“If your compassion does not include yourself, it is incomplete.” – Jack Komfield
As you’ve read in my last posts, Jenny is a junior attorney in a large law firm in Western Tennessee. Recently she has discovered that she is her own worst enemy. She doesn’t seem to have a kind word to say about herself or anyone else, for that matter. She always sees the dark side.
“Nothing ever seems to go right for me, these days,” she said out loud to herself remembering her first solo case that she had to hand off to her boss. “I’m so glad he didn’t fire me over it. You’ve participated in numerous cases just like it, why couldn’t you do it solo? Are you just a scardy-cat? I know you aren’t stupid so what’s your problem?
Her critical inner voice just kept haranguing her until she put her hands over her ears and yelled, “Stop It.”
She looked up. Instantly embarrassed. She looked around. Everyone in the library was looking at her. She put her finger up to her lips for silence then lowered her head to her hands.
The librarian came rushing over to her, “Are you okay?” she asked.
Jenny looked up as she fanned her blushing red face, “I’m so sorry. It won’t happen again. I promise.”
“You’ve been here for hours,” the librarian said. “You’ve got to be exhausted. Why don’t you go home and get some sleep? Everything will go better when you’re rested.”
“I’ve tried. When I try to go to sleep the voice in my head gets even louder. It just won’t stop.”
“I’ll be right back,” the librarian said then hurried back to the desk saying a few words to the other librarian then returned to Jenny. “Come with me.”
She helped Jenny gather up her things then walked to a quiet room.
Irene, the librarian, sat Jenny in a chair and put her books and papers on a different table where she couldn’t get to them easily.
“Now, I want you to close your eyes and take 10 deep breaths, letting them out slowly.”
Jenny did as instructed. Her body began to relax.
When she opened her eyes, Irene said, “I’ve seen you in here several times with Herman. He’s your immediate supervisor isn’t he?”
“Is he giving you a hard time?”
“No, actually he’s trying to help me work through this. I’m tired, but I seem to be my own worst enemy.”
“Okay. Now I know what to do,” Irene said. “It wasn’t too many years ago I brought Herman into this same room to get rid of his demons.”
Irene nodded as she pulled up a chair across the table from Jenny, “Class is now in session.”
“But, I have so much work to do. I don’t have time for this. I’m really sorry,” Jenny said as she started to get up.
Irene reached out and put her hand on Jenny’s arm, “You can’t afford not to do this if you want to make it as an attorney in this firm. If you want to work for Legal Aid go ahead and pack up your things, but if you want to reach partner here you need to listen.”
Jenny settled back down obediently.
“I’m going to give you some principles then we’re going to apply them. You’ll be surprised how quickly it helps. Okay?”
Finding the Truth – Jenny’s Exploration
“I want you to think back through your childhood. Think about the good times and the bad times,” Irene said as she grabbed one of Jenny’s notebooks and handed it to her. “Write down what comes to mind, even if it’s just one word. Sometimes things come back one word or one visual scene at a time. Whatever you see or think, write it down.”
At first, Jenny couldn’t think of anything that would cause her a problem. The more she ran back through the memories of her childhood the more she realized that she had approximately a four to five-year gap in her memory.
She began writing about everything she could remember from that period of time. As she did, her memory began to open up slowly with little visual images. It was as if her mind was protecting her from further hurt from her memory coming back all at once.
“I’m seeing some images, but they don’t make a lot of sense,” Jenny said.
“Just keep writing. I’m going back to the desk. I’ll be back in a little bit. If you need me, come get me, okay?”
Jenny nodded but was so engrossed in seeing and writing that she didn’t really acknowledge what Irene had said. Irene opened the door then stopped and looked back at Jenny. She smiled, shut the door and went back to her desk.
Jenny was able to put the visual images together to indicate that she had been molested by some older kids in the neighborhood. She called her dad to verify that her memory was correct. He answered back, “Yes, and don’t ever mention it again,” then slammed down the phone.
That answer left an even bigger question, “Why, at this point, say to never bring it up again?”
