Saturday, 30 August 2014

Self Compassion and Knickers

Something has changed in me. I am slowly learning to be kind to myself.

Growing up in invalidating environments over time sucks all of the self worth and self compassion from the child until the adult emerges, uncertain of their feelings about themselves, the world around them, and their own intrinsic value as a human being. Rebuilding who I am from the wreckage of my childhood has been a long, slow process. Much of my self destructive behaviour in the past has its roots in feelings of self loathing born of the consistent invalidating messages of my key relationships as I grew up.

Invalidation has many forms, from the simple act of ignoring or discounting the voice of the child to the acts of abuse which say that every part of who I am is so worthless I can be used and abused at the whim of others. The distress and pain of these experiences takes a lifetime to emerge from. Perhaps, if you are in a relationship with someone who has suffered in these ways, you recognise the gaping emotional void, that you feel you are expected to fill.

In rebuilding my life I am in a long term process of learning to validate myself, of valuing who I am, of first of all accepting who I am. In the experience of Borderline Personality Disorder, one major building block of the personality, the sense of self, is damaged. I need to build relationships which patiently reflect back to me the value that others find in me, without me seeking to grab hold and cling to those relationships, or create the self fulfilling prophesy of rejection by my demands.

This means that boundaries, time and trust building are pre-requisites to any level of relationship for me. I used to be a 'hook line and sinker' committer to friendships and relationships. They burned bright and short, and always ended traumatically with major drama and self destruction. Given the emotional void within, this proved overwhelming to most who became involved with me in the past and I have lost many friends, and boyfriends in the process, confirming my lack of worth. 'No one can love me', was my mantra, or 'I am not worthy of love'. And my life was a process of confirming the 'truth' of those beliefs. Given the invalidation I have experienced from so many, including my own mother, over such a long period of time, these kind of thoughts and patterns are understandable.

In the end, having been rejected one time too many in 2000 I gave up on all human relationships. Life was safer that way. As I have gone through treatment and learned DBT interpersonal skills which take account of my invalidating background I have learned to set boundaries for myself. In essence I have learned to protect myself. This again is something which for the invalidated person is not natural. After all, I have to believe that there is something of value in myself to be protected. I have learned to articulate when I am not happy about situations - appropriately. In the past, I have not felt able to voice my needs, so anger at the world has built up until I have exploded at whoever is nearest to me. Not very pretty. It was a revelation to me that people can be interested in listening to me when I speak up about something I feel is wrong. That has taken time.

I realise that, as I keep moving forward and taking small steps, there is one range of skills that are critical in helping me repair and learn to build relationships. Self Compassion is essential to my ongoing recovery. It begins with the simple basics of looking after myself - the DBT PLEASE Skills (treat Physical iLlness, balanced Eating, off mood Altering substances, balanced Sleep and Exercise) and moves on to Mastery of those skills. If I feel I am worth the basics of eating, sleeping etc, then that is the most fundamental way in which I can care for myself.

As I have started to feel better about managing the swings up and down of my moods, I have been building up my mastery of these day to day necessities. This has now extended to my environment and I feel I am on top of my housework and have a reasonable living environment.

So where do my knickers come in? One of my responses to my childhood has been to hide away from who I am at heart. I am a sensitive, creative, articulate person. I love good things. I actually love feeling feminine. However, as a result of people disrupting my sense of my own sexuality and sensuality, I have swamped myself in tomboyish clothes and behaviours, which protect me from others by denying that I might be attractive to others physically. In essence I have tried to express myself as an asexual being. It has been safer that way, or so I thought, although this hasn't stopped perpetrators assaulting me as an adult, so maybe the fault is theirs. This is an essential building block of self compassion: I am not to blame for the wrong behaviour and damage done to me by others. There is nothing that I need to punish myself for. My bad feelings about myself are not accurate or reliable. When I do wrong, I need to do something to make a repair to those I have wronged. But feeling ashamed of myself simply because of what I survived in my past, will not achieve anything and serves to keep me trapped in the pain of the past.

At the risk of being accused of 'too much information', in the past six months, I have started wearing really nice underwear. I enjoy being feminine. I love perfumes, bubble bath, pampering, and the feel of silk against my skin.

I wore a skirt last week for the first time in years along with my favourite perfume and accessorised with jewellery, handbag and boots. 'elegant' was one word used to describe me. With a shock instead of dismissing the compliments, I accepted them, at face value, no critical analysis or suspicious thoughts about the motives of others. It helped that I had had nearly two hours pampering at my hairdressers and he had given me a new sleek haircut which he felt matched what he saw in me - or so he told me. I have a great relationship with him and trust him with my hair! I felt really good about myself and it was not a mask. I've done that too in the past. Because it began from how I felt about myself inside, moved on to my underwear to the outer shell of my clothes.

Learning to love myself is still a new skill in my arsenal. It has had to start with small things like getting help from the GP when I feel ill. The pressure is no longer on me to achieve in my working life, driven to try and find the validation that was missing from my childhood. I don't need to be in a 'successful' relationship to be a person of value. I am enjoying doing the things that give me satisfaction in life. I am able to feel that I have something to offer the community around me and I am free to accept the gifts that they offer me, in return. I think I'm actually ok and I do deserve that really nice lingerie set. Gives me a whole new reason for my 'secret smile'.

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