Confessional

Because sometimes the person who needs your compassion the most … is you.

I’m posting today as part of 1000 Voices for Compassion — a simple call for one thousand individuals to interpret and write about the need for human compassion, each in their own way.  Me?  I’m here to suggest something that at first sounds counterintuitive: if we’re going to practice compassion for others, sometimes we first need to practice it for ourselves. ❤  

*

I still remember where I was when I first realized that life was going to require me to be a more compassionate person — a lot more compassionate.

I was in grad school at the time, on a cold, gray afternoon much like this one, driving home from a long day on campus.  I took the turns hard, my hands clenched on the wheel.  The car squealed around the curves, plumes of gravel skittering behind the tires.

I drove angry because I was angry — angry at myself.

I can’t remember why I was angry, now.  Maybe one of my students had copped an attitude and I’d let him.  Maybe I’d written another short-story that I considered to be sub-par.  Maybe I’d said the wrong thing or done the wrong thing, worn the wrong sweater or spent a dollar badly.  I don’t know.

What I do know is that I was repeating a string of words over and over to myself, whispering straight toward the snow-flung windshield, my voice disdainful and savage-sounding and soft:

You’re so stupid.  You’re so stupid.  You’re so stupid…

*

We’re here today to talk about compassion, and in that moment of my life, I thought I knew what it was.

Like many young people raised and educated in the conservative Christian milieu, I cut my teeth on principles of self-denial and Christlike compassion.  Do unto others as you would have them do to you.  Love God.  Love your neighbor as yourself.  

By my mid-twenties, on that gray ribbon of a road, I’d heard those words so many times that they sometimes seemed sewn on the backs of my eyelids, so I could see them subconsciously each time I blinked:

Do unto others.

Love your neighbor.

Do unto others.

Love your neighbor.

I thought I was doing this.  I really did.  I didn’t see any problem with the fact that I’d been trying to love my neighbor while starving myself half to death — plodding back, again and again, to an eating disorder that never left me thin or beautiful enough.

It didn’t seem strange to me, then, that I was trying to love God while constantly bad-mouthing His handiwork.

On that day though, as the car shuddered around a turn, I heard myself saying those words — You’re so stupid, you’re so stupid — and I realized with sudden shock that I would never think of speaking to anyone else this way.

I wouldn’t call my friends stupid.

I wouldn’t even call my enemies stupid.

But somehow, here I was calling myself stupid and thinking that this constant name-calling was okay.

In that moment, it was like my Creator shook me by the shoulders and said:  If you can’t love yourself, what happens when you try to love your neighbor as yourself?

My Creator was right:  I wasn’t training myself to be a very good neighbor.

*

I don’t know when, exactly, I began believing that to love myself was a kind of selfishness.

I do know that I stopped believing it that day in the car.

I slowed the vehicle and wept quietly as I drove, asking the Creator to give me better words for myself:

More compassion.

More love.

I’ve been trying to treat myself with kindness ever since.

And here’s what I’m learning:  if I can love myself, I am better equipped to love those who aren’t able or willing to love me in return.

If I can forgive myself, I have good practice in forgiving my enemies, among whom I often stand.

And if I can see beauty in my own mirror — even when I’m feeling too fat or too thin, too old or disheveled or tired — then I’m much more likely to see beauty in the face of some exhausted woman on the street corner, who might well need a kind word.

I don’t know why all this is true; it just is.

So here, I guess, is what I am getting at:  if we’re going to talk about compassion today, then let’s not neglect to give a little to ourselves.

Would you take a little time today to see your own magic?  To pass it on?

I dare you.  ❤

If you’d like to read more from those individuals participating in the 1000 Voices for Compassion project, click the button above.  Or search the hashtag #1000Speak on Twitter.   
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16 thoughts on “Because sometimes the person who needs your compassion the most … is you.

      • It’s my pleasure Ashley. My joy comes from seeking lovely people on the net and enjoying their thoughts which reflect their lovely hearts. I am assured everyday that the world is full of excellent people and that for this reason good will one day overcome evil.

