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Goddessing Self Care

Self-Care for Rejected Parts: Processing Setbacks

How many times in the past week have you cursed your “bad luck?” I’ve examined how to respond to judgment and to failings in previous #GoddessingSelfCare posts. For today’s third and final “Self-Care for Rejected Parts” discussion, we’ll be looking into how to determine the degree of control we’ve had over a situation, as well as how to cope with it if it is an experience out of our control (aka, a setback/bad luck). I have taken a practical and psychologically-oriented approach rather than a spiritual focus for this discussion.

When Bad Luck Strikes

The cause of setbacks tends to be more external and situational when compared to failures. Setbacks occur in experiences that are largely out of our control. Note that some people see everything as a setback and nothing as a failure, which limits their growth potential because they feel powerless to better their lives. Others see everything as a failure and nothing as a setback, which causes unnecessary guilt and shame because they believe everything can and should be preventable.

We are bombarded with the message that life isn’t about what happens to us, rather, it is about how we respond to it. There is of course some truth to this, but we cannot lose sight of the fact that we have respective areas of privilege and oppression, suffering and ease. For example, as I’ve begun inner work to dismantle my privilege, I’ve come to a hard realization that I can be obtusely ableist. I get instantly enraged in day-to-day situations when someone does not listen well; for instance, when I’m asked the same question repeatedly or someone gets my order wrong. I tend to be able to absorb a lot of information easily and quickly and so I assume everyone who does not show the same behaviors lacks not capacity but “try.” What I fail to hold in my mind in those moments is the fact that others may process differently than I do and that they may be facing unseen difficulties that are affecting our interaction.

My graceless behavior extends itself to setbacks. I don’t perceive myself as experiencing them, as I think everything that went wrong for me was a failure because I could have prevented it if only I’d been smarter or faster. This creates a feedback loop where I amp myself up when I in fact need to slow down. If I’m being brutally honest, I have to admit that I struggle to emphasize when others face obstacles that are difficult to surmount. I typically hold that things would have gone better for them if they’d only planned better or thought things through more fully. There may be some truth to my opinion in particular instances, but, if our shared humanity is my bedrock, my rejection of their vulnerability rejects all of us in our vulnerable areas, harming where I want to be healing. The first step to experiencing a setback is to see it as one. The absurdity of life coupled with its inherent injustice means we will face unexpected events that require us to deepen into love rather than to wall-off in frustration.

Setback Characteristics to Consider

My thinking here aligns with theory and research on the characteristics of stressors and their corresponding effects on coping. In general, negative events which we think are due to bad luck that impact many areas of our lives for lengthy periods of time and which compromise our personal sense of mission are likely to be perceived as major stressors. Those we think we can overcome quickly, which are periphery to our life goals, and/or which affect only one area of our life tend to be easier to digest and manage.

How Long-Lasting Is the Setback?

To what extent is the setback temporary versus permanent? Unpleasant situations that are likely to be long-lasting tend to wear on us more than short-term stressors. Sometimes all the scared or angry parts of me need to hear is that whatever is going on that I don’t like will be short-lived, if in fact that is the case. For situations where a setback is likely to persist, I’ve found it most useful to remind myself of everything that is under my control that I’m doing to try to adjust to or to rectify the situation.

How Much Surface Area Does the Setback Cover?

Is the setback covering one area of life or does it seep into many areas? Reminding ourselves of all the things that are going right or over which we do have control can be calming if the setback is limited in scope. For more widespread calamity, adjustment may take more time.

How Integral is the Setback to Your Life Goals?

How significantly will your sense of purpose in life be impacted by the setback? I am personally very sensitive to negative interpersonal feedback and feel highly distressed when I receive it. However, staking my well-being on it doesn’t align with my core self or purpose in life. Knowing this fact helps me cope. Difficulties in peripheral areas that do not hit at our major life goals are likely born more easily than those that threaten the values we hold dear.

