Archive for the ‘self-compassion’ Tag

Tears that Heal   11 comments

Tears stream from many different pools of emotion–some come from sadness, some from fear, others come from joy or gratitude.  As a child, storms thrashed my emotions, but my tears were dammed up by the fear of being mocked as a cry-baby.  My eyes were always dry, even as a seventh-grader when I was hit by a car and knocked thirty feet down a ravine, breaking my leg in three places.  I calmly gave my home number to my friend Nathan, telling him to assure my family that I was okay, and then I asked the emergency responders if they wanted me to crawl up the embankment.

Crying as a boy was always contemptuous, with one religious exception: crying for one’s sinfulness was actually praiseworthy.  So every kind of pain, suffering , and loss was funneled into this one acceptable ocean of sorrow.  For the first half of my life, I cried from this bottomless lake of self-contempt–my failures to be courageous enough or careful enough or disciplined enough.  My relationship with God was anchored by the depth of my own shame, expressed in tearful confessions.  I loved God by hating myself.  We had a very intense and very dysfunctional relationship.

When I stumbled into the truth that God accepts me unconditionally, this swamp of shame began to drain away.  In God’s caring and affirming embrace, I slowly found the safety to acknowledge my own deep pain, especially from my religiously abusive self-reproach.  Grace allowed me to recognize other pools of pain as well, the ache that comes from rejection, loss, loneliness, and other common human sources of suffering.  The God that I thought belittled my pain and scolded my self-absorption actually cared that I hurt.  My emerging theology of grace validated this view, but experiencing this care from others in my life let loose this new reservoir of tears, crying as an expression of pain, vulnerably exposing myself to the compassion of others.

The darkness of life often chokes me.  Sometimes I respond to these feelings by distracting myself, I get on the internet or cook dinner.   At other times I take a more healthy approach,  try to resolve my struggle by reading something spiritual or journaling, but this often does not relieve my sense of confusion, fear, or isolation.  I keep flipping through options, trying to find one that will soften the ache.

This morning I shared with Kimberly how badly I felt.  Kimberly reminded me that my first response is to have compassion for where I am and how I am feeling.  That whole concept is foggy in my mind–what does it mean to be self-compassionate?  I’ve been making grabs at it for a year but it slips through my mental fingers.  Somehow her words seemed to fall into place this morning, and the tears that began to trickle down my cheeks were not tears of pain, but tears of self-compassion for my pain.  It is a new lake of emotions I have tapped into, and I am crying again as I type this.  It is not a feeling of agony, but of soothing and care for my struggling soul, self-empathy.

Some years ago I stopped blaming myself for my own pain, but if instead I focus on “fixing” myself, treating my pain like a project, I objectify myself.  Presence is the most important and first gift of compassion, even to myself, and it cannot be bypassed or shortened without harm, like a comforter who tries to “fix” someone whose spouse has died, “You need a dog!  You need to move in with your son!  You need to get out of the house and do something fun!”  What they need is for me to sit and empathize with their suffering, to feel with them, to join them where they are with compassion.  Grieving is an essential part of healing.  And it takes as long as it takes.




Posted August 27, 2019 by janathangrace in Personal

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You Can’t See Your Own Nose Without a Mirror   Leave a comment

Isn’t it odd how we are often the last ones to realize the obvious about ourselves?  You may have spotted a theme that has been bubbling up through my posts recently, but I didn’t notice it until a few days ago: anger.   It is one of my defense mechanisms, so reflexive and short-lived that I often don’t notice it or I pass it off as a normal response.  In fact, it was a major piece of armor for my whole family, our shield against a sudden sense of danger, so quickly deployed that it even parried our sense of vulnerability.  Like so many family traits, it was carefully disguised–no shouting, name-calling, or slamming doors, but an intense burning that everyone felt without being able to name.  When I stumbled on Harriet Lerner’s The Dance of Anger, it turned on the lights for me, so much so that I bought every sibling a copy for Christmas.

Many years ago I realized that an unexpected burst of anger is a telltale sign that I feel under attack, not from the incident itself, which is just a release valve, but from the pressure of turmoil building inside my heart, a festering wound that needs attention.  I don’t need a scolding, but a warm compress of grace–I need to locate the wound and apply self-compassion.

I have known for some months that my emotions were foundering, but it was a gradual, insidious tide that crept up past the gunwales without any alarms sounding.  Who doesn’t get mad at selfish drivers?  Who doesn’t get pissed at overbearing customers or lazy co-workers?  It seemed normal… except that it wasn’t.

The slowly building tension came from a big drop in income, a stressful job, and even an unsafe home (our cars have been rifled more than once, and I caught a burglar trying to get into our house).   The major soul cost has been a loss of even a minimal support structure–my low-wage job works me till 11 p.m. and on weekends, blocking me from making social connections here.  And when the scales are already heavily offset, even small weights added seem unbearable.  It becomes hard to do simple daily tasks, not to speak of the huge effort to overcome our current set of circumstances.

None of that is going to change soon.  It needs to change for life to be sustainable, but in the meantime I need to lean into self-support, be conscious of my pain in specific ways and direct compassion to myself as I would to any dear, suffering friend whom I love.


