The other day, I wrote about how I had busted myself for self-pity. It wasn’t a nice thing to say about myself.
I had been struggling to accept that I had been given of a period of rest in my life. My response to this wonderful gift was feeling guilty for not doing enough. I felt myself starting to spiral downward.
I felt so embarrassed and ungrateful. I immediately went to a place of self-judgement.
I did manage not to totally berate myself, and I remembered to practice compassion. This is a big improvement! However, I’m not sure that I was as empathetic as I could have been.
This is how the conversation went with my self:
Inner Child: I’m feeling unworthy of this blessing.
Grown-up Self: (suppresses urge to be sarcastic and mean)
Inner Child: I know I’m allowed to relax and enjoy, but I just feel I need to achieve more in order to deserve this gift.
Grown-up Self: Listen, sweetie. God wouldn’t make a mistake. He loves you, and He can’t be wrong. He gave this gift to you, and therefore it’s okay to accept it just as it is. In fact, you wouldn’t want to throw a beautiful gift back in someone’s face!
Inner Child: (Looks down and shuffles feet). I guess so.
Grown-up Self: How about doing some gratitude exercises? I’m sure you’ll feel a lot better.
When I look at it this way, I feel so terrible. So callous! I wouldn’t ever treat someone else this way. How invalidating!
Validation and Empathy
The most productive way to respond to someone we care about is with compassion. Compassion says, “I’m here with you and I accept you.”
It doesn’t say, “You shouldn’t feel that way.”
It doesn’t say, “Listen, all you have to do is _____. It’s simple.”
It can be tough to accept what someone else is feeling if we feel that it might give the impression that we agree with the person. However, when we validate, we are not necessarily approving or agreeing. All we are saying is that it’s understandable. “I can see how someone in your position might feel that way.”
Maybe I don’t feel that way, but I have a different set of beliefs and life experiences. I have a different perspective or different values.
There’s no way of knowing whether I’m “right” to feel the way I do. Likewise, there’s no way I can say that someone else’s feelings are wrong. Feelings just are. Actions are a different story, but feelings are just feelings. They aren’t up for debate or judgement. And it’s okay to have them, no matter what they are.
In order to validate someone’s feelings, we must be present with them. If my mind has wandered off into why they’re feeling that way and how they shouldn’t be, I’m not in the present: I’m in judgement. When we are truly present, we can hear what is being said and reflect it back: “It sounds like you’re having a hard time resting and relaxing.”
When the other person is experiencing an emotion but not putting it into words, being present allows us to make a compassionate guess and reflect our perception: “I’m guessing that brings up some guilt.”
Empathy is the ability to put ourselves into someone else’s shoes. It is understanding the way another person sees/feels/experiences an emotion.
When we know something about their family history, for example, we can go the extra step to put their feelings into context. “Coming from a background where you were praised for busyness and accomplishment, I can see why it would be hard to rest.” This helps to normalize the person’s experience, reassuring them that it is a completely understandable reaction to the situation given their background.
When you are in a situation when you can fully and genuinely understand a person’s emotion, you can even take it one step further, “I think I would have reacted the exact same way.”
I’m sorry, Inner Child
This is another one of those ongoing practices. It’s going to take some time before the old narratives shift and the patience and compassion comes more automatically. It’s a little odd that I would be so unempathetic and invalidating to myself in a way that I would never do to someone else. But, old habits die hard.
Over time, as I continue practicing self care and positive affirmations, the self-compassion will come more automatically. I wrote down a little flow chart to help me remember. It goes something like this:
This is my ongoing journey as I learn to heed the words “Relax and Enjoy”. It sounds so easy, but it’s okay to struggle. It’s okay if it doesn’t come naturally to me. The only way I’m going to get there is through compassion.
If you have a similar struggle, I would really like to hear about it ♥