During the really rough period of my marriage, where we separated for around three months, there was someone I knew that was receiving treatment for cancer. While talking to a friend one day, she asked me how I was and I told her something along the lines of "I'm fine". When my friend pressed me, I confessed that I didn't want to complain about my situation when someone I knew was going through a much worse time than me.
My friend told me that there was just no way that I could put my circumstance against that other person's and that while it was great that I should be concerned about someone else, I had just as much reason to have the same level of concern for myself. At the time I think I muttered some kind of agreement but it really didn't sit comfortably with me. I'd told myself that what I was dealing with wasn't life-threatening so allowing myself to acknowledge my true feelings was in my eyes tantamount to simply feeling sorry for myself.
Now however, I know that my unwillingness to acknowledge the pain in my journey by focussing on someone else's journey instead was simply a distraction technique and a symptom of my low self-esteem. The reality is that there will always be somebody else that is worse off than us, no matter what. We're not here to compete with each other and it's vital that we see that our own experiences do count and that any 'negative' emotions aren't left to fester away.
This attitude that formed part of my belief-system wasn't the kind of attitude that created an environment of healing, which was exactly what I needed at that moment. Instead it created an environment of denial, harshness and disapproval. At a time when I really needed to be kind to myself, I was critical and judgemental and I told myself how awful and selfish I was for having the gall to feel bad about my situation.
As I came to learn how to develop my love and acceptance for myself, I suddenly realised how I've always been quick to dismiss my own feelings. As a child, when my parents divorced for example, I told everyone so many times that it didn't affect me that eventually I thought I'd convinced even myself. I never wanted to make a fuss really because deep-down I didn't believe that I was worthy of my own understanding, sympathy or compassion, let alone anyone else's.
But you know what? There's a thin line between being strong and being cruel to ourselves. And the truth of the matter is that yes, my parent's divorce did affect me negatively and my refusal to deal with the emotions that it created caused me a lot of pain, pain which I have only managed to deal with in recent years. Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh explains that fear or pain is like a small child crying out for attention. And what does a parent do when a child cries? Do they ignore it? No, of course not; they take it in their arms and comfort it.
When it came to coping with the break-down of my marriage and the restoration of my self-esteem, it was vital that I first allowed myself to really experience my emotions. I was hurt, I was angry, I was scared, I was ashamed, I was guilty and I was grieving. Sometimes it felt like these emotions were going to rip me apart but like a mother comforting her crying infant, embracing my pain and acknowledging that it had validity was the kindest thing I could do for myself. I gave myself permission to experience the full strength of these feelings with complete acceptance and it allowed me to see the steps that I needed to take to move forward. This experience was an important part of my journey in life and it was critical that I took heed of the lessons that were there for me.
Are you quick to dismiss your feelings because you see your situation or trauma as irrelevant or not as bad as someone else's? How could showing yourself a little kindness and compassion help you to heal from some of the hurts you've experienced in life?
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