Be Compassionate With Your Past

Finding compassion for ourselves and for our past mistakes or negative experiences is probably one of the hardest things we can do as human beings.  But it can be done.  Here's how.

Blessing Manifesting (one of my FAV mental health websites) wrote this awesome article about Psychological Necromancy (read it here).  The word necromancy means to "raise the dead" and when used in a psychological or emotional way, it means to dwell on past negative experiences.  The idea is when you're feeling down, your mind spins out of control with all the negative things people have said about you or made you feel before.  These things confirm the idea in your head that you're awful, which only spins you further out of control.  It's also called rumination (great article on this here), which is something I do after arguments, either in person or online (if it's bad enough).  After my brain breaks the loop, then I can let it go and move forward.  But when you have issues with depression and low self-esteem, you can be left to ruminate on these negative experiences for as long as your mind wants to dwell there.

One of the common things to ruminate on are past mistakes.  If you mess something up, the next time you mess something up, then your mind goes back to the first thing and you remind yourself "Look, you're a fuck up.  You can't stop messing up!"  Then the next time, you think about the first two, and so forth, until you have an arsenal of memories to draw from so you can remind yourself how much you are inept or a screw-up.

What people who do this don't understand is that ALL people mess up ALL the time.  But we learn from our mistakes or accept that we make them, and move on.  Ruminating brains can't and won't move on.  They are stuck forever believing that these mistakes are the core of who they are (which is not true).

But remember: depression is a liar.  And it LOVES to hold onto things to make you feel like shit about yourself.  The first step in moving on from ruminating is to realize your depression is lying to you.  Think of your depression as a person.  A really shitty person.  See them as separate from you, another being entirely.  And your job is to build a boundary with this awful person.  It's not easy, because they know you, inside and out.  They know how to trigger you.  How to manipulate you.  How to hurt you.  How to get you to believe them.  But they are the biggest liar that walks this earth and everything your depression says is, and always will be, a lie.  Give your depression a name.  Like Bertha.  Or Jed.  Something very unappealing and makes you remember what a liar they are (sorry Berthas and Jeds out offense!).

So when Bertha comes to visit, she loves to tell me what a terrible mother and person I am.  She also tells me how dumb I am and how much of a drama queen idiot I look like to others.  She convinces me, at my worst, that if I were to be hit by a truck, everyone would be better off without me.  But those times are few a far between for me, but for many, it's a daily feeling to battle.  When my brain starts to ruminate on all the stupid things I've done in my past and whatever happened most recently to trigger it (sometimes there isn't anything recent, it just happens), I have to work hard to recognize Bertha.  Sometimes she disguises herself as truth (which is a really shitty thing to do, but like I said, she's a huge liar) so I have to work extra hard to see it's her.  But when I do, I can remind myself "This is just Bertha's words.  Berther is an angry, sad girl, who's full of hate who wants me to be just like her.  Misery loves company.  And Bertha so desperately wants everyone to be sad like her, but I refuse to listen to her today."

Once I recognize Bertha, I can do a few different things to help me get away from her: 

  • For one, I can take all of those ruminating thoughts and remember that I am human, and humans make mistakes, and I have a reason for the mistakes I've made.  I remember that I've come so far in to be who I am today, that the mistakes I made in the past have made me who I am, so they were actually a good thing.  Or if I screwed something up, I can't fix it, so all I can do is try to do better in the future.  And even if I make more mistakes in the future, it's no big deal because mistakes do not equal shame.  They are just little things that don't matter.  And if they did matter, it was a learning experience.  Without learning experiences, I would never grow and change and become better at this thing called life.  I can forgive myself, now, in the past, and for any future mistakes I'll make.
  • Or, if they are just automatic negative thoughts (ANTs), I can distract myself with something pleasant.  Distraction helps to bring your awareness back to the present moment instead of in the past or future.  One way that helps me greatly when I am having ANTs, is to Buddha Breathe: breathe in, recognize your feelings, breathe out, let them go.  Simple and super effective.  Or throw on your favorite TV show, or distract yourself with plans for something you're excited to do.  
  • If you can't stop the thoughts, talk with a trusted person about what you're feeling.  Let them help you rationalize why those thoughts aren't real and to help you realize how awesome you are.  
  • Journal about it.  Though don't let your journaling become more negative rumination!  Instead, pretend you're both the therapist and yourself having a conversation about what you're ruminating about.  When you're the therapist, pretend you're talking to someone who's not you.  What would you say to a person who feels like what you're feeling right now?  Sometimes it's easy to see the solution from another point of view, instead of trying to solve your own issues.  
  • Use Radical Acceptance.  This means if you can't change something, then learn to accept it.  So if you did something wrong, and you can't fix it?  Then problem-solve what you can do to deal with it instead of ruminating on the fact you made a mistake.  This also helps when others make mistakes, if you accept and problem-solve, you don't have time to get angry about it. 
  • Be compassionate and loving with yourself.  Treat yourself the way you'd treat a child who made a mistake.  Would you hate a child for messing up?  No?  Then why hate yourself?  You are the same.  Yes, one is an adult (or whatever age you are) and one a kid, but in essence, you're the same.  You're both human, you're both don't always know the right thing to do (because no human does, even when they look like they do), and you both have your strengths and weaknesses.   And you both will always make mistakes.  So treat yourself the way you'd treat another person or a child.  
  • See yourself through the eyes of someone who truly loves you.  I remind myself when I make mistakes, my husband and children love me and fully accept me, so when I mess up, I see myself the way they would see me.  Would they berate me and call me names for messing up?  No.  So I shouldn't do that to myself either.  We berate ourselves and ruminate because we feel humiliated and ashamed.  That's such a strong reaction, especially to minor mistakes.  But most of us were taught as children that even minor things equal strong anger from our parents, which equates to shame and humiliation, and those feelings just don't magically go away as adults.  So find a person who truly loves you, mistakes and all, and see yourself through their eyes, instead of your parents' eyes.   This one act can make all the difference in your ruminating thoughts. 

I know it's easy to say "You're human, you'll make mistakes.  It's okay."  But that doesn't exactly tell you how to find that place of humanness inside of you where mistakes are okay.  Most of us have been taught as children, even if not overtly, that our mistakes are what makes us awful people.  That mistakes are not okay.  And because we make them, we are not okay.    And sometimes, that filters out into our behavior of other people, that the mistakes they make are not okay, too.  But by using the actions above, we can change all that and forgive ourselves and be gentle with ourselves in the future.  AND we can learn to be gentle with others when they make mistakes, too.  

Being human is hard.  But with some love and understanding, we can make every day and every moment easier for us and everyone else around us.  

Be compassionate with your past.  And your present.  And your future.  For you are human, my friend, and we are all in this together. 💗

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