Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Step 3: Compassion for Yourself

      The "mission" for March was "Compassion for Yourself."  It was an interesting journey.  I realized a lot; I questioned a lot; and, ultimately, I remain questioning a few things.

      The goal, so to speak, of my Compassion endeavor and the book, Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life, is to live your life by the Golden Rule as wholely as possible - to do unto others as you would have them do unto you and to not do to others what you would not like done to you.  But I had never really thought about the fact that the basis of that rule is how you treat yourself.

       I tend to judge myself pretty harshly.  My biggest struggle with the Compassion project has been to try to refrain from judging others.  Yet, somehow, I never really looked at those two things as connected.  Probably because the majority of the time, I don't see holding myself to a strict standard as a bad thing.

        And in some ways, it's not.  But it is a really interesting thought.  I expect a lot from myself, and that is my motivation for accomplishing as much as I do.  Generally, if someone doesn't have the same education as I do, work out the way I do, eat the way I do, I don't judge them for that.  People are different.  Ok, so I judge a little on the eating thing.  A little.  I'm working on it ;-).  But if I fail to do something I meant to do; if I fall behind on my cases; if I go a week without running, I can be pretty hard on myself.

       This isn't coming out clearly.  I feel like I've already contradicted myself.  Let me try to simplify my problem here:  I don't generally come down, in my mind, on others for failing to do things I would come down on myself for failing to do in any area where I recognize that I have unusually high standards for myself.  BUT, I do tend to judge people when they do things I would not do, or violate what I consider to be low standards.

      For instance my unabashed disapproval of aldulterers.  For as long as I can remember having any real opinions on relationships, since I was a teenager at least, I have had a very deep seated disdain for people who committ adultery.  I've run on about it here on the blog a few times.  You can click on Adultery or Cheating over in my cloud at the right to read some of my vitriole on it.  I just always saw adultery as a base and obvious demonstration of extreme ego-centrism as well as the worst kind of betrayal - one committed only for the gratification of the betrayer.  I also saw it as a cowerdly way to avoid one's own inner demons.

       Judgy, right?

      Obviously.  And, in all honesty, I still feel that way.  But I also own up to the fact that I have done things in my life that some adulterers would consider far worse.  I don't know what off hand, but people are different, and what one person considers a mortal sin, so to speak, others might see as a minor character flaw.  Perhaps someone I might judge for adultery may think I am the worst kind of person because I am adamantly pro-choice?

       I also recognize that while I disapprove of adultery and hold my beliefs about it, that doesn't mean my take on it is correct in all cases.  No one wakes up in the morning intending to make "bad" decisions.  Even people who do horrible, aweful things are coming from a place where they feel like what they are doing is right.  Does it make the things they're doing ok?  No, not always.  I still think adultery is wrong even if the person who did it doesn't think they were wrong.  But that person did what they felt was right for their life at the time. 

       It hasn't taken me much to stop instinctually judging in most cases.  My immediate reactions to people and situations really have changed A LOT in the few months I have been following this path.  But there remain a few areas in which I struggle:  Abusers of animals and people, and people who are themselves lacking compassion.

       I think it's pretty easy to identify why it's hard to refrain from judging abusers.  It horrifies and sickens me to see anyone inflicting suffering on another.  In the case of human on human abuse, I'm getting better and remembering that the abuser is usually acting out of some very deep and horrifying pain of their own.  That doesn't mean the abuse is ok.  It's not.  It needs to be stopped immediately.  But I feel that both the victim and the abuser deserve healing.  I'm not saying punishment is out of the question, but I do think healing is a more effective long term fix.  And something all people deserve.

      I'm not totally there on animal abusers.  I'm not sure why.  It's harder to identify a pain there, for me.  It sickens me, and really makes me jump in the punishment direction.  I'm working on it.  And donating money to the ASPCA.

      Then there are people lacking in Compassion.  It is the wierdest side effect to my Compassion project:  The more I become able to refrain from judging, to feel empathy and compassion and give people the benefit of the doubt, the shorter my patience becomes for those who can't.

      I am having the greatest struggle with a current client.  She came to me seeking a divorce.  He husband has recently begun suffering from a very extreme mental disorder.  She told me her story, and my heart immediately went out to her husband.  His suffering is obvious and very, very sad.  Living with him, though, has been very hard for her (I keep reminding myself).  She doesn't want to put up with it.  She wants out, and she wants to know "what she can get from him."  She feels it is her due (not an uncommon issue in my office).

       My problem with this:  She seems very entitled.  She seems not to care one tiny little bit about the obvious pain and suffering of her husband.  They haven't been married very long. She seems to have believed that marrying a Marine meant she would get to stop working and spend all her time riding horses.  That seems to be her biggest problem with the divorce.  She seems to be a heartless, conceited, self indulgent bitch.

      See how well my not judging people is coming?  HA!

      I promise, this is a very special case.  I have MOUNTAINS of clients right now, and this is the only one I can't seem to find a decent scrap of empathy for.  I know that she must have had a hard time living with him.  I've been close to mental illness in my life and I've been in horrible relationships.  I know that my view of her actions and opinions and marriage is my outside view tempered by my own feelings.  I remind myself every time I speak to her (which is a LOT because she also seems to think that as her attorney, I'm at her beck and call to do all sorts of tasks that have nothing to do with the case, ahem...). 

     It's wierd.  Someone says something mean to me; I'm able to stop and think about why they said it, where they're coming from, that maybe they're having a bad day.  But this client, whose only "sin" is her seeming failure to care about anyone other than herself, continues to be the trickling hole in my non-judging dam.

      This is definitely something I will need to explore further in my meditations on myself and on Compassion.  I'm sure it is some sort of mirroring or projection issue.

      Well, this post didn't really go where I expected it to.  I thought this would be the only post on Step 3, but since I barely hit on a fraction of the Step 3 topics, it looks like there will be at least 2 posts on Step 3.

2 comments:

Katherine said...

I've started to realize recently how judgmental I am. Part of it is a little defensive: I feel judged by people all the time, so I create an nearly subconscious reactionary judgement. I'm working on that. It's really hard.

Karen Peterson said...

Judgment is a tough one. I'm trying to do better at not judging people harshly, too.

And I understand what you mean about holding yourself to a higher standard. I think most people do that. At least, I hope so.

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