You may know from my previous posts that I tend to beat myself up – a lot, and have often wished I was something I’m not. So The Lost Art of Compassion by Lorne Ladner has been a bit of a wake-up call. Especially the chapter on overcoming obstacles to compassion.
These obstacles are:
- Wanting to please others
- Not taking care of ourselves
- Harming ourselves
When I looked at the three obstacles, I immediately identified with the first two, while dismissing the third. I’ve never thought of myself as someone who intentionally harms myself, until I read further.
What Lorne described as self-harm shocked me (maybe I’m naïve, but in my universe, self-harm takes the form of physical harm). He defines self-harm as directing anger or hatred towards ourselves, including:
- Negative thinking about ourselves (guilty),
- Focusing on our faults (I do this all the time!)
- Expect negative things in our future (Phew! Not guilty)
- Getting stuck in negative emotional states such as regret and fear until they become guilt and anxiety (been there, done that)
Furthermore, the examples he gives shocked me in their ordinariness. He writes:
“When people are caught up in self-hatred, they usually don’t recognize how they are tormenting themselves. Usually they have been repeating silently a series of negative thoughts about themselves for so long they no longer even realize they’re thinking them. These thoughts become like inner background noise. Here are some typical examples of habitual, negative thoughts: “I’m ugly and fat, so no one will ever be attracted to me or love me”; “I’m a loser who never has accomplished and never will accomplish anything good”; “I’m a real screw-up who isn’t capable of having a loving relationship”; “I’m so dumb that I have nothing of value to offer”; or “I’ve done so many stupid, bad things in my life that there’s really no hope for me.”
Gulp. I have thought these thoughts. I know lots of people who think these thoughts. I’ve heard people say these things to each other. I’ve even heard people say these things to children. Never realising that we’re sowing the seeds of self-hatred and self-anger in ourselves and our loved ones.
But wait, that’s not all. There is a second way that self-hatred manifests – that is through the act of dwelling in negative emotional states, such as regret until it becomes debilitating guilt, or fear until one lives in a constant state of anxiety. These are also states that we have come to accept as, well, acceptable. No big deal. Some people just dwell on things.
But did you know? The words guilt and anxiety do not exist in the Tibetan language. For Tibetans guilt and anxiety are regret and fear gone wrong. Regret and fear play a positive role – to make us aware that we need to make things right or to escape danger. But when we end up being stuck in a perpetual, paralysing state of regret or fear it becomes guilt and anxiety, and becomes a form of self-torment.
Why this particular chapter really got to me was the fact we don’t realise that we’re harming ourselves, and we see nothing wrong with self-harming behaviours. We stay in a state of self-hatred and self-anger that is accepted, maybe even encouraged so that “we can improve ourselves”. And that’s not just sad, it’s scary. What kind of long-term harm are we doing to ourselves and to the people we love when our capacity for self-love and compassion is being blocked? If we know nothing but negativity and self-loathing, how can we gift positivity and kindness to others?
So, let’s all take a first, small step to becoming a beacon of encouragement, positivity and kindness to the people we love and the world. Let’s stop harming ourselves and start healing, so that we can eventually extend the gift of genuine love and compassion to those around us.
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