What’s your (real) problem?
For those of us who are privileged to not have immediate survival concerns, what is it that we’re struggling with? What causes us to suffer? Why are we collectively so troubled? We humans share a common problem: we are at war with our own selves. Our internal worlds are full of polarized parts that don’t sit well with each other: good/bad, love/hate, right/wrong, too much/not enough. We are largely preoccupied with trying not to feel much of what we do feel. We have internal voices that say terrible things to us -- in a twisted effort to help protect or save ourselves. These warring parts are like little children. They are relics from our past that haven’t been brought into the light of current awareness. Like little kids locked in a fight, they need help from a wise and caring adult. The best adult for the job is you!
We have very little control over external happenings. Covid, wildfires, people dying, racial injustice...painful experiences continue to occur without our consent. The one place where we have some control is on the inside. We can influence the amount of care, respect and compassion that we offer to ourselves. We are all seeking more care, respect and compassion, only we make the mistake of looking for it exclusively outside of ourselves. If it comes, it feels really good. But it never lasts long, and at some point we find ourselves empty or suffering again. We just don’t know how to love ourselves. Loving ourselves isn’t even a consideration for most of us, much less a priority.
Do you love yourself? What does that even mean?
Do you care about what’s hurting you? Are you compassionate toward yourself for all the fear you’re still carrying from decades back? Are you curious about your story and your beliefs? Do you slow down and turn inward to listen to those warring voices, and offer help? Probably not.
Yes, life outside is difficult, painful and triggering, but a good deal of the suffering in our lives is generated inside of our own minds. Maybe we are our own worst enemies.
We can become our own greatest source of compassion.
We want acceptance and inclusion, but we don’t accept or include ourselves. We want respect and acknowledgement, but we don’t make a point to notice and appreciate ourselves. We bring a sense of not belonging with us into groups of people, and then feel hurt and angry when we don’t feel we belong. Listen to the voice inside your head right now. It’s likely saying something about what you did wrong, how you ate too much, how you don’t look good enough...or it’s just pushing, pushing, pushing you to be better than you are. It’s mean or it’s harsh. Down deep, it’s well intentioned and wants you to survive and thrive, but it lacks kindness and it causes so much (optional) pain.
This is your chance. You can stop the war inside. You can change the voices in your head. You can be kind to yourself. It takes retraining and tremendous effort, I’m not going to lie. But there is nothing more important or worthwhile. When we are a reliable source of care and respect for our own suffering and longing, our experience of the world relaxes, and we start to feel better. It doesn’t mean we don’t continue to seek connection with others or strive for progress and accomplishments in our lives. It’s just that we stop the frantic searching outside of ourselves, and the reactive outbursts that come from NOT getting what we’ve always needed. When we learn how to locate and connect with our own inner source of compassion, calm, confidence, courage and clarity, we stop being mad at the world. We stop shaming ourselves and blaming others.
Self-compassion is ALWAYS an excellent choice.
The next time you notice yourself fixating on a problem and searching for a fix, make a U-turn, and bring your attention back inside. See if you can inquire with yourself, with some measure of care and respect. You have a relationship with yourself, and you get to set the tone and make it as loving as you want. Why not become a master at loving yourself, like no one ever has ever loved you before?
The recent death of both of my parents has shown me how fleeting time is. This is our one and only time to heal. I hope you find this an encouraging nudge to start your healing journey. You deserve peace.
Written by Jessica Sorci, LMFT