Posted July 13, 2017 by janathangrace in Personal

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The Surprising Nature of Forgiveness   1 comment

“FORGIVENESS is a heartache and difficult to achieve because strangely, it not only refuses to eliminate the original wound, but actually draws us closer to its source. To approach forgiveness is to close in on the nature of the hurt itself, the only remedy being, as we approach its raw center, to reimagine our relation to it.

“It may be that the part of us that was struck and hurt can never forgive, and that strangely, forgiveness never arises from the part of us that was actually wounded. The wounded self may be the part of us incapable of forgetting, and perhaps, not actually meant to forget, as if, like the foundational dynamics of the physiological immune system our psychological defenses must remember and organize against any future attacks – after all, the identity of the one who must forgive is actually founded on the very fact of having being wounded.

“Stranger still, it is that wounded, branded, un-forgetting part of us that eventually makes forgiveness an act of compassion rather than one of simple forgetting. To forgive is to assume a larger identity than the person who was first hurt, to mature and bring to fruition an identity that can put its arm, not only around the afflicted one within but also around the memories seared within us by the original blow and through a kind of psychological virtuosity, extend our understanding to one who first delivered it….

“To forgive is to put oneself in a larger gravitational field of experience than the one that first seem to hurt us. We re-imagine ourselves in the light of our maturity and we re-imagine the past in the light of our new identity, we allow ourselves to be gifted by a story larger than the story that first hurt us and left us bereft.”

~ David Whyte

Posted November 11, 2015 by janathangrace in Reading

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The Key Role of Self-Compassion   Leave a comment

The true spiritual journey leads into the depths of our hearts, an excavation, really, since it is a constant breaking through to new levels of realization.  That effort takes great courage in facing the intense fear and pain that have held us back, keeping us blind to our true selves.  Each new layer of self-realization opens wounds that have been hidden safely away by our mind’s defensive strategies, but we must drop our guard and feel the sharp edges of our suffering if we want our bruised hearts to be truly embraced.  The path of growth is strewn with the barbs of truth that pierce our feet each step of our journey home.

Here is where self-compassion rather than self-blame is crucial in working our way through.  Healthy transformation is always grounded in grace.  Nowhere is grace more needed than at this point of freshly acknowledging our brokenness.  This is not avoiding responsibility, but embracing responsibility, since our primary duty at this stage is receiving grace, a bedrock belief that we are loved unconditionally by our heavenly Father.   There will come a time to focus on giving others grace–of understanding and forgiving the wounds they have inflicted–but this is a second step.  We can only give what we have first received.

To give others grace before it has settled into our own hearts is to try to pour water from an empty pitcher.  You will lose sight of your own suffering if you jump too quickly into defending others, which is a reaction forced on you by guilt or obligation rather than a gift offered to others freely from an overflow of grace in your heart.  This shortcut is unsustainable and will lead to a cycle repeated over and over of wounding, reaction, and return to the status quo.  This quick fix is often accompanied by “forgiveness” or compromise, but the underlying issues are never resolved and so they keep returning without leading to deeper mutual understanding and acceptance.  True forgiveness springs from grace, not obligation–ask any child forced to apologize–and grace must first be received before it can be given: “We love because He first loved us” (1 Jn. 4:19).

Self-compassion is nothing more than seeing ourselves as God sees us, agreeing with Him that we are deeply and fully and unshakably loved.  When we open to, welcome, embrace, trust, relish this love of God for us, we are living by faith, faith in God’s grace and love.  We live in the reality that we are supremely loveable because God himself declares us to be, and none of our failings makes Him value us less than his own eternal and perfect Son.

But so many Christians fear grace, caution against its freedom, worry that self-love will lead to spiritual neglect or self-indulgence by those who think their screw-ups no longer matter.  In fact they matter even more because the relationship we now damage is one of supreme value and importance to us, our life-sustenance.  If true value comes from God, then our relationship with Him is our vital force.  Imagine a deep-sea diver saying, “Well, now that I know my oxygen comes to me regardless of how I behave, I can cut my own hose and it won’t matter.”  God does not turn off His grace towards us or close His heart to us when we turn from Him–the oxygen keeps flowing–but we can no longer access that vital source.  He wants to grace our relationships, but when we take advantage of others, He is blocked from gracing that relationship until we turn again to His loving way.  When we neglect or belittle others, when we are greedy and demanding, His grace is restricted from flowing into our daily interactions, and life sours around us and in our hearts, which are now being overgrown with the deadly effects of godlessness (having less of God).  Grace is the door into life and relationship with God, not an escape hatch from all that is good and beneficial.  If we seek for life by pushing God and His truth away in “selfishness”, it is rather an act of self-abuse–like a drug fix.  This does not spring from too much self-compassion, but too little; it springs from a doubt in God’s love, not a confidence in it.  Everything that leads us away from the supreme beauty and goodness of God into our own self-destructive way is self-hatred, not self-love.

Posted December 21, 2014 by janathangrace in thoughts

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