After analyzing the time-frame and significance of a setback, we will likely be left with a better understanding of whether it is something that needs simply the passage of time and patience to overcome, or whether we will need to shift our perspective on life itself as a result. Serious set-backs require more than a spa day or shopping binge to overcome, as we may find ourselves asking “who am I with(out) ___.” In other words, our very identity may be shattered or shaken. We will consider both insignificant and grave setbacks as we look into self-care for our affected parts of self.

Self-Care for Setbacks

Minor Setbacks

As a trauma survivor, I find it difficult to gain perspective on small instances of bad luck. Before abuse occurs, there is something a build-up, warning signs or other blips. After living through such events over the course of years, anything going off course for an instant can bring up an expectation of “here it all goes again.” I think we do well to show each other kindness (but not to enable) each other when we “over-react” to stressors; what you experience as “no big deal” may feel life or death to another.

In addressing insignificant experiences of bad luck, such as a broken windshield or a cold that leads me to cancel a fun event, I have found it useful to center myself on who I really am and what I really want from life. I let myself have the meltdown if it feels like it was “one too many things today” but I then try to put it into perspective. I personally do not find it even the smallest bit helpful for others to try to do this for me, as all I experience their “but remember ‘insert good thing’” as is invalidation. I have to work my way back to myself and to my purpose, both as a responsibility and as a necessity.

For negative interpersonal stressors over which I had little control, I find body-based self-care to be particularly useful. I easily dissociate if someone is unexpectedly rude to me, so it makes sense to me that grounding and returning myself to my physical being is calming. Exercise, a long walk in nature, breath-work and stretching tend to be my mainstays here.

It may not always be in my best interest to do so, but if I find stress and/or bad luck has built on itself and nothing is going my way, I tend to succumb to a bit of overindulgence. This includes eating out more than I would like to and/or purchasing crafty, self-care or luxury food items that I don’t really need. In moderation (which I definitely do not always have), I think there is a time and a place to live a little, but I also hope to weave my “treating” of myself more fully into other methods of coping so that it does not become or stay my default.

Serious Setbacks

My thoughts here are limited to perspectives I have personally found helpful in facing setbacks. I detest the idea of being prescriptive or of pouring shame onto fresh wounds of someone who is experiencing a major life setback. We cope in different ways; you finding your way through in your own time and space is all that matters.

I do believe that one way to honor ourselves (and each other) in dealing with significant setbacks is to allow for grief and mourning. Modern society often gives us the message that we must succeed and exude confidence, beauty, wealth and health at all times. When this doesn’t occur, we may feel like failures. Knowing it is okay to allow hurt and disappointment in, as well as sorrow and pain, and to bear witness to it for each other is integral, in my opinion, to a well-lived life. Bites of bitterness sensitize our taste-buds to the sweet moments.

As part of our grief, we may find ourselves opening to the full experience of life and experiencing gratitude. I desire safety, security and comfort above all in life, but a single-minded attachment to these outcomes can numb me to the wider range of feelings and possibilities that my experiences contain. Near-misses, especially, jolt me into increased hope and happiness for the moments in which I can be present.

Major setbacks may lead to a necessity for us to realign our values and sense of purpose. The dreams onto which we held may no longer be possible; who we thought we were or would become may no longer exist. This doesn’t mean, though, that we are meaningless. Instead, it can offer a window into a new construction of self that can be—although not what we envisioned—our truest and most authentic version.

Stressors, even major ones, do not have to compromise the good we can do in the world. The only way I’ve even glimpsed this reality is when I first open to the parts of self I’d rather reject, and secondly when others in my life have shown me compassion for the pain and suffering I’ve endured. It is a process to which I return on a sometimes daily basis. Finding nourishment in what feels like the breadcrumbs of life, thereby transforming them to plenty, requires time, social support and a mindset that welcomes one’s whole self.

How do you differentiate between bad luck and personal failing? Which characteristics of these stressors make them particularly challenging or easy to address? How do you cope with minor and major stressors?

