By Kathleen McKee
Part of my healing journey over the last decade has been to come to terms with events and the conditioning of my childhood. Mostly with some challenging deep beliefs that severely limit my sense of power to create something that I actually want for my life.
A pattern was laid down in my childhood to be the good girl and to do what was expected of me; to be the attractive girl, the obedient Catholic, the good student and pleasant young lady my parents wanted me to be. It would be for them a reflection of their successful dutiful parenting. This generated for me a strong inner critic and strong mechanism of self-shaming to keep myself in line with that expectation.
I saw life as this autopilot system of going to college, getting a good job, marrying and being a responsible citizen and daughter. Along the way, I had bumbled into romantic relationships while staying true to my habit of giving what I thought the other person wanted so they would be content and comfortable, and this in turn created a temporary sense of belonging and approval with that person, but when we got to a point that was natural for the relationship to go deeper, I was not available. I didn’t know myself or what I wanted. At the point it was clear it was time to take a direction, I didn’t know where I wanted to go. I just wanted to be cherished unconditionally by whoever was there at the moment.
My flexibility to satisfy the needs and wants of the other was a wonderful strategy for a child that wanted to be loved and gain her parents’ approval! But getting along was not enough for creating deep connection and commitment with others in my adult life.
As I began to connect to how this pattern was not serving my life or others in it, I awoke to two things: I didn’t know myself, and I didn’t have language to communicate myself as I discovered who I was, neither to myself, nor to others around me.
Then in therapy, I learned about this idea of self-compassion. Huh? Be nice to myself? Stop judging myself and beating myself up for another failed relationship or for being a totally clueless friend? I didn’t realize how harsh I was with myself, it was this automatic dark alchemy that made me feel insecure and unlovable.
Once I began to have compassion for myself, I started to get to know myself. I allowed myself to take a moment to be with my feelings and my habitual reaction, and then I could start to see how that would serve me. I learned how to honor the purpose of my old habits; to stop rejecting them with the harsh criticism that I myself received from impatient, stressed, depressed parents with no training in emotions language. This process of self-compassion was slow and happened across multiple painful experiences with relationships.
As I’ve learned Transformative Communication with Satvatove Institute and Nonviolent Communication (NVC) with Leif, Marina and Eze over the last nine years, I’ve been able to take a deeper look at my needs and desires and hold them like a baby bird in my hand, and my self-compassion has grown exponentially.
As I’ve connected with the self-empathy of NVC, I’ve created a new more radical pattern of honoring my needs. All of them. The approach of NVC is not about keeping the peace or getting along (as I was trained from an early age). At its core, NVC is about generating compassionate, heartfelt conversations so that our needs are not only considered, but also valued. Marshall Rosenberg said, “NVC’s most important use may be in developing self-compassion.”
For me, NVC has been an approach where that lesson is more deeply sinking in to my psyche. Nonviolent communication has cultivated for me a gentler approach to myself, allowing my current experience to be there, and to recognize that my childhood patterns served an invaluable purpose and parts of me are still being protective. Nonviolent communication engenders moment to moment attention to what IS happening rather than what SHOULD be happening, and a heartfelt compassion for that, whatever it is.
So we can give loving attention from our hearts to those parts of ourselves that we once rejected or hated and allow them to be seen and experienced. I have experienced that this naturally has evolved to a calming of their energy, and I have cultivated more gentle regard toward those parts, which beautifully and organically has resulted in more gentle regard toward others with whom I used to feel frustrated or judgmental. When we are violent to ourselves, it is difficult to be compassionate toward others.
Nonviolent communication has encouraged me to take time with myself to feel into what I am experiencing and how that connects to what I am wanting, and how to be compassionate with those feelings and desires. I have reduced my self-judging part and allowed for what is just there inside of myself with actual love and curiosity. This gives me space and permission to be with it, and have compassion for it.
I am finally able to observe the judging voice and just be with myself and connect to my thoughts, beliefs, feelings and needs as they are because I am acknowledging my needs…. Even the ones I used to judge as “not ok” needs.
It has taken some time to adjust my old-self talk, and be more of a giraffe with myself. In NVC, the giraffe is used as a symbol of a being that perceives everyone’s needs (having a perspective of the landscape with the tall long neck), responds from the heart (giraffes have very large hearts), and helps others connect to their needs even if they are expressing with anger, blame, attack or victim consciousness (giraffe saliva can dissolve thorns). Giraffes mainly hear the messages of “please” and “thank you,” regardless of how a person is speaking or the words they are saying.
So when my self-critic and self-judgement go into action, I can summon my inner giraffe to be gentle with those parts of me and melt those painful thorns that have been poking me since I was a young girl keeping myself in line to earn my parents’ approval. I continue my journey into “giraffe-dom,” cultivating kindness, curiosity, and presence with myself that is ushering in a new sense of gentle wholeness and self-knowing.
I connect more to what I want and what I value. I am more able to share myself, express myself, and be knowable by another. I don’t need to “do anything it takes to feel cherished.” I cherish myself.