Jan 25, 2018 / Life
Self-Compassion | A Letter To Myself
Eighteen months ago I was frustrated. It was too early for me to be hitting my second quarter-life crisis but internally I was a wreck.
Things just weren’t lining up like they were supposed to. Two months prior I had started dating Jamie who is now my wife. I knew she was “the one” a month into dating when I told my sister that I finally understood why people say “when you know, you know”.
Yet even though I was sure I found the woman I wanted to spend the rest of my life with, I was unhappy with myself and the way I did relationships. I was afraid…
Afraid to be vulnerable, and mad at myself for being too needy when I actually was vulnerable, I was stuck in a cycle of self-doubt and fear. These were some of the words I wrote down about myself at that time:
“I feel so inadequate to do a dating relationship well because being close to someone means I need them and their support. I feel ashamed that I can’t figure it all out on my own…depression makes this really hard. I feel incapable of being known and loved because the more known I am the less loved I feel sometimes. I feel embarrassed at my neediness and how hard I make relationships. I feel bad that I can’t just do relationships with ease the way other people can.”
Pretty hard to win the heart of your dream girl when that’s your mindset huh?
Thankfully, Jamie is extremely patient and kind-hearted and stuck with me through lots of the ups and downs in the early part of our relationship. (Don’t worry, we’re the perfect couple now and never have any arguments or problems.)
During this time of frustration in my life, the idea of being kind to myself was a foreign concept to me…a luxury that I couldn’t afford because I needed to be better! I knew that Jamie needed a husband one day who was stable…er, and who had enough confidence in himself that he could lead.
And so that’s exactly what I became! The End!
Moral of the story: “Work Harder. Be Better. Beat Yourself Up When You Don’t Do Good Enough!”
Go write that on your mirror and read it every morning when you wake up!
Of course that doesn’t actually work! We’ve all tried this route and it never works long-term. Eventually, we mess up and fall back to not being good enough.
We carry wounds that keep us from being the person we want to be when we compare our lives to everyone else. We can try as hard as we want but we’re never going to heal from our hurts unless we learn to have compassion for ourselves and our story.
I came across a tool during this time in life that helped me a lot. It was an exercise in self-compassion and the first step was to write about an imperfection that made me feel inadequate. Next, I was instructed to write a letter to myself from the perspective of an unconditionally loving imaginary friend.
At first, this seemed really stupid. I didn’t want to be kind to myself about my imperfections in relationships but I was shocked at what happened once I got started. The floodgates of empathy opened and finding the words to write had never come easier.
Here are a few excerpts from my letter to myself:
I know you’re frustrated that relationships don’t seem to be as easy as you’d like them to be. I understand that it’s embarrassing to feel so needy and I know your desire is to be stronger than you are.
There is so much factoring into your struggle in relationships that’s outside of your control…. There has been so much weight put on you that’s beyond your control and that you’re not supposed to just be able to fix or bounce back from. The goal isn’t to overcome all this…feel it…it’s ok that these weights are on you.
You don’t have to beat yourself up comparing yourself to other people who you see as having it easier. There’s no point in measuring your success at relationships against anyone else because you’ve grown up with completely unique circumstances that nobody else has to deal with. Take a look back at it all…the shame…the fear…the loneliness…the anger…the rejection…the depression. You’ve endured a lot. You’ve come a long way! You are twenty-seven-freaking-years-old! Give yourself a break! Some people cary around this baggage into their 60s, 70s, 80s…some to their deathbed!
You’re not going to heal from all this overnight. You didn’t get to this place overnight. But you also haven’t stayed in this place your whole life. Yes, there may be new ways that you are affected in this season of life but you have already shown that you are resilient and you can thrive despite some really challenging setbacks.
You are unique but your story isn’t unique. Other people have endured these things. I know you want to beat yourself up and feel like you’re the only person who can’t succeed in this area of life but you’re not alone. Other people have relational strengths and weaknesses. It’s a part of life to face these challenges and see that the whole world isn’t against you. The world is on your side fighting this with you!
As you continue to struggle don’t put yourself down. It’s ok to admit you have struggles. Be honest with Jamie about it. Be honest that you are fighting through a lot of shame, guilt, fear, and anger about your past. Be honest that you don’t have this figured out. Don’t try and pretend you are supposed to have all the answers. Again, you’re twenty-seven-freaking-years-old. Allow yourself grace to recover and grow and try new things relationally. Experiment with new ways of coping, new ways of communicating, try new things in relationships! Don’t be afraid if they don’t work. Allow yourself the grace to fail at times. You’re a relational toddler and toddlers fall sometimes.
You can be happy and whole in a relationship one day. It doesn’t have to be today. And if tomorrow’s a little worse and it’s not all fixed next week that doesn’t disqualify you from being in a healthy marriage one day. Step back…remember that it’s going to be a process. People have helped you thus far and people will continue to help you as you grow.
Keep leaning into the hard stuff…not to fix it and make yourself better. Lean into knowing that you’re loved and it’s ok to not be perfect now. Lean into pursuing healthy relationship and keep trying even when it’s hard and discouraging. Emotional health isn’t something you arrive at – it’s something you pursue all your life and you’re building habits of that now!
This is quite a mindset shift isn’t it?
I’ve reread these words for over a year and it still brings new healing each time! I know that my words to myself may not mean much to you, and I’m ok with that. They were written for me. My hope is they are inspiring to you to because my guess is that you have some words of compassion for yourself that your heart is longing to hear. Only you and God know the areas you’re being too hard on yourself.
What would it look like to give yourself grace and compassion instead of striving harder? How would it feel to allow yourself to be ok not being ok?