One way that we first learn how to relate to our suffering is by experiencing how our parents relate to it in us. If our difficult feelings were ignored or criticized, it is highly likely that we will ignore or criticize them. If we were seen as a problem when we were sad, angry or anxious, we probably will have very little patience for it within ourselves.
We first learn how to parent ourselves through how we were parented. And we can learn to be better, more effective and loving parents to our suffering.
How do we do this?
Below is a series of steps to experiment with the next time you encounter a part of yourself that you have a hard time accepting.
If you notice that you are criticizing yourself or turning against a part of yourself, pause. Name what you notice, in whatever words make sense to you. It might be, "I'm doing that thing again." or "I'm being mean to myself." Take a breath. By pausing this way, you interrupt the pattern.
2. Acknowledge Frustration & Disappointment
Recognize and name that you feel frustrated and disappointed because you're having feelings that you don't want, and/or because you are relating to yourself in a critical way. Make space for both the feelings themselves, and the reaction that you're having to them. There can be room for all of what's true.
3. Choose Your Priority: Wholeness
When you get into power struggles with difficult parts of yourself, it's easy to forget that your highest priority probably isn't being right, it's finding a sense of wholeness. How you relate to your experience is just as important as what happens in the end. Consciously remind yourself that what you most want is to feel whole, and that wholeness comes from feeling connected to all parts of yourself.
4. Are You Willing to Not Know?
At the root of what makes certain parts of you so difficult to accept are the stories and beliefs you have about what those parts are and what they mean about you. But, the truth is, you don't necessarily know what your inconvenient and seemingly inappropriate anger, anxiety or sadness is telling you. Try acknowledging the beliefs you have about the difficult part of yourself that is present, and then open it up to not knowing. For example, "I think that my sadness means that I'm weak. I'm willing to consider the possibility that I don't know what my sadness means." or "I believe that my anger means that I'm a bad person. I'm also open to the possibility that I don't know what my anger means." or "I think my self-criticism means there's something really wrong with me. I'm also willing to consider that I don't really know what it means."
5. Presence and Listening
Once you have acknowledged that you may not know what your difficult parts mean, see if you have more capacity to be present and listen. Notice how these feelings show up in you ~ particularly, notice any physical sensations associated with these feelings. Stay present with them. Internally, ask this part what it is trying to communicate; what it is trying to tell you. See if you discover something unexpected, or if you're reminded of something you had forgotten.
6. Experiment with Gratitude
It may seem odd (or even impossible at first) to consider expressing gratitude for an emotion or an aspect of you that typically frustrates you. Just as an experiment, give it a try. Maybe through listening to what it seemed to be communicating, you're able to see this part from a more compassionate perspective. You can try statements like: "Even though I don't fully understand you, I sense that you have something important to tell me. Thank you for being here." or "I'm grateful for this opportunity to connect with you." or "I still believe that my life would be better if I didn't have this part of me, but I'm open to the possibility that there's something about it that I can be grateful for."
Self-compassion means that you belong here, and that means that all parts of you belong here. Of course, it can be very difficult to relate to yourself this way; most of us grew up with a radically different approach for relating to our suffering. I hope you find this practice supportive in establishing warmer relationships with all parts of yourself and connecting with a sense of wholeness.