Goddessing Self Care

Self-Care for Rejected Parts: How to Respond to Failure

When is the last time you admitted to yourself that you failed at something? That, through a bit more focus, effort or energy, things would have turned out more positively? That you allowed yourself to speak from a less than Self place to another? For today’s #GoddessingSelfCare post, we’ll be adding to our previous discussion of caring for rejected parts by delving into failure—what it is, how to integrate it, and the lessons it teaches us. I’ll finish this series by analyzing how to handle setbacks (negative experiences outside of our control) in my next #GoddessingSelfCare post.

Failure Experiences

True failures occur when we had the tools needed for success but chose not to deploy them. They are genuine mistakes that didn’t “need” to happen. Our society revels in failure only to the extent that it has been conquered or fetishized; we are trained that dwelling for a time on failure in a healing manner is an unacceptable reaction to falling short of our goals. It benefits us to reassess our behaviors and work to recommit to our goals, but our inherent worth as a human is not constricted by our failings. Nothing we do makes us less than human, as hard as that is for me to accept as a trauma survivor.

Self-Forgiveness: Metabolizing Failure

Remorse

What would it look like to allow ourselves to be humbled by feelings of remorse and to grieve when we’ve made a mistake, intentional or not, small or large? The guilt that is necessary for remorse is not the same as shame. Shame tells us we are less than human and unworthy. When we feel guilty and are remorseful, we acknowledge that we acted in a way that was less than our true potential and, through acts of humility, are spurred back into relationship and connection. This experience, especially if we receive ourselves with compassion, humanizes us because it nudges us to our shadow, where the rejected parts hide out. True remorse, met with compassion, are much more an inward than an outward expression; we likely agree on what “Oh, I’m sorry you feel that way” really means. Remorse without self-compassion can isolate.  When we also allow ourselves to feel compassion and to then grieve, we are empowered to take restorative action.

Humility

When we are genuinely remorseful, we engage in humility. This often involves a stepping back and pausing which includes taking time to dig into what went wrong and why it happened. We may find that there is a part of ourselves that we typically reject, which expressed itself in an unhealthy way. Part of our healing involves taking better care of that part. Alternatively, we may discover that our mistake was the result of an assumption we made, bumbling into an area where we were less informed that we thought we were. In this case, humility includes acknowledging that we aren’t perfect and don’t know everything, and then taking the time to educate ourselves on the issue at hand. Finally, we may be pushing ourselves too hard overall; our mistake may be the simple result of a lack of sleep, too much caffeine, or rushing through something. Here an overall pause to reassess our level of self-care is needed. Humility admits that, when we try to keep ten plates spinning at all times, it’s pretty likely at least one of them will come crashing down at some point. In any of these situations, it is on us to do the challenging inner work. It is especially not an act of humility to turn to another, if we’ve wronged them, and expect them to tell us what we did wrong, why it happened, and how to improve ourselves. That’s on us.

Self-Compassion

Self-compassion in the face of guilt and grief is a part of the process that I see as vital. It strips away the layer of our excuses and reasons and meets us in the place of our pain. For me, this practice involves spending time in meditation, experiencing the love and healing Goddess offers. This allows me to know that my mistakes do not diminish my humanity nor do they cut me off from relationship with self and others. The felt sense of being loved just as I am is a powerful tonic.

Grief

Grief only comes when we feel the harm we’ve caused to ourselves or to another. Thus, it requires empathy. For me, it tends to come before self-compassion if my action was directed at another, and after self-compassion if it was an internal failing. Grief involves glimpsing the action that conveyed dehumanization and injury, as well as the effect of the action. By doing so, we are moved to a place of sorrow and a “feeling in” to what was wrought. Grief and self-compassion must operate in tandem, otherwise we will move to shame and stay stuck.

