Being compassionate is not always easy. Being self-compassionate, can be even harder. It requires us to lean into our pain and suffering. To perhaps see what we would rather not. Self-compassion is known to help lessen the impact of shame-based trauma memories (1). On that basis you’d think as a trauma survivor, I would have jumped at the chance to help myself, to make myself feel better. And that’s where a rather bizarre paradox enters the arena. I’d spent the best part of 30 years trying to hurt myself better.
I grew up thinking I deserved the acts of abuse. They were done to me because I was bad, why else? On that basis, when one abuser left, that simply created a vacuum. What to do? Either fill it with someone else or take on the role myself. I wonder if I needed to be on the receiving end of abusive behaviour to feel alive? I knew how to feel safe in the presence of a threat. I just didn’t know how to feel safe in the absence of one.
I really struggled with self-compassion. Big time. I couldn’t see the point. Initially I didn’t even want to try and be compassionate towards myself, I simply wasn’t worth it. I didn’t want to receive compassion from anyone else either. I walked into so many sessions virtually willing my therapist to confirm my thoughts about myself. To say to me that, yup, you’re bad, you’re worthless, you deserved those things. But, they didn’t. But I still waited for it, convinced it was just a matter of time.
And why would I want to stop myself from experiencing pain? For so much of my life that was all I could feel. Emotional pain. And there’s the weird thing. Why on earth take pleasure from hurting myself. That’s where childhood trauma quite literally turned my inner-world upside down. Bad was good, good was bad. I thrived on believing I was bad because it allowed me to blame myself rather than contemplate the possibility that others would wilfully hurt me. It gave me control. Or so I thought.
I had to learn to accept compassion that was unconditional. I wasn’t expected to do anything in return. I didn’t have to earn it. And if I didn’t have to earn the compassion shown to me by my therapist, neither did I have to earn self-compassion. Recovery for me required a complete reboot of my brain’s operating system. I had to learn what true safety looked like, felt like, and learn to associate it with good, happy, pleasant feelings.
Gradually I learnt that by adopting a self-compassionate stance, I could not only reduce my sense of self-loathing and shame, I could make myself feel better. Wow. It was that simple. I had many of the tools I needed to soothe and calm myself already at my finger tips.
Self-compassion allowed me to see I was unfortunately far from alone in my experiences, I was part of a common humanity. I learnt to see, by becoming mindfully aware. If I then made a conscious decision to act from a place of kindness, I could begin to help myself. By flexing my self-compassion muscles on the seemingly small stuff, I learnt to apply compassion to the significantly more challenging material from my childhood. The trauma material. And I learnt to be helpful not harmful towards myself.
How each of us finds our path towards self-compassion will be different. What matters is that we know the path exists. Our journey is to find it.
Author: Felicity Douglas.
Epione wants to personally thank Felicity for her courage and sharing her personal experience of recovery. It is an absolute privilege to see this space come to fruition. If you’d like to share how you’ve overcome trauma and how you’ve been recovering, please get in touch with us at email@example.com – we look forward to hearing and seeing you.
(1) Harman, R. and Lee, D. 2009. The role of shame and self-critical thinking in the development and maintenance of current threat in post-traumatic stress disorder. Clinical Psychology and Psychotherapy.