Today’s story is a little different in the fact that it is anonymous. My friend wanted to share her story knowing that it would help someone else but she asked that I keep her identity confidential. Her story is powerful and I am so grateful she was willing to share with all of us. We have a wonderful community of supportive women in Get Out There Girl. Thank you for that!
I have only recently been able to ponder on what it means to be compassionate toward myself. What does it mean to love yourself? I was always worried that giving myself praise or love would be selfish and arrogant. However, I’m learning that I was wrong. Having self-compassion means much more than loving my accomplishments and showing-off my abilities. It means caring for and understanding the person that is me, and coming to this realization has brought me strength and joy that I didn’t even remember was possible.
When I was nine years old, I experienced some sexual abuse. I kept the events to myself for years, trying to brush it off as though what had happened, although it caused me pain, fear and sadness, wasn’t anything to fuss over. As I grew and matured, I started to worry that the gravity and the seriousness of what had happened to me was something very wrong and I didn’t know how to make it better, it was just there, a part of my past and I hated myself for it.
I felt weak, powerless, foolish and embarrassed. I felt smothered, and conquered. I was a talented young person and yet I doubted myself at every turn. Many people spoke highly of me and I didn’t have any trouble making friends, but as I continued to grow, I felt like I was living a deceitful life. Although I was constantly receiving positive messages from many sources (my teachers, my church leaders, my coaches, and my family), I was confused and I didn’t feel like I deserved any of it. I told myself that if only others knew how weak I was and how easily I had been taken advantage of, how stupidly naïve I was, and what a terrible person I was, they wouldn’t be impressed, in fact they wouldn’t like me at all. I felt dishonest and trapped. I then fell into the dark world of very hurtful and negative self-talk. I think many of us find ourselves there, for many different reasons. For me, no one knew that I was damaged, no one knew, except me and God and I was afraid of what He thought of me. Soon I found myself degrading every part of who I was. I didn’t like my body, I didn’t like the way I talked, I didn’t like the way I walked, I didn’t like watching videos or seeing pictures of myself because I just hated the person I was. I felt like I was pretty much good for nothing, the world didn’t need me in it.
Years have gone by and I still have so much to learn, but I want to share what I am beginning to understand about self-compassion. Even after being married and creating a beautiful life and an adorable little family, I am guilty of having terrible thoughts toward myself. There have been a very few who I have confided in and who have given me some help along the way, but for the most part I thought that by burying the darkest part of me and moving on, the hate I felt for myself would diminish over time, and I think in some ways, it did. I grew out of some of those negative feelings, yet there have been times when I still feel overwhelmed with fear; fear of being taken advantage of again (yes, even in marriage! It surprised me too), fear of allowing others to know me (all of me), fear of telling myself that I was okay, fear of NOT telling myself that I was okay, fear that if I told others about what had happened, they’d think I was being dramatic, fear that maybe, I WAS being dramatic, fear that if I asked someone for help, they’d think differently of me, or somehow I’d feel worse about myself, fear that I wouldn’t be able to protect my children like I was unable to protect myself, fear that I may unintentionally hurt my children (statistics do say that those who have experienced sexual abuse are more likely to perform sexual abuse on others), fear that I was tiresome to those around me, especially when I had troubles, fear that I wasn’t enough for my husband. There are others who endure so much more than I ever did, and I still hated myself for not being able to forget about what had happened and move on. The truth is, and it has taken me a long time to see it, but the truth is that I was cruel. I was being cruel to a human being. Dumb and worthless were adjectives I may have used for myself, but I never thought of myself as a mean person.
As I learn about self-compassion and what that really means, I think, for the first time, I am truly
beginning to recognize my value. If I step out of myself for a little bit and watch the kind of person I was being from the outside, I am distraught at the meanness I displayed. I can’t imagine saying the things that I was saying to myself to anybody else! I would NEVER treat a little girl, whether she was struggling through trauma or not, but especially if she was, the way that I treated that little girl who was me. Loving yourself does not mean what I thought it meant. I can love myself without thinking I am better than those around me. My pain and heartache does not mean less because another person experienced pain and heartache too, whether it was caused by something similar or something completely different. I had thought somehow, that because it was “just me,” my opinions and feelings were invalid. One of my friends told me that standing up for myself over “small” things can be just as important as “big” things are to others and that sometimes I have the right to assert myself, even though I may inconvenience others. I have had a fear of allowing others to love and comfort me because I did not want to be a bother, I wasn’t worth the effort, I think I actually I thought I was a bother just by existing. I’m beginning to realize, as I see myself from a new viewpoint, I am someone of value. I can let others comfort me and, even if that might be irritating to them, I deserve to be cared about just as much as every other person. I could and should show the same kind of compassion toward myself that I would expect giving to others.
I’m not nearly perfect at it by any means, but now, when I think of that little girl, who was me, who was mocked, humiliated, hurt and used, instead of shunning her, turning away from her, and fighting to be someone else, I want to make an effort to embrace her and recognize who she is. When I feel anxiety over discussing intimacy and sexual purity with my preteen, I will try to embrace that woman, who is me, and speak positive words of comfort to her instead of hating her and shoving her down. Now, when I find myself struggling, still, with sexual anxieties and flashbacks in my marriage, I try to comfort that woman, who is me, instead of ridiculing her and questioning her insecurities. When I fret before every doctor visit and/or cry afterward, instead of telling myself how stupid I am, I imagine that woman, who is me, as someone’s daughter, someone’s sister, someone’s friend, another child of God who is in need of a gentle, loving voice, and I try to be that voice for myself. If I’m more understanding and kind to that woman, who is me, how much more understanding and loving toward all other women and people will I be?
As I learn more about myself and build my own confidence, I feel more empowered to connect with others, growing in love toward them and drawing strength from their experiences instead of comparing them to mine. I find that as I recognize the beautiful person that I am, I have greater strength to lift others and my happiness grows deeper and longer-lasting because, not only will I be more able to help, I will be happy even in the company of my own self, whose company I will never be rid of. My hope is that everyone who reads this will make a greater effort to love herself. Be Kind to YOU! You deserve the same kindness that you show toward other people, and you are worthy of compassion, from yourself, others, and from God.