Reconciliation with Those We’ve Wronged

Those we’ve harmed, if our mistake went beyond impacting us alone, are doubly injured if we expect them to walk us through this process. Instead, we do well to turn to our support system, to Goddess and to our Inner Being to provide a safe space to work out our emotions. We can then, from a place of self-forgiveness, offer to make amends and to heal the interpersonal rupture. How different would the world be if we each took some time to do our inner work instead of expecting each other to do it for us, and if we attempted to engage with each other after we’ve integrated the experience? Note though that I do want to leave room for individual differences—for example, those who are highly extroverted may need to check in at various points in the process.

Receiving compassion from another after we’ve failed them is an act of grace—desirable but not guaranteed. Our self-forgiveness is not contingent on their acceptance of our sincere apologies or of the actions we take toward reconciliation. Self-forgiveness that misses one or more of the steps I’ve included is often hollow and will reveal itself as such when the actions to which we dedicated ourselves somehow fail to materialize, or when we are quick to “slip up” and slow to accept responsibility.

Failing at a Personal Goal

Failure may also come in the form of falling short of meeting a goal we set for ourselves. Perhaps we procrastinated or gave into our impulses or responded reflexively. In these situations, it is possible that a guilt, humility, grief and self-compassion process needs to take place. It is equally likely that our goal, not our effort, set us up for disappointment. External goals that appear “successful” but to which we hold little inner allegiance tend to evaporate. I think one vital question if you believe you’ve failed at something is to ask yourself whether it was something you truly wanted or if you’d in fact been working for someone else’s vision or version of yourself. We harm ourselves when we reject our bodies and our minds for “letting us down” when in fact we were either unable or uninvested in an image that wasn’t drawn by us. Things we believe we “should” do are much less impactful when we fail at them than things we feel compelled by our Inner Being to do.

Future Growth: The Possibility In Failure

If we allow our failings to become “real” to us, rather than denying or excusing them away, we open the door to potential growth. It is very difficult to know the limits of our development until we see where it falls short. When this happens, if we go inward and thoroughly process our thoughts, feelings and behaviors, as well as educate ourselves in our areas where we lack understanding, we may not only improve our relationship with ourselves and with others, we also enable ourselves to set goals that are both meaningful and challenging. Having a touchstone of “this is what happened when I didn’t take X seriously” as a motivation point for a skillset we are looking to build may not be sufficient to propel us to success in life, but it is certainly a stronger incentive than “I’m doing this to fit in.” I believe that as we age, we look back not so much in regret of where we went off-course, but moreso on where we had an opportunity and didn’t want to do the internal excavation necessary to take it.

Where have you experienced failure? How have you responded to it? What has your inner work revealed?

© 2018 All rights Reserved. Suzanne Tidewater, Goddesing From the Heart.

Goddessing Self Care

Self-Care for Rejected Parts: How to Respond to Judgment

Have you ever been unfairly labeled by someone? Called out unexpected? Told you needed to change? As we explore these topics for today’s #GoddessingSelfCare post, I will be using a series of questions which can serve as a quick reference for evaluating situations in which you feel triggered by someone’s interaction with you. I will be returning to this topic in a future post as well to investigate how to engage in self-care for ourselves when we experience failure and setbacks.

Processing Judgment from Others

Judgment as I will be discussing it here refers to verbal and non-verbal communication from others expressing disagreement directed at self, criticism, disapproval or negative feedback. Judgment can be a direct conduit to shame, especially if we are not rock-solid in our inner relationship with Self.  In order to best approach the nuances of judgment in a way that caretakes the vulnerable pieces of who we are, I believe we do well to study the nature of the communication, as well as its intention and true target.

To What Extent Was the Judgment Invited?

