I loosely define self-compassion as caring about myself at least as tenderly as I care for my friend or my dog or my houseplant. (I have one. It’s a red one. That’s all I know about it. I don’t care very much about it. But at least I occasionally recognize when it looks like death, and I give it what it needs without resenting it for having needs. That’s better than I do for myself some days.)
My conscious effort toward self-compassion didn’t start until late 2020. But nine years earlier, it found me in a dream. I had never heard the term. I had no idea what it was, and it didn’t tell me. But it made a profound enough impact to be the only dream I ever wrote down.
December 5, 2011
At first I saw my brother. He looked a lot more loveable than I remember. His face looked like the pictures I’ve seen of him at 6 or 7 years old, but I didn’t see the same things in him that I see when I look at those pictures now. Now I remember living under the tyranny of his anger. I didn’t have words for it until I was in my teens, but I had already spent years building up the core belief that younger siblings were created for the abusement of their older siblings.
But all of that was somehow burned away in my dream, I loved child Jeriah whole-heartedly, with no resentment for anything I knew he was going to do to me in the future. I saw him almost as if he were my own son, just a ball of love and energy and potential.
Then I saw myself. I was adorable! Introverted, strong-willed, but somehow fragile too. I knew I only had a very short time with little Jamin. Wherever we were, the group would be wanting to get back home soon.
I had so much I wanted to tell him and prepare him for. I knew about all the disappointments and embarrassments he…I was going to face in the coming years. I knew how I was going to be hurt and offended by what happened in the next 15 years.
More significantly, I knew how he was going to misinterpret things that happened to him and how that was going to affect him for years to come until he found out he had wasted so much time protecting himself against an evil that didn’t exist. He was going to be insecure about things that no one ever intended to make him insecure about, and I wanted to fix it all for him, so he could have a better life than I did.
The most overwhelming feeling I had, though, was love. He was so precious, but he was so skeptical. He wanted a reason to believe that people loved him. He didn’t see what I saw. He wasn’t going to just accept that he had this immense value until he had proven it to himself. And I felt desperate to fix that in him. For the first time, I saw me and loved me as much and in the same way as I love my daughter.
Sensing that time was short, I ran over and gave him a big hug. I didn’t consciously think, “How do I boil all this down to one simple sentence?” It just didn’t occur to me to try to construct a meaningful sentence that would contain all the things I wanted to say to him. It was as if the immediacy of the situation had thankfully robbed me of that opportunity to construct that perfect piece of advice that would help him through the struggles I saw coming up on his path.
My 2020 foray into self-compassion also had to take the long road around, through childhood Jamin, to reach me. I was telling my therapist about a traumatic time where I was unable to fight back or express my pain.
In telling the story, I was focused on what I should have done differently. My therapist wanted to get all weepy on me with crap like, “That was a lot to go through.” I wasn’t having it. I wanted to talk about the details of the situation, so I shot back, “I guess.”
“Jamin!” she stopped me, “what would you think if your oldest daughter was in that situation?”
“Yeah, but she’s only…” oh crap! She had just turned 11, the same age I was in my story. The thought of her having to live through that made me angry – furious! And for the first time ever, I was able to feel defensive for the little boy I had been. I found a reservoir of anger and protection and justice that I didn’t even know could be there, and the dam broke. I wanted to step between little Jamin and his parents and punch them square in the face.
“How. fucking. DARE you!”
Someone should have stood up for Jamin. Someone should given him a hug and listened to what he was saying and what he needed. He deserved it, even if I’m hesitant to admit that I deserve it.
This, of course, gave me a whole new paradigm for my childhood. Not a “better” or “right” one. Not absolute “Truth” about my childhood. But I had a new tool to experiment with. When looking for a new way to interpret any memory from 11 years and younger, I could insert my daughter as me, and watch it play out with a more objective observer.
After realizing how harsh I had been about ages 1-11, it seemed unlikely that I had a suddenly accurate interpretation of ages 12-40. Maybe I wasn’t quite right about those years either. It didn’t clear up my perspective, but it did give me permission to question my narrative. It loosened some of the shackles I had my past self in.
Maybe the evidence wasn’t as compelling as I had been thinking. Maybe a retrial was in order. And maybe Jamin should at least be temporarily let out on bail.
That’s when I let myself consider looking into self-compassion.