Being a father has taught me the importance of self-love and self-compassion.
When people look at my 3-month-old baby boy, they often comment how he looks just like me. I feel happy whenever I hear that comment, but I also let that sink into my mind - as I cherish the beauty and innocence of my baby boy, I remind myself that I also need to be more attentive, kind and compassionate to the little boy that lives inside me.
For most of my life, I struggled with self-esteem issues and felt that the only way out of it is to be meaner to myself and demand more.
As a result, I would often minimize or ignore any successes and instead solely focus on my failures, thereby constantly reaffirming the thought that I wasn't worthy of love, respect and acceptance.
Now every time I look at my child and feel the irresistible urge to protect him and love him unconditionally, I cannot help but wonder, why I am not doing the same to myself. I guess that's because I love my child more than I love myself - perhaps a natural parental instinct.
Recently I read a beautiful book, 'The Gifts of Imperfection' by Brené Brown and in the chapter 'Exploring the Power of Love, Belonging, and Being Enough', she shares a deep, insightful blog comment from Justin Valentin, a mental health professional, writer and photographer:
Through my children I have learned to really love unconditionally, to be compassionate at times when I am feeling horrible, and to be so much more giving.
When I look at my one daughter who looks so much like me, I can see myself as a little girl. This reminds me to be kinder to the little girl that lives inside me and to love and accept her as my own. It is the love for my girls that makes me want to be a better person and to work on loving and accepting myself. However with that being said, it is still so much easier to love my daughter...
Perhaps thinking about it this way makes more sense: Many of my patients are mothers who struggle with drug addiction. They love their children more than themselves. They destroy their lives, hate themselves, and often damage their bodies beyond repair.
They say they hate themselves, but they love their children. They believe their children are lovable, but they believe they are unlovable. On the surface, one might say, yes, some of them love their children more than themselves. However, does loving your children mean that you are not intentionally poisoning them the way you poison yourself?
Perhaps our issues are like secondhand smoke. At first, it was thought to be not so dangerous and by smoking we were only hurting ourselves. Yet [we have] come to find out, years later, second hand smoke can be very deadly.
This comment resonated deeply with me because I am that person who loves his child unconditionally but struggles to love and accept himself.
To change this, requires mindfulness - paying close attention to those moments when I quickly judge myself even for those harmless, tiny mistakes instead of treating me with kindness and self-compassion.
Just the other day, I was filing out an online application which was tedious and complex and I realized I made an error in the first step of the application as a result of which I had to restart the process. Soon entered the mean, judgmental inner voice telling me how stupid I was to have made such a careless mistake. I took a moment and shifted my thought to 'Yes, it's a silly mistake and yes, this would take me another 30 minutes to complete the application, but that's okay. I will pay close attention this time around."
A week back, I took my son to have his passport photo taken and needless to say it was a challenge. Anyone with a 3 month old who has gone through the process will know exactly what I am talking about. I had to resort to all sorts of silly acts and gestures to get my little one to look straight at the camera. After much pleading and prodding and numerous takes and retakes, the photo technician was finally able to snap a decent picture and I was so relieved because this was a task that I kept postponing. To avoid having to go through this process again in the near future, I placed an order for a dozen passport photos (even though I didn't need that many).
When I returned home and showed the picture to my wife, she wasn't sure the passport photo would be accepted because one of his ears wasn't clearly visible. I quickly checked the photo specifications and sure enough, it was mentioned that both ears should be clearly visible. 'How stupid can you be to NOT notice this before you purchased them', screamed my inner critic. 'What a waste of time, effort and money', it taunted. And I was dumb enough to pay for 12 pictures when 4 would have sufficed. I was really frustrated and angry with myself. I paused, took a deep breath and practiced self-compassion.
After calming down, I then explored the option of asking for a refund which didn't cross my mind earlier, since I couldn't use the pictures. I went to the website, chatted with the rep and they asked me to visit the store to request a refund. I was nervous about having this conversation because I wasn't sure how the photo technician would react, but I went in and explained my situation to her. She listened to me, asked me to wait, talked to the store manager and issued me a refund.
Another example - I was going through my credit card statements and I noticed a $12.99 charge from Amazon. I was pretty sure I didn't buy anything from Amazon for that price amount and after doing some digging discovered it was the monthly fee for Amazon Prime. I didn't realize that I signed up for the 30 day Amazon Prime free trial. Again entered my critical, inner voice berating me for my foolishness and wasting money on a service I never used.
Once again, I stepped back and reframed my inner dialogue, 'I would have definitely put a reminder in my calendar, if this was something I knew I signed up for. I may have probably clicked the wrong button and must have not realized I signed up for the 30 day trial. Let me talk to a rep to see if they can refund the fee.'
And guess what, I chatted with an Amazon rep and explained how I never intended to sign up for a 30 day trial and may have done so by mistake. He reviewed my account, found that I made no purchases during the trial period and refunded the fee.
I know what you are thinking- these are really insignificant, minor mistakes, that hardly deserve second thought, let alone being mentioned in a blog post. The point isn't about avoiding mistakes in an application or to learn the perfect way to take a passport photo or how to deal with an unexpected credit card charge.
The point is - when we treat ourselves with contempt and judge ourselves even for the most trivial errors, we are constantly reinforcing ourselves that we are NOT worthy of love.
How we treat ourselves in these small moments matters - and it matters a lot because if we cannot stop judging ourselves and forgive ourselves for the daily flubs, how can we ever be prepared to deal with the major challenges and setbacks in life.
It's critical to think of the little inner child in ourselves and ask, 'If my little son or daughter did this, what would I tell them and how would I treat them?'
And if your response is that you would treat your child with love, kindness and compassion and encourage him/her to learn from his/her mistakes, the question to ask yourself is 'Why amn't I doing the same to myself?'
Enjoy this insightful Ted Talk by Brené Brown and share your comments below.