I recently sent an email of thanks to my old therapist. She herself isn’t actually old, but you know what I mean.
I value her so highly and together, we worked through an enormous amount of change over six years of sharing her office. They were gruelling sessions and sometimes the toughest times of my life. Being able to go inwards and work on myself was a great privilege for me and a gift I will never forget.
She reminded me that the work we do on ourselves requires commitment and no small amount of courage. Let’s be honest – it’s a MASSIVE amount of courage we need – I think she understated that! Not just courage in showing up every week when at times it felt like I had nothing to talk about, but courage going to the dark places of shame and discomfort that have allowed me to move on and improve my life, my experiences and my world view.
I chose psycho-dynamic psychotherapy when I realised that not all of my relationships were going well. And I knew it was time to look inwards, to stop blaming other people and start looking at what I was doing that might not have been helping that.
We talked about over 50 years of learned behaviours, experiences, fears and aspirations and some of those days were golden moments and some of those days I would come home and cry on the couch for hours, remembering some of the things that made me who I am.
I wouldn’t trade any of them. In her words, she saw someone in our first meeting who had potential. Potential for change. Manifesting this potential as we well know, takes endurance to accept that there are parts of ourselves that need changing. The most difficult part, is making sense of how we came to be this person, being able to bear those painful realisations and in turn allowing the person we want to be to emerge, the truer version of our self.
It took me a long time in therapy to unravel my true self. It felt like a returning to something familiar. I think we are all born with kindness and compassion in our hearts – and things happen along the way to us that make us protect ourselves, or change who we really are. It took me a while to uncover the real, strong, flowing source of kindness and compassion I have now. And I am still – and will continue to be, a work in progress. I am now fortunate to use my skills to help others be kind to themselves. To let ourselves off the hook – to stop beating up on ourselves. That stuff gets really boring after a while.
The coaching work I do is based on self-kindness and self-compassion. It’s not therapy – it is most definitely coaching. Kindness and compassion are tools we can all use in whatever version of self improvement we choose. It won’t end well if we continue to beat ourselves up as a way of motivating ourselves towards achieving our goals.
We are attracted to kindness and compassion in others – there’s no reason why we can’t start with ourselves. When we know ourselves well enough – we can start to understand our own behaviour. We can make sense of our own reactions and our own responses not just to ourselves but to others. It’s a critical skill when leading a team – or being in any position of leadership that we first know ourselves in a way that makes us confident, consistent and caring. There is a real place for this kind of leadership. It achieves so much more than a command and control mindset – but it does take courage. This Emily McDowell image sums all of that up – our true selves are always there. We are powerful, creative, resourceful and whole exactly the way we are. We might just need a helping hand in unravelling.
This is what I mean by being kind and compassionate to ourselves.