Marie was my spiritual director for several years. She gave me a statement that has never worn out.
BE GENTLE WITH YOURSELF.
By this she did not mean that there should be no goals for self-discipline and growth. Rather, be gentle as I aim towards those goals. Having grown up in an alcoholic family, the unspoken rules were, “Don’t think. Don’t talk. Don’t feel.” The main method of control in the family was criticism. Constant, unrelenting criticism. For someone from that background the idea of being gentle with yourself was like a foreign language. Arabic has never come easily to me, nor French or even Spanish for that matter. كن لطيفًا مع نفسك, Soyez doux avec vous-même, Ser amable contigo mismo. Telling me to be gentle with myself was just as difficult to comprehend. We tend to repeat the attitudes and statements from our upbringing in our self-talk. We can also reprogram those statements when we find ones that are unconstructive or discouraging.
I have repeated this statement to many women over the years since Marie first said it to me. They, too, are usually amazed by the concept. We are not taught much in American society about healthy self-care or self treatment. Psychological research shows that we do grow and change better in response to praise than criticism. Wow! Wish my family of origin had known that fact!!
Working to undo those negative and often harsh messages I have found that being gentle with myself requires compassion for myself as a faulty human being. None of us is perfect. Some of us just hide that fact better than others. We are all broken and need care and encouragement. We will find our way best with gentle encouragement.
So next time you get a negative ear worm that is beating you to pieces of discouragement remember that you can stop that ear worm and replace it with a challenging but comforting statement. A gentle reminder that we all need help to get along!