It is vital to have at least one person in your life with whom you feel safe enough to have an honest and open relationship. This includes, to me, knowing that you can ask the person to give you feedback, even if it isn’t the easiest thing to hear, and trusting that they will tell you their opinion as directly as possible. We can be lured into a false sense of security by “yes” people in our lives—those who concern themselves solely with ingratiating themselves to us by flattering us no matter our actions. If we allow these types of relationships and behaviors to flourish, the hard truths still tend to make themselves known, but it can become much more difficult for us to accept them. I’d rather get a sense from a loving and caring friend that maybe something has more flaws than I’m seeing rather than to only discover the defects after a lot has been invested and after there is much I stand to lose. All this to say, I think it is good to invite constructive criticism into our lives, and to open to it as one data point, one person’s opinion, when it is shared.

It can be an entirely different affair to receive unsolicited advice or criticism. When this occurs, I believe we do well to consider the questions below such as the person’s intention. We can also take our own boundaries into account. Did we in any way indicate that critical advice-giving, especially if it is repeated or intense, is unwelcome? If not, perhaps all that is needed to let the person know how we feel. One of the most useful questions I’ve ever been asked and have asked of others is “How can I best be here for you in this?” By doing so, I am prohibiting myself from seeing advice-giving or “tough love” as necessary or welcome when a person is relating a struggle unless I am explicitly told such. It is also important to consider the extent to which we feel safe in the relationship. Can we tell the person that what they said didn’t sit well with us and have that be received, or will it trigger a defense reaction? If the other person gives harsh advice often, fails to heed boundaries or requests to stop, and is unreceptive to feedback, I am very likely to curtail the extent to which I express vulnerability with that person and/or to have a go-to response such as “oh, I may look into that” if they continue their behavior in a setting in which I cannot fully disengage.

What Is the Intention Is Behind the Judgment?

Is the person being spiteful/jealous, or, are they trying, in their own way, to give constructive criticism? I believe we owe it to the parts of ourselves who are vulnerable and fragile to stand unyielding against judgment that is coming from an unhealthy place. Even if it is in relation to an area on which we know we need to work, we do not need to be led there by our noses by someone who wishes us ill. It can of course be very difficult to discern someone’s intention, as many times the person offering feedback from a less-than-supportive mindset will go out of their way to act as though what they are saying is in fact a kindess. Here, I think our gut is our best reference point; I think most of us have relatively accurate radar for sniffing out communication which, at its heart, strives to undermine us in order to elevate the one giving it.

A shade of intention to me is also the framework in which the information is couched. Is the person sharing it as “hey, this is what I think” or is it “hey, this is how it is, full stop?” I make very little room in my head for people who think they know the Truth about anything, and especially about intimate aspects of who I am as a person. In addition, when we assess a thought, feeling or behavior that another individual is having as right/wrong and fail to link our belief to a social norm, we are basically playing God/dess in our evaluation of ourselves and others. I often stop when someone makes this type of all-knowing remark and reply in a way that redirects their focus back to themselves and to the fact that they are the one who is holding a norm or belief. With the obvious exception of the legal system, we get to decide if any particular passage from another’s Book of Things Everyone Should and Shouldn’t Do is interesting, relevant or important to us as an individual. If I determine I’m being judged by a moral system to which I do not ascribe and with which I disagree, I state such as plainly as I can—“I know this matters to you because you believe in X, but I don’t follow this religion/philosophy/generally restrictive way of living, so I don’t see it the same way. Here’s how I conceptualize it..” I do this more for my own benefit than the other person—it is actually a way of drawing a line in the sand and refusing to internalize someone else’s system of belief. The other person will likely walk away thinking I am unworthy or doomed, but I am left with my dignity intact.

To Whom or What Does the Judgment Really Refer?

When we feel judged by someone, it is up to us to first determine if we want to look at the issue in question based on factors such as the person’s intention. If we decide it is worth pursuing, I believe it is also incumbent on us to sit with the judgment and find the nugget of truth it contains. To a large extent, someone’s critique of us reveals more about them than it does about us, as it shows us what preferences they have and the assumptions they make about others. They may be projecting their needs and desires that hide in their shadow onto us. If, after processing the information, we find there is a behavior in which we’ve engaged that is worth addressing, we also have freedom in terms of the extent to which we allow the person who shared the judgment into our journey of “fixing” the issue. The more I’ve stewed on this, the more I’ve realized I hit on a truth I wish I’d known a long time ago—even if someone sees something in us we’d dislike or struggle to own, we don’t owe them our story or our process. We may learn from our experience with them without their knowledge.

