“Good God, you are rough on yourself,” my therapist once said to me. “How ‘bout we work on your self-loathing with some techniques for self-compassion?”
Mentally, I rolled my eyes, recalling a recent new-agey workshop experience: There I was, in the Oregon wilderness, uncomfortably skirting the outside of a giant group hug with 20 weeping strangers, while an instructor encouraged us to yell “I LOVE MYSELF”.
Furthermore, self-loathing? Sure, I beat myself up sometimes over things, but come on, loathing? The words seemed far too extreme to be applicable to me. I don’t hate myself. I should just be thinner, more compassionate and have a cuter boyfriend.
I don’t have a problem with self-aggression. I just have very high standards, and I sometimes don’t measure up, that’s all. I’m not into self-violence. I sometimes just beat myself up for not being better than I am.
You get my point.
But I agreed to engage in the role-play, if only to satisfy my therapist’s needs. But I still didn’t get it.
A few weeks later, I was having a conversation with a beautiful woman who was considering enrolling in Twist’s teacher training program. A mother of five, she had spent the past 20 years taking care of others, and was ready to do something for herself – thus the teacher training. She explained her concerns over a cup of coffee at Red Twig: She didn’t think she was good enough at yoga. She wasn’t sure she was ready. She was concerned she would hold others back and take up too much of the instructors’ time. Despite wanting to take the training, her self-doubt & self-loathing were talking herself out of it.
The conversation was like holding up a mirror to my own behavior. In an instant, it was totally clear: Part of self-loathing is discouraging ourselves from growth and happiness; something that we would never do to the ones we love. This is the essence of ahimsa, non-harming: We would never speak to others the way we talk to ourselves. Would this woman ever have discouraged her children the way she was discouraging herself?
As we move into February, a month synonymous with love of others, consider your not-so-sexy behavior of self-abandonment. Self-love involves commitment to oneself. One path to self-love is your yoga practice. When you do yoga, you make space. Space to breathe, space for your organs to function more efficiently and effectively, space to feel, and, mainly, space to love. Space to love and breathe into whatever is happening in your life and space to remember that you are enough—exactly as you are. This love is the foundation of a good solid relationship with oneself.
The next time you notice that you are withholding approval from yourself, speaking unkindly to yourself, or acting hatefully toward yourself in general, ask yourself if you would treat your child–or any child–in the same way.
Despite your answer, just being aware of the voices within is a starting point on the path.