Saturday, September 16, 2017

The Last Person

I started a transformation journey in 2009. Part of that journey was learning that other people (and that I) had boundaries, and that nobody had the right to cross those. Nobody. And, that in some cases, even with the other person's permission to do just that, it's not a good idea.

But one of the hardest facets about this journey - and it has many facets, like any jewel - has been learning self-care and self-compassion.  I tend to be way harder on myself than I am on others.  As my expectations of other people have lowered to reasonable levels, you'd expect that my expectations of myself would also decrease.  Mmmm, not so much.  If I hit anything less than perfection, I am the first to criticize myself and beat myself up inside over not living up to how well I wanted to do something. So learning self-compassion has been ... shall we say ... a process rather than a destination. I get better at it, then slip back, have to learn the same lessons over and over, and eventually, the marker for "normal" moves a millimeter.  It's progress, but to me it seems glacially slow! 

So, sometimes I have to force myself to do things for myself that I would not hesitate to do for a friend. In fact, Dr. Kristen Neff said something in a video I saw this past summer that stuck with me. She said something like this : if you wouldn't treat someone you loved and respected a certain way, then why would you treat yourself that way? Being compassionate toward yourself, she said, connects you with humanity because as you give yourself a break when you make mistakes, you can be more compassionate toward others when they mess up. (For more information on this, visit ... somewhere on the site are the videos I watched; each one is about 10 minutes. 

Photo "Mirror" courtesy of Arvind Balaraman
And self-compassion goes hand-in-hand with another similar term that I've been learning about too: self-care.  Self-care can be just as much doing nice things for myself as it is in not doing (or saying) bad things to myself. So it can include staying away from individuals, groups or situations that are bad for my (mental and/or physical) health, but it can also mean taking steps to look after my needs for sleep, nutrition, and activity, among other things. Lately, I have been taking time out for myself - not to "do" anything in particular, but just to recharge and to follow that old McDonald's slogan: "You deserve a break today..." I don't always practice this, but I find that if I don't, I end up being more irritable and more overwhelmed by the basic day-to-day of life. I cannot give away what I don't have. And so, I need to cultivate a friendship with the last person I expected ... me. I need to be my own friend.

That flies in the face of everything my own culture drummed into me when I was a child. Others first. Self-sacrifice. And as noble as those things sound, I have found them to be fundamentally flawed, because I used to live like that. I was the last person to eat, the last person in line at the store because I would let others go first, the last person to speak up or to speak out.  And by the time I got around to looking after myself, there was nothing left, and there was no energy left in me ... and I just didn't. Or I took the leftovers of what everyone else didn't want. And I got more and more stressed, resentful, and burnt out. 

When I started giving myself permission to look after me first, lo and behold, I had more energy to give to others, and my stress and resentment went way down! It amazed me how that worked. Instead of becoming more selfish, I became more able to be there for someone who really needed me when the time came, less distracted by my own needs and more able to concentrate on theirs. (Huh. How 'bout that.) 

Moreover, I found that I was better able to accept others' care for me instead of brushing it off and saying I didn't need it. Quite effectively, that gave my loved ones the gift of being able to pour into my life, a gift I had been denying them by trying to be too self-sufficient. And I've been learning that when I accept their care for me, and say "Thank you," I give them the added gift of feeling pleased because they had made a difference in my life. Because they love me. And that is so amazing to the last person who would have expected it: me.

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