It is also worth considering whether what we perceive as a judgment is in fact a boundary violation. By this, I am referencing whether the behavior in question is our own to address, or whether we have in fact overstepped our welcome. If what feels stifling from another is their “no,” we need to stop ourselves and discern whether we proceeded without an invitation or in another way broke trust. I am very sensitive to people’s boundaries, so it doesn’t tend to go well for me if someone hints that I’ve crossed them, but I’m learning to sit with my discomfort and press through it to learn how to more fully navigate close relationships. It is easy to experience a boundary being established as a rejection of the entirety of who we are, but I view it (in my best moments) as the person honoring both their own needs and my needs by letting me know how close is comfortable for them.

Self-Care for Sensitive Wounds

When we are in a situation where we’ve felt criticized, I believe we have a responsibility to ourselves to explore the self and relationship dynamics involved. Solely focusing on making ourselves feel better may leave many pages unwritten in our life story. At the same time, we do not need to analyze the situation ad nauseum or deny our little selves feelings of comfort, understanding and protection. In the immediate aftermath of a difficult interaction, the following behaviors may be helpful:

  • Express your thoughts and feelings before you focus on the behavioral aspect (confession: I skip this way too much!). This may take the form of artwork, poetry, dance—any kind of creative action that is less focused on fixing and more focused on being. It could also include a conversation with a trusted friend. What would it feel like to talk about the way the feelings you are having are sitting in your body, instead of how unfair it was when she said…?
  • Seek and be present with nature. Engaging in mindfulness in a natural setting, without an expectation of immediate change, may help to release the tension you are feeling.
  • Care for your physical being. This includes exercise, healthy eating, good hygiene and adequate sleep, all of which can be especially challenging if you are dealing with other physical ailments or mental health concerns. To whatever extent it is within our power to control, I think showing care to our physical bodies is a form of self-respect, which may be particularly important if we feel disrespected in another arena of life.

Very few people revel in hearing about what they are not doing well at and how they should do better. As a result, we are wise to be discreet and selective in our constructive criticism that we offer each other. Deep, trusting relationships allow for a healthy exchange of concerns as well as boundary-setting in a manner that does not reek of blaming and shaming. With time, practice and dedication, this type of relationship can be achieved, and we can learn to allow unsolicited, harsh, ill-intentioned projections to fall at our feet, un-sniffed and un-absorbed.

Goddessing Self Care

No Permission Needed

Cross-posted at my SageWoman blog.

Do you know yourself wholly? Do you fully inhabit your body? Are you who you believe you have to be, or are you settled into yourself? For today’s #GoddessingSelfCare Sunday, I invite you to take a few minutes to reflect on self-care through the lens of freedom from shame.

Perhaps you find yourself boxed in by the “should’s”–the limits others place on us in order to define their own needs through our self-abdication. The messages they relay are that you should behave, belief, feel, want and look the way another wants you to. Or, the mustn’ts: don’t do, say, emote, think or appear in a displeasing way. Over time, if we order ourselves by these commands, others need not state them overtly; we self-shame our being into tiny compartments.

The religion of my youth taught me that I was bad, and that my inherent badness separated me from the Holy. There was nothing I could do to remove this stain; I had to accept another’s sacrifice in my stead. I was unworthy. I find myself contemplating whether, for some people, this dichotomization of Holy and unclean then becomes an inner separation into parts. Some parts are pure and some parts are tainted. Within such a system, I could never become whole because half of me was unwelcome.

