In my early to middle 20s, I criticized myself a lot. Waking up in the morning, I felt like “I didn’t get enough sleep”. Looking at my mirror, I felt like “I am not fit enough”. When I studied, I felt like “I didn’t spend enough time to study today”. “I don’t have enough knowledge and capacity to finish it perfectly”. After a conversation, I kept thinking “why I said that to my classmate, I should not have said that to my friend”. When I had a date, I thought about “what can I do to make him like me more”. At the end of each day, I felt like “I haven’t made much progress today.” Everyday, I have been thinking about what I haven’t completed. I lived with this scarcity in every not-enough day. At the same time, I thought self-criticism was the only way to push myself move forward and to be perfect.
It was also during that time, I finished my master degree and I got my first job, working as a lecturer in a college. I felt extremely lucky to have that stable job and to satisfy my parent’s expectations. I had a great sense of security which came from being a part of the proper pattern for a young lady in Chinese culture. The only problem was that after a couple years of working, I became very unhappy. I just did not seem to fit with my colleagues, the repetitive teaching, the social life, the entire environment. However, there seemed nothing to do other than to try my best to fit more comfortably into that pattern. So I tried for 3-4 years. Finally, I could not sleep well and got into a mild depression. It was the depression made me realize that self-criticism did not really work out eventually.
I started to reflect my thoughts, my work, and my life. Why everyone seems to fit into the environment, but I can’t? My inner voice told me I have to quit that stable job, and change my lifestyle. My parent said to me, you are crazy to throw away that good and stable job. If I returned to the job, I would be returning to all that was safe, secure, right, and proper. Yet it was not me. In the depth of my true self, I know it was not my path. Although what lay ahead at me was unknown, insecure, unpredictable, I decided to be myself. At the day I decided to take my destiny into my own hands, I started to learn English and apply for my phd program in the united states.
Self-compassion is so important; we should let go of who we think we are supposed to be and to embrace who we are. This is the lesson I have learned in my late 20s. However, even if I have realized the importance of self-compassion, I still have a long way to go. It needs so much efforts and practices.
Last semester, I took a meditation class and wanted to practice self-care. My mind encourages me to turn into the self-compassion mode, but my behavior mode did not. I still kept myself very busy everyday. Taking three courses, teaching one, working on two research projects, writing two papers, serving at three committees, in one semester. I put too much on my plate due to my scarcity and insecurity, which are deeply rooted from my self-criticism of being not enough. In the meditation class, due to my busy schedule, I made a mistake, I copied a paragraph from the Internet for a book review assignment. The instructor reported my plagiarism behavior.
Then, I fell into the old pattern of self-criticism. I criticized myself again. Why it happened to me? I have worked so hard on my work, and study. Why I cannot be perfect on everything I have done? Suddenly, I realized that the self-care mode does not entrench in my mind and behavior. It was this crisis made me realize there is too much to do and too little time for self-care, when I am exhausted and overwhelmed.
I am imperfect, I can make mistakes, suffering happens to all of us. Imperfection is a part of the human nature. But we usually criticize to ourselves, when we face difficulties or have done something wrong. Considering when our friends share their difficulties and struggles to us, we usually try to comfort, soothe, and support them. Why it changes when it comes to ourselves? We should practice to be a good friend to ourselves, like we treat our close friends. We should be warm and understanding to ourselves when we suffer or fail. The greatest thing is that we are here 24/7 to ourselves and give ourselves care, compassion, and love.
“You are a beautiful and beloved individual, it is good to be you, we will love you no matter what you do, as long as you are you.” This is what we would hear from our beloved ones, like our parents. Let’s say this to ourselves. Let’s own this self-love, self-care and self-compassion; only in this way, can we love others from our hearts.