Discovering self-compassion at age 57

self-compassion

Guest article by Franca De Caria-Fagan. 

The idea of practicing self-compassion is not easy for me to consider. When I think of it, like I have now and then, I find myself dismissing it quickly, as if spitting out a bitter concoction meant to heal my flu overnight.

I am at a life crossroads right now. A 57-year-old version. Not as romantic in theory as when I was in my late 30s, or early 40s. There seemed to be more cheerleaders then, and more hands reaching out to support me. Of course, there is also more darn baggage to carry this time! 

The biggest of all is a neon sign over my head, blinking maniacally like those crazy Christmas lights. It reads: “failure.” A simple word. Expressive. Telling. “Thanks, failure, nice of you to drop by…l was just starting to, well, think you’d forgotten where I live.”

I am ending a 16-year relationship. To be honest, it ended long ago. I just hung on. I was still there holding on to the rafters, barely surviving emotionally. Years of excuses to myself. Did I say excuses or self-compromise? Years of self-compromise. Did I say self-compromise or dishonesty? Years of dishonesty to my heart.

My problem: I did not want to face the pain of being alone, feeling I did not succeed, feeling like a failure. None of my coworkers or friends shared this torturous embarrassment. They all appeared to have loving, supportive husbands. They were deeply committed. Happy, emotionally fulfilled. They belonged to an exclusive club that I couldn’t be part of. Secretly, I felt inferior to them. Depending on which team of friends I was trying to gain support from, I talked about my situation differently. 

Needy and desperate version: “Oh my God, I’ve done everything for that man! I’ve been like a wife to him. I cleaned, did laundry, cooked, shopped – what didn’t I do for him? Whyyyy won’t he commit to me!”

Cool and nonchalant version: “Oh, I don’t know. Whatever. I’m fine. I mean, we have companionship. If we got married, it would wreck everything – guaranteed. I think staying uncommitted keeps it fresh. I’m pretty happy with the way things are. Really.”

Unauthentic version for my boyfriend: “I love you. I understand. You are afraid. It’s okay. I can live like this forever, uncommitted. We are still happy. I love you. It’s all okay. We should feel blessed we have anything at all. No need to be greedy!”

Poor team of friends. Poor boyfriend. Poor me. If only I had known about positive psychology and the science of happiness at the time. I could have been authentic – I could have had just one version of thoughts and feelings to deal with.

Being an actor in your own home is easy when you play a part. But finally, in my home, it seems the curtain is down. The play has ended. The props are packed. I am taking off my makeup and removing my costume. Plop! Who is this I see in the mirror, shyly looking back at me? I look different. Stronger. More certain. Resilient. Hopeful. Deserving. “Allow me to introduce myself,” self-compassion says to me as she extends a strong arm and shakes my hand. “What can I say?” I reply, as I shake her hand happily in return. “I’ve waited 57 years to meet you.”

The science of self-compassion was pioneered by Kristin Neff of the University of Texas at Austin. It means changing our inner dialogue from critical to supportive, understanding, and caring. With self-compassion, I notice the neon failure sign on my head is gone. It seems failure has left again, hand in hand with “unsuccessful.”

One day at a time. More and more, I hear the new version of myself: “I’m not perfect. But I am learning to love myself. Starting over will be hard, but I am confident I will be okay. Really.”

Photo by Flickr user Abhi_Ryan

FaganFranca De Caria-Fagan is a certified member of the Canadian Health Information Management Association. She has worked in hospital settings for 34 years. Franca enjoys yoga, writing, cooking, and gardening, though she has yet to purchase a good green thumb. The science of happiness excites, challenges, and motivates her.

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