But boy, have I used that on myself. "Oh, self, I wish you were_________________". But you know what I really wish? I wish I could be more kind.
Here's a confession: I can be cruel. Not just annoyed and didn't get enough sleep kind of mean but downright cruel. I can say the thing that will sting you the most, find ways to make you feel hurt and then convince you it's your fault. I can manipulate and destroy. It's the way I survived my own hatred. Cruelty was my M.O. for a while and because it was a survival instinct, I rarely noticed how easily I pushed people away, convinced I didn't deserve their friendship or affection. I remember a particular low point in my self-loathing where I told someone, "You're lovely and all that loveliness will just be wasted on me." I believed that deeply.
Sometimes, we make people stick around, dig deep to find our good qualities and once we feel they've proven themselves to us, we let them in.
I think that's absolute bullshit. I think it's bullshit and it's a practice I once had perfected.
I used to be afraid that if I let myself feel vulnerable, I wouldn't be able to control the flood of emotions that would come; I would be overwhelmed and unable to handle all I was feeling. I think this is why Brene Brown's "The Price of Invulnerability" resonated with me because that's what I was doing then, numbing myself from feeling anything at all, especially joy. Because I was afraid.
Since finishing my Ph.D. and turning thirty, almost three years ago, I have been in a process of letting go. I have to let go not just of the fear but also of the guilt and worry. It's not a secret, if you follow this blog, that I've struggled with reconciling the girl I was, with the woman I am now. More than that, I've struggled to honor and embrace that version of myself, though I understand the importance of doing so. It bothers me that I have been cruel, that the capacity for it lies so close to my surface.
Being kind, caring about others, caring for one's self in a healthy way takes practice. I know people who are incredibly warm; it seems to pour out of them and you feel cared for just being in their presence. I'm not that girl. I do care, but don't know how to effuse my care.
Recently, during midterm conversations with students a colleague remarked that my students mentioned how much I care, which made me feel incredible.
Still, being kind to myself, truly kind isn't, for me, just about treating myself to the things I love: coke floats, pedicures, a good mystery novel but goes much, much deeper. It's about letting go, about realizing that awareness goes a long way toward change and that I'm a beautifully complex person because of my experiences. When I first began The Declaration of You I said that what made me unique was one of the things that makes each of us unique: the way we look at the world. Just last week I wrote:
I embrace my complexity and my contradictions. I am not ”neither nor” but ”both and.”
Using the word, "embrace" goes beyond acceptance. It means bring together, to wrap around, to honor. I will keep coming back to this because I need a reminder that the part of me with the capacity to be cruel can be overshadowed by my capacity to love and to be open and vulnerable. Vulnerability can kick cruelty's ass... if we let it.
* I began this blog post days ago. I thought about deleting it. I tried throughout the day to think of something else to say on the subject of self-care and kindness, but lines I'd written kept floating in and out of my mind. I don't know that I've said things exactly how I wanted to, but it is important to me to try.