As I’ve exercised my heart through Goddess spirituality, I’ve found release from some of these restrictions. I suspect that the belief that Goddess is both in me and in everything helps to diminish my personal shame. Nothing in me is off bounds or unneeded. Should’s and mustn’ts can be replaced by invitations and openings to Divine in myself and in all there is.

I find myself wondering, though, what to make of the malevolent forces both inside and outside of myself. Our desire for accountability, sought by wishing for karma and trusting in human systems of justice for transformation of these evils often falls short, holding only the weakest and poorest in us and others to disproportionate punishment. In compensation, I’ve gripped ahold of the idea that Nature takes back her own as a concept of justice, of righting wrongs. It may take a minute or millennia, but eventually those who occupy their lives with conquests and domination endanger both themselves and their descendants through their selfishness. All the monstrous human beings who’ve ever existed died within a century or so. I’m not convinced we need heaven and hell; our molecules will eventually be repossessed by Nature in particle form. We are already Her’s as we cannot live without Her breath, Her warmth and Her liquid. She will be here, with or without our species. For now, each generation birthed from Her womb has an opportunity to unscript the destructive norms of its parents and to gentle the earth with its presence.

We need no one’s authority but our own to inhabit the full breadth and width of who we truly are. To honor the existence of Source in each of us, even if some are dispossessed of our awareness of Her.  To allow Goddess to soften, in Her gentle way, the calluses with which punching at life has left us. The more I permission myself whole, the more I extend that freedom to others in their Inner Being.

Where do you need less self-constriction? In what ways have you internalized shame from others? To what extent does the concept of Nature holding the cards at the end of it all satisfy your desire for justice?

Goddessing Self Care

Reconciling Compassion and Healthy Boundaries

For today’s #GoddessingSelfCare Sunday, I will be examining what it means to be compassionate within the context of healthy boundaries. Compassion includes feelings of empathy and acting in ways that are caring and kind to others. It does not apply solely to other people, in fact, I believe it has to start with compassion toward ourselves. In this way, self-care and compassion are intimately related.

Compassionate behaviors are habits I am forming, not ones that comes naturally to me. I’ve shared about some of my personal journey in my #Embodied Heart posts. The traumatic experiences I’ve faced, among others, have made it difficult for me to respond with empathy to others, even though I can intellectually see things from different perspectives. I am especially afraid of acting like a martyr or being taken advantage of by others to whom I might offer gentleness. Given my struggles, I felt a desire to determine what it means to be compassionate and to remain boundaried at the same time.

Compassion Antidotes and Their Function

Before I fully explore what it means to be compassionate, I first need to look at what I’ve held in its place inside. In my studies of social psychology, I’ve come across several concepts that can serve to blunt or mute our responses of compassion. These include at minimum hatred, prejudice, self-righteousness, dehumanization, self-importance, greed and detachment. My particular drugs of choice are hatred and self-righteousness.

I have been able to hate with the same intensity with which others love. A part of me is actually proud of the sustained force with which I can hold grudges and feel anger towards certain people. When I sit compassionately with this part of myself, what is revealed to me is that my hostility serves as a yardstick, shoving away any attempt to treat me with disrespect or to humiliate me. Somewhere in me, I believe that if I am filled with sufficient hate, no one can hurt me or take advantage of me. The truth, thought, is that my Inner Being, which is infused with love, is much stronger than any outside individual’s attacks could ever be. No one can possess my soul or the core of who I am, no matter how they treat me. Now I just need to convince the hateful part of me of this truth.