She continued to write. The final piece fell into place. It wasn’t the molestation that caused her to lose her memory it was her dad’s response. He had told her to never bring it up again. Being the vivacious child that she was, she just couldn’t help it. The next time she brought it up he beat her.
Her dad had been her best friend, until that day. She could process the molestation, but her mind couldn’t process the hurt, the pain, the violence from her best friend. Her mind locked it away. Even when the event came back into her memory, her mind wouldn’t release all the horrible details, but it did release enough for her to process the negative beliefs, feelings, and self-talk.
Jenny walked out to the librarian’s desk to find Irene, “I think I got it.”
Irene got up and walked back with her. Jenny read her notes to Irene with a few additional explanations.
Cause and Effect
“A cause-effect relationship is a relationship in which one event causes another to happen. … The cause must occur before the effect. Whenever the cause occurs, the effect must also occur.”
Irene started her lecture again, “As with any other cause-effect relationship, the experience that you have had causes you to feel unworthy, guilt, shame, and pain. If you don’t consciously deal with the effects of this experience you will carry the emotional consequences with you. This experience causes you to form negative core beliefs regarding how you see yourself and the world around you.”
Jenny continued to write. Being an attorney and researcher she was able to process the memories she pulled up as if she were processing for a court case.
“So that’s where these statements came from she said; ’There’s something wrong with me,’ ‘My dad doesn’t love me any longer, but I don’t know why,’ ‘I can’t do anything right,’ ‘It’s my fault dad doesn’t love me anymore.’”
“You know, I don’t remember being attacked by the kids, but I do remember how my dad treated me,” she told Irene. “No wonder all this came up. The case I had to turn over to Herman was a child molestation case. I didn’t have as much trouble with my inner voice until I started working on this case. Now, it’s all makes sense.”
Jenny realized it was not her fault. If anything, it was her dad’s fault for not protecting her. She also realized that if he had allowed her to talk it through she probably wouldn’t have lost her memory and been in torment for all these years. She still missed her relationship with her dad, but it was his decision to distance himself and she did not see the need to try to change it. It was his choice.
Jenny’s New Best Friend
“Can you imagine what your days would feel like if you learned to speak to yourself with compassion as if you were your own best friend?” Irene asked.
Jenny took a few minutes to lean back and visualize what life would be like if her inner voice talked to her with encouragement instead of put-downs and berating. Tears began to fill her eyes.
“I don’t remember anyone, except my grandmother, ever speaking to me with encouragements and in a loving way, not even my mother. It was always things that I should have done differently and the mistakes I made,” she said.
“Bringing compassion to yourself can change your life quickly. You’ll be able to experience warm, fuzzy feelings. It’s really difficult to berate yourself and bring compassion to yourself at the same time,” Irene said with a smile and a hug.
Jenny’s Self-Compassion Exercise.
- Think about the person you love and care for most in the world. Jenny visualized her grandmother who had passed away only a few months before. She was the only one who had really given her love and encourage.
- Think about all the times you have supported and encouraged them. Jenny thought about the weeks before her grandmother passed. She had volunteered to stay with her during that time. She gave her all the love and encouragement she could.
- Imagine what you would say to that person if they said things like, “I’m such a loser,” or “I’m so ugly,” or “I failed again.” That was an easy exercise for Jenny. During those weeks grandmother said numerous times, “I’m not going to make it,” or “I’m going to die soon.” Jenny sat with her by the hours comforting her and telling her it wasn’t her time yet.
- Now, switch places and visualize yourself repeating the same words of comfort that you shared, “You are going to be okay, you are doing fine, you are so loved.”
- Any time you hear negative words in your head switch rolls and be your best friend.
That was actually an easy exercise for Jenny because her grandmother was always giving her encouragement, positive feedback, warmth, and love.
As she did the exercise she could feel the love and warmth that her grandmother had given her coursing through her mind and body. It felt like her grandmother was right there with her holding her and giving her loving encouragement.
Jenny wiped the tears from her eyes as Irene gave her a big loving hug.