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.

Embodied Heart, Surviving & Thriving

Resolving Expectations of Compassion Toward Abuse Perpetrators

A fellow blogger, Alexis Rose, shared an excellent post about her feelings on the word forgiveness.  As I read her post as well as the replies, I felt like the veil finally lifted on what I felt I had been accused of lacking in relation to my abusers by the various people with whom I’ve shared my story. It wasn’t forgiveness as no request had made to do so. Rather, it was compassion. Those of us who have been subjected to the most heinous acts humans can perpetrate are expected to feel empathy and to practice understanding for those who harmed us. In today’s #EmbodiedHeart and #SurvivingnThriving post, I will explore why this expectation may exist and outline best practices in responsiveness for those who wish to support trauma survivors in relation to this topic.

*Please note that I do dichotomize the condition of survivors and perpetrators in this post. I am aware that an individual could fall into both categories; I will not be fully addressing that complication.

But They Had a Rough Life Too…

To me, the function of pushing compassion towards abusers on trauma survivors is that it serves to dismiss any grappling with grief, pain, horror and estrangement by the commenter. If victims and perpetrators can reconcile, what need is there to fully acknowledge the awfulness of the actions and the destruction they cause for their victims? Within this mindset, the discomfort can be wrapped up quickly to move on to a world with less injustice.

As strange as it may sound, those who view abusers with complete hatred and malice—for instance, those who hope they get raped in prison—are simply the other side of the same coin. If the abuser is either monster or another form of victim, we are spared the gut-wrenching realization that all of us have the potential for evil within us as well as the difficult work of having to make meaning out of the actions of those who succumb to it.

Sex offenders (and, to a lesser extent, parents who physically abuse their children) are one of the few true pariahs of our society. The main impulse people seem to have towards them is that they should be banned from everywhere and imprisoned for life, if not outright killed. The hypocrisy, though, is mountainous when it comes to survivors, who are expected to be the ones to redeem them through their acts of forgiveness and compassion. I see value in restorative justice models; however, it is not my job as a survivor to fix the system or the situation for those who violated my being. I view it as an act of cowardess to extend an expectation of reconciliation to those who have been most wronged while absolving one’s self of any need to struggle with issues of evil or to create pathways to restoration. I suspect many such expectations are coated with a little bit of soot-shame: sure, it was the perpetrator’s fault, but isn’t the victim a little defective as well? And, if so, I (speaking here as if I were a non-sexually abused human) can leave the whole messy bunch to figure it out amongst themselves.

The current movement to rehabilitate the men rooted out by #metoo will, I suspect, fall victim to the “fix it yourself” crowd. If such an ill-conceived project as Charlie Roses’ talk show occurs, I fully anticipate a woman who has been sexually harassed in the past will be paraded out to make nice with her former boss or co-worker. I do not have any answers for the place at which the fallen (mostly) men who harm others sexually should arrive, and it isn’t my calling in this lifetime to grapple with this burden. Every time someone tells a survivor they should forgive their perpetrator, or wonders to the survivor what awful things must have happened to the perpetrator to lead them to their behaviors, they thrust some of the most challenging moral questions a person may face: Why do some people defile others? Does evil deserve compassion? Is everyone able to be redeemed socially, and, if so, how do we make it happen? at the people least deserving of pondering them.

To take this one step further, I think again about calling. If there is any justice in this world, I feel there needs to be a 50-1 network of supporters of trauma survivors to supporters of perpetrators. I do genuinely believe some people’s mission in life is to work with perpetrators and I support them in their efforts. At the same time, numbers and substance matter. I was deeply disappointed earlier this year when I learned a Pagan conference I wanted to attend regularly welcomes sex offenders and holds specific meetings for them, while paying little attention to the needs of trauma survivors. I am not saying these programs shouldn’t happen, but the fact that one group’s needs were clearly more valued than another’s turned me off to the whole enterprise. Trauma survivors themselves are not overrun with resources and educated supporters, that much I can ensure you.

Best Practices in Supporting Trauma Survivors in Regards to Abusers

I cannot recall another blog I’ve written where I’ve spoken to those who might be support people to trauma survivors; nearly all of my work is directed at trauma survivors themselves. If you read a hint of anger in this post, it’s there. I’ve been hurt far more than I’ve been helped by others when I share my story. The ones who get it, though, are invaluable.

  1. If you feel compelled to mention forgiveness or compassion for an abuser to a survivor, ask yourself the following questions: Have you yourself volunteered or worked with perpetrators of violent crime? Have you supported restorative justice efforts? How many sex offenders or parents who have had their children removed from them do you care for in your daily life? Perhaps you can exercise your compassion muscle towards the individuals you so strongly feel are in need of it directly, rather than expecting the victim of a crime to do the work for you. We are not your tools of healing; it is up to you to create the changes you think society needs.
  2. Respect the survivor’s boundaries. Do not act as an intermediary between the survivor and the abuser unless it is at the survivor’s request and with their permission. Even then, examine your motives and be prepared to set your own boundaries if you feel compelled to do so. I was betrayed by an individual who knew both my parents and me after I started to come to terms with the abuse. This person gave away my new address to my parents which resulted in them stalking me and me having to go to the police. We don’t need heroes like this; those who know when to say “I’m not comfortable talking to so-and-so for you” may do much more to help us heal.
  3. Know that healing is a process. Part of the recovery from childhood abuse often involves long periods of depression and anger. Feelings of helplessness and hopeless may crop up in you. To some extent, these may be projections onto you by the survivor as they relive and digest their experience. As weird as it sounds, it could be a sign that they really trust you, enough to let you see them “messy.” It is completely understandable that you will need your own support system during this time. With attention to confidentiality, it is vital for you to have others to whom you can turn to help you through your reactions and emotions. We cannot heal ourselves and you at the same time; you doing your own inner work is one of the most compassionate acts you can undertake.

Cultivating compassion towards an abuser is largely irrelevant to the work of being a supporter of a trauma survivor. People may be able to operate in both spheres (one of my most helpful therapists did so), but these types of callings are exceedingly rare. If you are someone who wishes to help trauma survivors, expect them to raise their own questions of forgiveness and reconciliation, and offer them the unfailing belief that they are capable to navigating these waters themselves with you as a steady hand to their shoulder. Do not, under any circumstances, believe yourself more able to paddle through these silt-filled bogs yourself. If you instead believe it is your task in life to support the rehabilitation of those who have harmed others, have at it.

I have varying degrees of compassion for those who harmed me most. As my spiritual journey has evolved, my feelings have grown as an outcropping of the inner work I’ve done, not as an intentional shift in direction. To trauma survivors, my main message is that self-compassion is vital to healing (ironically, it is also the topic on which my free Goddess Spirituality circle this summer will focus). The ways in which you work out your feelings towards those who harmed you are sacred waters; the only people with you there should be those you invite.