        Liked by 2 people

    • That’s just the problem, as Ngobesing mentions, we were taught to love others *more* than ourselves, which sounds just fine on the surface, doesn’t it?

      But it is true, as you so beautifully wrote here, that it doesn’t work that way!

      I know this intellectually, but it is having a devil of a time working its way, out of my brainwashed head, down to my heart. Who do I actually think I AM, after all!
      And if I feel so badly about myself, it has got to show on my face; how then, I ask myself now, will others know that my face is speaking to me and not to them!
      EISH!
      It is just as well that I love being alone in my home 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • Hello Anne! When I read this comment I immediately dashed to your site to better know you; and can you guess what? I found it difficult to leave that site. It’s such a sweet place to be. I enjoyed reading about the elephants the most; and looking at the pictures. You are such a wonderful person. Your work is excellent for lack of a better word. Coming to the issue you raise here, what I think is once you are aware of your problem you are on the way to solving it. I would not recommend isolation. I would rather recommend a gradual attack of the problem. Auto suggestion on a daily basis should be able to get us out of a negative self-image after some time. I want to thank you immensely for coming to my site and offering me the opportunity to take a closer look at the amazing work you are doing . Today I am publishing quotable quotes by contemporary writers and I am inviting you to take a look. Keep shining!

        Liked by 2 people

      • I can relate, so much, to what you’re saying here. It’s hard, isn’t it, undoing those old lies — the ones we we were taught to believe were truths? I didn’t share this in my post, but on the day I came to my little revelation, I made a commitment to myself: every time I caught myself badmouthing and name-calling my own body and soul, I’d stop and say something nice about myself … something I knew to be true. At first it felt silly (and difficult). Over time, though, it really did begin to change how I saw myself and how I saw others.

        I’m so glad you’re here, friend. And can I tell you something? I don’t really “know” you, not in the in-person sense, but I can see *so* much loveliness in you, in your words, your images, and your desire to connect in some small way.

        Just so ya know. 😉

        Liked by 1 person

      • I would just to tell you, Ashley and Ngobesing, that I realised something yesterday after dwelling hard on what you had to say here (and because I didn’t understand the feelings that I was experiencing); I realised, in full, and at last, that I DO love myself after all! However, although this is a huge step, it is a feeling I have only when I am alone! The next step is to take it out there because it is true that we *need* to connect, one way or another. Thank you to both! 🙂 xx

        Liked by 1 person

        • What a beautiful revelation. :). Life is such a journey … Sometimes the steps that seem the tiniest are the most important. I’m grateful for you and excited to be a witness to your process, as you are to mine. It’s an amazing privilege, isn’t it?? So, so glad you’re here. ❤

          Liked by 1 person

  1. Thank you for posting this! It was beautifully written and I enjoyed reading it from start to finish (which is a rarity for me…I suffer from blog-reading ADD, you know, the inability to do more than just skim?!) I think you hit on a very important topic, we can’t really love others until we love ourselves. #1000Speak

    This is my first time visiting your blog, and I LOVE it! You are a very gifted writer. I can’t wait to start following you. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. J.N. Atkinson says:

    This is a lesson I am learning as well. I drove past a church sign recently that said: “Jesus first. Others second. Yourself third.” To spell out JOY. I think this sends a warped message. In order to truly love ourselves we need to rearrange that list. We need to change the definition of selfish so as to not confuse loving your own being with an act of cruelty toward others.

    Liked by 1 person

    • There’s truth to that. There are times when loving others require self-sacrifice, but I’m learning more and more that if I’m not in a healthy place myself, it is exceptionally difficult (& maybe even impossible) to be the kind of person who can love others well.

      I agree: the ideas of “self” and “others” don’t have to be positioned against each other in a dichotomy.

      Thank heavens. ❤

      Thank you for sharing your thoughts, friend. So glad you're here! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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