Self-righteousness is especially complicated for me because I was raised in a religion that eschewed even “false humility.” We had to be humble, really humble, and even acting humble wasn’t enough. The odd thing was, there was a lot of arrogance and I-know-best guised in “God told me…” My scientific education has only served to increase my propensity to self-righteousness, because I can quickly pull on my body of knowledge to correct any errors in logic that I perceive when another person is talking with me. A good part of my internal dialogue during conversations with others, especially when they are sharing a struggle, is “shut up, shut up, shut up” not because I doubt myself but because I can tell I am speaking from “I know best” instead of “what do you need right now.” After a few decades of low self-esteem, my high self-confidence is all too happy to make herself known. What self-righteous behavior protects against, at least for me, are feelings of helplessness and uncertainty. I feel a ton of uncertainty about how to fix the things I don’t like in my own life, but I often believe that I have ten solutions at the ready for anyone else who needs help. I have a lot of work to do to form a solid trust that other people know what is best for their own lives and that building them up with a compassion that celebrates their Inner Being is the truest solution of all.

Acts of Compassion That Respect Our Inner Beings

With the ways in which I normally disengage myself from compassion in mind, I turn now to ideas about how to elicit compassionate behaviors. I opened this piece discussing boundaries, but I’m also inspired to conceptually consider Inner Beings as a point of departure. I feel very confident that I am my own best healer, and I am beginning to see that this is true of other people. In this light, choosing actions becomes simpler.

In cases where someone is acting in a way that provokes feelings of hatred in me, I can respond with love. I believe that we each have a responsibility to turn to our own Inner Being first, so I first would need to engage in self-care and seek the wisdom of my Inner Goddess (this behavior would take on different forms, depending on someone’s religion and culture). This would often mean that I would not respond immediately to a provocation but would take my time to soothe myself and remind myself of my worth first. From this empowered and embodied place, I can set boundaries and speak my truth, doing so in a way that broadcasts genuine care for the other person as well as myself, instead of malevolence. If the other person is not treating me in a way that I feel is respectful of my Inner Being, I can speak to them in a way that acknowledges their “best self” in the hopes that they will then access this part of themselves. If this fails, I can stand firm in my expectations that I be treated respectfully and can show them this same respect. As I write this, I realize that I do actually already engage in this behavior in professional settings in terms of how I hold boundaries, but I frequently forget to turn to my own Inner Being and acknowledge myself first. In my personal life, I’ve put minimal effort into doing any of these behaviors. It is much, much easier for me to hate than to love. Recognizing the energy that it takes for me to be compassionate seems like a positive self-care step I can take right now.

In cases where my self-righteous, fix-it-now, and intolerance of incompetence are heightened, I can sit with the part of myself that resists any feelings of helplessness and uncertainty. I can remind myself that other people have access to their own Inner Being who is standing by, ready to help them at any moment. Perhaps, in relating to others who are feeling overwhelmed or indecisive, encouraging them to check in with that part of themselves is wise. In addition, if I do give advice, I need to do so from the place of my Inner Goddess, not from a place motivated by impatience, anxiety, arrogance or frustration. When someone makes a mistake, I need to show them the same kindness I would want to be shown in the situation.

As I write these thoughts, I find myself wondering why other people, in fact, a good number of people with whom I’ve become acquainted, are so much more able to show compassion than I am. As I listen to my Inner Being, I see immediately that I was not shown genuine compassion growing up, likely because my parents did not receive it earlier in their lives either. Within my religious context, compassion came with a huge price tag of self-desecration. In order to be cared for by a higher being, one had to believe that they were scum and unworthy of being loved. I cannot stomach this viewpoint and I think it is a perversion of true compassion. Compassion honors and cherishes; it does not demean and demand a discarding of all parts of self.

Empathy and compassion are likely, at least in part, learned behaviors. If there was no one who taught us how to act in these ways growing up, I suppose we must teach ourselves. With the viewpoint of an Inner Being in each of us, it has become clearer to me as to how to navigate boundaries and needs when engaging in acts of compassion. I believe I’ve only scratched the surface of this topic and I look forward to hearing your thoughts on it. What is your relationship to compassion as well as to compassion “antidotes?” How do you determine how to act in situations that cause you to feel anger or helplessness? What for you represents your “Inner Being” and how do you access this part of yourself and/or Divinity during times of struggle?