For most of my life I did not understand what it meant to feel my feelings. I had emotions and reactions. I would judge and demand, react or act out. The highs were high and the lows were low.
However, deeper feelings of grief or loss—feeling small and unworthy because I wasn’t accepted, appreciated, or loved for just being me—stayed locked away tight.
I was afraid they could kill me if I opened that door.
Caring for My Inner Child
This article is excerpted from the booklet Compassion: Living Life With an Open Heart.
Through the wild years and the lost years, the work years and the family years, through the angry and divorcing years, that sad child inside waited to be reclaimed. When the healing years came, they were a steep climb.
First, I had to be willing to go back for that little girl because there was no going forward without her.
As I did the work of caring for the innocent child inside, my heart was slowly cracking open. I grieved the childhood that had been frightening instead of secure, punishing when it cried for encouragement.
While I could not change the past, I became willing to see it as my own imperfect experience and offered myself new love, support, and appreciation for getting through it as well or as poorly as I did.
A Battle With Criticism and Perfection
To be human means to be imperfect. It also means being a divine and whole creation. Meanwhile, the world teaches us to constantly do better, be better, and strive for perfection. It seems a contradiction to be kind to ourselves when we fail.
Then, like our parents and theirs, we perpetuate generations of self-criticism, blame, judgment, and victimhood. It is no one’s fault. We forget the love we were created to be until the pain reminds us. That is its job.
Compassion: The Heart Opener
When I became willing to find love and compassion for myself, my heart opened to a kinder, gentler way of living. That shift rippled into every relationship, starting with myself. There was something poignant yet humbling in knowing my feelings. I could identify happy from sad, hurt from excited.
I learned that no one else made me feel what I felt. Not only was I responsible for my own feelings, but no one else caused them nor was I the cause of another’s.
Most important, I became aware they had feelings too! The humanness we had in common became a great gift, and since none of us is perfect, I began to let others off the hook.
A Three-Step Practice to Self-Compassion
Soon after, I came across a practical technique in The Art of Happiness by the Dalai Lama. His bright, smiling face shone from the cover. I had no pretentions of becoming so saintly, but I did want to know greater happiness. Who didn’t?
The book was initially disappointing. It did not hand me answers. It did, however, bless me with three letters that soothed my soul: PTC, which stood for patience, tolerance, and compassion. I discovered when I was willing to look for them, I could go deeper in my mind and heart.
I used PTC during any situation that jammed me up or triggered fear or anxiety. When I was willing to find patience, there opened a bit more in me. Then I would look for a little more tolerance to put up with what was happening, just slightly more.
The Result of Practicing Compassion
It was when I got to compassion for myself and whoever else was involved that things would turn around. I had to learn compassion by being willing to feel my feelings and remember others had feelings as well.
I still respond first with the habits of a lifetime. It is when I find a little willingness to go deeper that love lifts me up and reminds me that I am okay. Seeing my own small light helped me see the light in others.
First comes a willingness to look. From there, we can all begin to care.
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