." We all have to figure out how to navigate it.
So what would you say to a friend to comfort her when she is feeling crappy? It's one of those things that is so much easier said that done. It reminds me of when I hear my own children express themselves with negative self-talk. My middle child, Chase, often gets down on himself if he doesn't perform his best at sports. He is a tough self critic. I always tell him for every negative comment or every time he says "I suck!" - he has to say three positive things about himself.
As an adult, in early sobriety, when I felt ashamed about my past, I acted just like my ten year old, wallowing in self misery. My mind would spiral, thinking about the awful things I did while drunk, and I would just think to myself: "I suck, I suck, I am the worst mom ever!" But saying these things were not productive. They were not going to allow me to move forward. As soon as I started to act more positive and show more love and care towards myself, I eventually felt a change occur.
I would repeat little lines like, "It's going to be okay... I am not that person anymore... My kids are safe now... I am sober. I am a loving mother." Eventually, my mindset began to shift. I didn't feel so frustrated each time a memory popped up, and those shame spirals wouldn't last as long. When I would feel like I was falling short of my ideals, these simple phrases would ground me again. And in time, showing little bits of kindness towards myself began to expand outward.
Self-compassion needs to be practiced. Everyday. It must become a part of your routine - like meditation, yoga, walking and whatever other types of self-care you do. Thinking more positively for yourself will change your entire outlook and the way you go about your day.