I’ve never done a “word of the year” before, but this year, the word “compassion” keeps coming to me: in words I read, meditation guidance, on the tip of my tongue.
A theme that arises for me, over and over, in my work in therapy and in my journaling, is that of self-compassion. I can be pretty hard on myself, setting my expectations astronomically high and either getting down on myself if I don’t meet them or not giving myself credit if I do meet them. This manifests in several ways.
First, I set my bar at the level of “do not disappoint anyone.” Obviously an impossible bar to clear but one I set, nonetheless. I have always been praised for my independence and so asking for help or giving away that I don’t know everything is a form of disappointment.
Second, related, is another bar of “be perfect.” If I’m perfect, I can’t disappoint anyone, so my brain tells me, and I won’t have to worry about defending my actions.
Third, then, is the ever-churning machine in my brain that produces reasons, justifications, defenses, for every decision I make. Even tiny ones. I also have to run through all these before I make a decision, in order to make sure I’m making the right decision.
Fourth, if I’m so sure I’m making the right decision, then a challenge to my world view must be wrong and you, person who is disagreeing with me, must be wrong in order for me to be right, and because I’m trying to distill things down into right and wrong, the only possible outcome is indignation.
I could probably go on, but in the spirit of compassion, I will stop here to say: compassion doesn’t take away any of these tendencies, which are pretty baked in and honestly in their simplest forms help me be successful. Compassion allows me to separate myself from these tendencies and reframe my motivation as understanding myself—being curious—rather than fixing myself.
Compassion allows me to remember that I and everyone else are doing the best we can with what we have, and that there is no binary right and wrong.
Compassion doesn’t take away my feelings. Compassion helps me understand where they come from, compassion stops the stories I tell myself about those feelings, and compassion helps me identify the best ways for me to act on those feelings. Compassion helps me remember that there is no such thing as a “bad” feeling that therefore makes a “bad” Erin.
Is there a word guiding you this year? Please share!
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