"You yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection." Buddha

The May newsletter on self-compassion was a good start, but there is more to say about this important topic. Since self-compassion is essential for a happy life, overthrowing any demons (negative thoughts, emotions, or beliefs) that prevent forgiving yourself for not being perfect should be a very high priority task.

Babies are not born thinking that they do not deserve for good things to happen to them – quite the opposite. But between infancy and adulthood, we get many “bad boy” or “bad girl” statements, vibes, or actions from our parents, neighbors, other kids, teachers, and others and we incorporate these messages into our beliefs about who and what we are. Most human interactions contain some element of judgment, often tinged with negativity, and these judgments can harm one’s self-image. Few people are capable of objective thinking (free from their own expectations, fears, wishes, limitations, motivations, and sufficiently knowledgeable to thoroughly understand situations or others), so feedback from others is often of limited value (worth evaluating perhaps, but as the saying goes “consider the source”). It is often difficult for us to recognize that other’s opinions are not quite as infallible and worthwhile as they and we may think. Criticism of our conduct, or worse, our being, adds to the negativity we have already absorbed. This negativity adds up over the course of a lifetime and everyone experiences it to some degree, although troubled families and communities generate far more harmful input than others.
This life-long immersion in negativity makes seeing ourselves objectively difficult for everyone. However, people who struggle with organizing, clutter, hoarding, time management, or self-care have greater difficulty maintaining healthy self-esteem. Being late for appointments or payments leads to self-criticism and reduced self-esteem. Clutter lowers self-esteem because you blame yourself for the chaos when in reality feeling overwhelmed and stressed makes controlling clutter or time nearly impossible. (The #1 question my organizing clients ask is “Where do we begin?” The answer varies by situation, but the best one is usually “wherever will make the greatest difference in your ability to function or be more comfortable, relaxed, and calm”, which will permit greater progress.)

Self-blaming prevents overcoming problems by triggering depression and reduced initiative, energy, motivation, and clear thinking. Calm analysis, needed to identify the tiny, realistic, achievable steps essential for change, is impossible while emotionally distressed from blaming yourself for your supposed ‘failures’. Stopping blaming and recrimination through self-compassion and acceptance of being imperfect (we all are) allows better emotional health and organization.

Although delving into the past is not necessary or even always helpful to overcome the hard beginning that life gave many of us, we must consciously identify and refute all the negative statements and beliefs that we repeat to ourselves. If looking at the past helps to identify the harmful messages received and absorbed so that you can re-train your thinking, then it may have some usefulness. Don’t become angry or blame the people who sent those messages – they were blind, damaged, and lost too, and blaming (them or yourself) will not help you recover.
Identifying your negative beliefs about yourself may be aided by making positive statements, such as “I deserve to be happy and to have good things happen to me” or “Making a better life for myself is worth the effort because I am worth it” and seeing what reactions come up. Your reaction to such statements shows where work is needed to become more compassionate and accepting. The idea is not to delude ourselves with false beliefs that we are better than we are but to overcome our negative beliefs that damage our lives. Being happy or making your life better is not a matter of having more or better things or experiences, but of overcoming the demons that undermine our happiness no matter what our circumstances. Achieving better emotional health and control over our own minds requires work and conscious effort, but is the greatest good we can possess.

Challenge any negative statement or emotion that comes up – negative statements have no benefit unless they provide motivation for well-planned corrective actions (i.e., slow, tiny, painless, repetitive modifications of existing behaviors that move into more desirable behavior in increments that will be easy to do and maintain) and it is unlikely that negativity would ever have such a benefit. The fact is, most of us are more inspired to improve by encouragement and praise than by blaming and punishment.

Positive mantras (short statements that we chant, usually silently) can increase self-compassion by occupying our minds, building self-esteem, and leaving less room and time for negative thoughts. Some examples of useful mantras include (but are certainly not limited to): “I deserve for good things to happen to me”, “I deserve love, compassion, understanding, and respect”, and “I deserve a better life”.

Sometimes we must repudiate negative statements from others to prevent them from undermining our self-compassion. You should not tolerate belittling or bullying by anyone. Questioning others motives for making hurtful or unhelpful statements, and challenging their assertions about “I’m only trying to help” will usually get them to back off from harassing you, and perhaps encourage them to reform their own behavior. (If they really wanted to help, they would build you up rather than tear you down.) Expect, indeed, demand better treatment from others – you and they deserve it!

The fact that you have a problem with organizing, clutter, hoarding, or time management does not mean that you do not deserve compassion. You deserve compassion BECAUSE you have a problem (if such a mythical creature as someone who had no problems existed, s/he would not need compassion). Everybody has problems, some are just more obvious than others, and people who judge others instead of examining their own behavior are usually the most blind. Having a problem does not make you less deserving or worthy than anyone else, just as others’ faults, such as lack of compassion or obliviousness to their own shortcomings do not make others unworthy of compassion (though these faults might make them people we do not wish to spend time with).

There is an enormous difference between self-compassion and self-pity. Self-compassion is forgiving yourself for your faults while still trying to improve where possible. Self-pity is not holding yourself accountable for being all that you could be by displacing responsibility onto others or circumstances – this is a corrosive, harmful emotional state that cannot lead to improvement. Self-compassion helps to get damaging emotions out of the way so that you can embark on a step-by-step, careful plan and consistently carry it out to change yourself in whatever manner you need. Change is never easy or quick so self-compassion is essential to use mistakes as fodder for growth and prevent discouragement. All mistakes are fuel for learning if used rightly.

Let’s apply these ideas to organizing and time management. Self-compassion is accepting that some level of clutter occurs in the process of living and that keeping your home immaculate is probably not realistic or desirable, but clearing and cleaning on daily basis is worthwhile and do-able. Self-pity is letting your feelings convince you that the job is just too big so there’s no point in starting, or that managing your emotions is impossible (there are lots of tools for managing emotions in the Articles section of my website). Self-pity lets you continue acquiring more things to comfort yourself when it is already clear that your things ARE the problem.

Self-compassion is not an excuse for not recognizing the truth about your behavior – it is simply understanding that no one deserves to be hated, that we are all manipulated by emotions we do not recognize, understand, or control. Our obligation to our fellow human beings (and theirs to us) is to recognize our own and their blindness and to be kind to ourselves and others despite it. The highest and most difficult accomplishment of compassion is to find the humanity and deservingness in ourselves and others even when they seem most unworthy. At the same time, we should recognize injuries to others and insist on appropriate amends, not as punishment, but as the only real means of transformation.

WORTH READING: I just read The Talent Code: Greatness Isn’t Born, It’s Grown. Here’s How by Daniel Coyle (available from the library). If you’ve ever wondered about “the well-worn groove in the brain” or how to build better habits, here’s a great tool. These principles have far-reaching applications for learning and habit-building.

© Gloria Valoris, 2014

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