As I have mentioned in previous posts, the lack of self-compassion comes up a lot in sessions with clients. Why are we all so hard on ourselves? Yes, I am saying we because it happens to me too. Recently, I felt myself pulled back into another pull between my own negative thoughts and developing self-compassion. It was a struggle, which is why I want to share with others. It is not something your therapist can suggest and you order it from Amazon. It takes practice and time.
Here is the scenario. I was at a community library event and my son was just over 2 years old. He walked over to where a child and mother were playing, which at the time I thought, awww he liked the voice she just used. Next thing I know I am catching a huge “whose child is this, why aren’t you watching your kid” kind of look. I paused for a few seconds and then realized he had taken the toy her son was playing with. I sprang into action (mostly due to my own guilt after experiencing her glare, she clearly has never read Janet Lansbury), helped my son see that he took the toy, gave back the toy to her son, and before I could mutter a brief apology or a “he’s learning how to share,” I was saving some other child’s tower from mass destruction because my son was heading toward it. Her glare stayed with me the entire day. I can still feel it now as I am typing. This activated feelings of shame, disappointment, guilt, and insecurities in myself as a Mother. My negative self thoughts that come up for me from time to time started filing in. You are not a good Mother. You can’t discipline your child. Other people are judging you on your parenting skills. You will be blacklisted from the library. I felt like such a failure from that day that I didn’t even tell my husband about it. In fact, he is reading this the same time as all of you! As you are reading, you might be thinking, wow, all that over one glance and toddlers playing? If so, this is because we are quick to feel compassion for others, but for some reason it is very difficult when it comes to oneself. Like when being trained a new skill at your job, developing compassion for oneself takes work.
The next day my “training” looked something like this. First, I checked in with myself because I am feeling ashamed and disappointed. When I explored as to why, I realized it stems from the situation and my automatic thoughts about my parenting. In attempt to understand myself better and not beat myself up, I would like to create some more self-compassion in this situation. I know I have a lot of things I could say about myself to develop compassion in response to my feelings of shame and insecurities over this library situation. I am tired. I am still coming down from moving into a new home after one of the most stressful couple months of my life. I have been home with my son for days without any nap or nighttime break due to the current sleeping arrangements (which were re-designed immediately). I did jump in and try to use the experience as a learning situation. I am not the only Mother to ever pause when handling a situation. I could also name several situations where I felt like I nailed a parenting situation, which would also challenge my negative thoughts. I could think of more, but I want you to read on.
Next, I might look to expand the compassion from different angles. Earlier another child put two hands down on a puzzle that my son was trying to play with and this child’s Mother did nothing. Did I think she was a bad Mother? No, I thought maybe she was just not paying attention in that moment or was letting the toddlers figure it out, which felt okay to me. Also, who defines whether or not the ball was dropped? When my son took the toy, I addressed it. There was not a safety issue and the parent was clearly more upset than the child.
Lastly, I would review the situation again identifying how I wish it went differently, but with incorporating my self-compassion into the story. I recognized my automatic negative thoughts and that this situation is not an accurate reflection on my parenting abilities. I wish I had caught my son prior to taking the child’s toys and I also wish I jumped in a bit quicker. I was able to address it with the kiddos, but I wish I said something like, “Sorry for my delayed response,” to the Mother. I understand that I am tired and it has been a stressful bunch of days. It was a challenge to get to this activity in the first place. This was not a safety issue where I paused and I can’t get it 100% right all of the time because I am human. For fun, I should also mention it is also possible that the Mother’s glare was a bit overzealous and it is okay that I believe the toddlers to learn how to handle disappointment and distress tolerance.
My point is, the next time you find yourself stuck on something or you are beating yourself up, give this exercise a try. Please note with using self-compassion, I am also not excusing or rationalizing my behavior, but understanding myself a little bit more and where I was at during the situation. I learned more about myself and my underlying thoughts and feelings, but also explained to myself why I was where I was during that time and being in that space is okay.