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Learning to Have Compassion for All of Myself This Valentine’s Day

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“Compassion, yeah, and acceptance,” I said to my therapist yesterday evening.

As we have finished focusing on eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) therapy with me, he decided he wanted to try something different. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) hasn’t really worked for me.

I can’t stand in front of a bathroom mirror and show myself love. It is awkward to stare at myself longingly and say, “You are great, you are loved, you are strong.” I realize a lot of this weirdness I feel is because for most of my life, I haven’t loved myself. Heck, I haven’t even liked myself.

I’ve spent many years under the strong grip of depression, an evil disorder of the brain. For years it has lied to me, told me I was worthless, helpless, unloved. It would scream I wasn’t deserving of anyone’s love. A few times it had me convinced I should run away, or worse, injure or kill myself. I believed it. Why shouldn’t I? This was my brain, a piece of me, the piece of me that controlled my whole body.

I was lucky though. I had a few years over the past decades where I was mentally healthy and realized depression wasn’t in control. And then anxiety knocked on my door and became a permanent house guest two years ago.

I sat in my therapist’s office telling him of the anxiety attacks I’ve had in the last few days. I have been able to keep these attacks under control for the most part the last year, but now, with a major life event (selling our house) thrown at me, they are becoming stronger and lasting longer. I am struggling with taking medication for them, trying to gauge if I really need it or if I can cope using breathing, mindfulness, and
exercise. I am teetering on the border of it. So here I am, in therapy, discussing my recent attacks.

“What do you think are causing them?” he asked.

“One person who saw the house said it was too small. Logically, I know this is something I can’t fix. I can’t just drop Miracle Grow onto my house and have it grow a new wing. But, the anxiety part of me, it thinks it is my fault I can’t fix it. I have failed. I have displeased someone,” I answered.

“OK, let’s do something different. Let’s analyze the different parts of you. Obviously there is this need to please people, this perfectionist. What do you think of the perfectionist piece of you?”

“I hate her,” I responded.  “I wish she would leave. It is so hard to maintain. I wish I could be laid-back, go with the flow. She makes it impossible.”

“Do you think there is anything positive about your perfectionist self?”

Quick to respond, almost cutting him off, “No.  She needs to go.”

Saying this got me thinking though… Did I really want her to leave? Perfectionist Stephanie did accomplish a lot. I built a career with her. She always strived to be the best she can be. Yes, this caused a lot of negative thinking when I didn’t succeed.
But she wasn’t totally horrible.

“Do you really want to rid yourself of her?” my therapist questioned. “How about compassion for her? Love for her? Any other emotions?”

I realized after going through EMDR therapy and gaining compassion for my postpartum self, this was the key to loving the whole me.

I needed compassion for all of me.

I needed to forgive myself for being so hard and self-loathing at times. I needed to see this irritating piece of me, the perfectionist, and show it some love and empathy. I needed to finally accept she is a part of me no matter what and trying to will her away is only hurting me.

I turned toward my therapist, looked into his eyes and said, “Compassion, yeah, and acceptance.”

I left his office with this great realization… if I learned to have compassion and love for every part of me, I would be happier and could help keep my depression and anxiety quiet.  This is big.  This Valentine’s Day, I am showing myself love.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.
If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255

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Thinkstock photo by Ivan Mikhaylov

Originally published: February 14, 2017
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