Self-compassion is difficult. I remember the negative things I have said or done, and those things become who I am. Each and every poor decision, unkind word spoken—or not, embarrassing moment, or thought provides me with proof that I am a loathsome human.
Except, am I?
The little three-year-old Becks I saw in the mirror a few weeks ago (See “The Heavy Bag”) was sweet, innocent, and beautiful. Isn’t that child somewhere in there? Remember in the movie Hook when one of the Lost Boys stretches and pokes at Robin Williams’ face? After smoothing out the wrinkles of this aged Peter Pan who remembers nothing of Neverland, the little boy says, “Oh, there you are.”
If a little boy can look at a middle-aged man and see the child inside, why can’t I? Why should I look at a seven-year-old Becks with such animosity when only four years passed from the sweet, innocent little girl I remember to the shut-down, angry, misunderstood, idiot I can’t stand?
In a recent therapy session, my therapist asked me about my seven-year-old self. I was trying, but that little Becks just seemed too different from the three-year-old to like. Again, self-compassion is hard when you can’t see past the negative, and all I was seeing was the closed-off, angry, misunderstood, stupid disappointment that I was.
“Don’t look at what she did, look at her.”
That was a great cue, but I still struggled to see beyond the decision that little seven-year-old Becks had made. My therapist started asking me questions.
“What did you like to do?”
“I was obsessed with football—tackle football. I was also worried about hurting someone.”
“Did you like to read?”
“Anything I could get my hands on. My favorite book was about a cruise. Books always took me on an adventure, and I loved adventure.”
“Did you have an imagination?”
“I once scared a kid because I made a murder scene. I didn’t actually mean to scare him though. That sounds kind of messed up.” I got in so much trouble for it—like end dinner early to knock on all my neighbors’ doors and tell them what I did and then get grounded for week trouble. I wanted to explain myself back then, but, instead, I confessed my guilt, apologized, and accepted whatever words were said and punishments were dished out. I joked with my therapist that I was a serial killer (though she quite seriously asked about that as any good therapist should). I am most definitely not a serial killer, and I am most definitely not unique in doing odd things. And really, the only difference between me and a kid today is that they do that stuff in video games whereas I did it in the empty lot by my house. Rabbit trail over.
There was more to each of my answers. There was emotion—joy, sadness, compassion, and humor. One of the things I discovered about little Becks was how tender and compassionate that little kid was. And how cool she was. Well, she really wasn’t that cool by anyone else’s standards, but she was a pretty great kid by my standards.
Since then, I have noticed more sensitivity/compassion for my younger self. I talk to her like she is in the room with me. I guess technically she is in the room with me. I don’t know. It maybe seems weird unless you have ever done it. I know I really struggled with Internal Family Systems at first. It clicked with me, but it also seemed embarrassing to have parts that I was communicating with.
Anyway, upon sharing my having met with little Becks, my brother told me to tell her he said hello. I cried. For lack of a better way to say why this was true, I can at least say he knew better than most who she was back then and not only liked her but wanted to connect with her NOW.
Maybe the most important step in IFS so far has been to see little Becks—really see her. It opened the door for people other than me to see her. That is something I have feared more than anything else, and I found it caused me to feel connected rather than ashamed.
I don’t have a playbook to know what to do next, but I know little Becks was left alone thirty-three years ago to fend for herself in the woods, and I’m going to go in there after her. It’s gonna suck, but I’m certain that abandoning her, shaming her, and hating her sucks more. Yes, self-compassion is difficult, but isn’t self-hatred more difficult?
“Choose your hard.”