My last post on self compassion helped me begin the month of December with a new mindset. Towards the end of November I found myself in a negative place. Anxiety and fear about my life post-cancer were taking over. I was struggling with how to refocus my thoughts and get to a happier place. As I began my self compassion work, I made some amazing discoveries.
My first discovery was that while self compassion is initially focused internally, it actually leads to greater kindness and generosity for others. The more you are kind and gentle to yourself, the more you feel open to kindness for those around you. As I began to reflect and examine my behavior and self talk, I realized that the way I was treating myself was extremely different from the way I treat my loved ones and even strangers. I began to question why I allowed myself to say hurtful things to myself, when that language would never be used to comfort a friend in need. As I began to write the letters of compassion to myself as I explained in this post, I found myself going out of my way to be kinder and more generous to others. What a lovely side effect of the personal work I was doing.
As I began to research self compassion and practices of self love, I started hearing more and more about self worth and belonging. I realized that the more I based my self worth and belonging on appearance or other exterior elements, the more unfilled I felt. Though, I initially saw the physical side effects of cancer to be traumatizing, having those elements of my appearance removed has forced me to find love for myself in other areas. My vulnerability has also allowed me to find deeper connections with others.
Data shows that self esteem declines for girls starting after 3rd grade due to the number one marker of self esteem and self image being based on attractiveness and appearance. In a very materialistic and image focused world, it is hard to not travel down that rabbit hole. It takes constant focus and effort to change the pathway and rewire our brains for positive thinking. Self compassion can be defined as treating yourself with kindness, flaws and all. All humans are flawed and it actually this acceptance of vulnerability to leads us to deeper connections and more fulfillment.We have to treat ourselves like we would our friends; comfort ourselves during times of struggle, and love ourselves as we would love another. Through these acts of mindfulness and kindness I have been able to begin a long journey to greater self compassion and a deeper sense of self worth. Sometimes I lose sight and I will get down on myself as many people do, but I have a renewed sense of passion and excitement for this process. I am proud of the work I have done and I can already see great results and benefits from the work I am doing.
After my last post, many of you asked for examples of the self compassion letters I encouraged you to write. I have included one of my letters as well as the letter template from the Mindful Based Achievement Toolkit. I am proud of this letter because the exercise challenged me to appreciate myself more and find the aspects of my situation that will make me a better person. Though I would not wish this experience on anyone, I am grateful for the opportunity this has given me to reflect and find parts of myself that I never knew existed. I am also grateful for the new friendships and connections that this new vulnerability has allowed me to form. This challenge helped me find joy and compassion during my struggle and I know I will resort to these exercises again during future moments of pain and suffering. My goal for my future is to continue to take advantage of all the amazing opportunities this life has afforded me and practice love and kindness for myself and others daily. If I can also use my cancer experience to help those around me, that will be the icing on the cake.
The two TEDX talks below are also wonderful resources on self compassion.
December 1st, 2015
I know you are going through a difficult time. I can tell you are being hard on yourself and you are scared of what the future will hold. It is only human to feel this way. Sometimes you forgot to celebrate how resilient you are. You are scared of change and worried that your loved ones won’t change with you. The reality is that something is wrong if we’re not changing. Everyone grows and changes, you just had a huge life event catapult that change a little faster than you planned on. Your husband and your friends are caring loving individuals and they will still be in your life no matter what your future holds and how you adjust. They love you through thick and thin and have shown you time and time again that this is true. Though doubt and fear can be powerful, try to believe what your loved ones are telling you. You are loved, you are admired, and you are respected. You are beautiful inside and out. Remember that your body is going through hell and even after treatment it will take time to heal both mental and emotionally. Make sure you give yourself a grace period free of judgment and free of self-doubt to rebuild yourself. Even once your physical wounds heal, your emotional scars may remain. It is perfectly natural to go through that experience. You are a fighter. Though you may not have ever expected to go through something like cancer, I am so glad you had this experience to make you stronger. You have learned so much about gratitude, perseverance and self- compassion. These are wonderful qualities you will model for your children. Though horrific, cancer helped you re-prioritize your life and push harder for your goals. You are less held back by self-doubt and insecurity. I am so proud of you for your bravery and positivity.
Your future self