"Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it." -Rumi
We all have underlying beliefs that drive how we operate in the world--many of which were learned when we were children. They motivate all of our decisions and interactions, whether we are aware of it or not. So what happens when one of your beliefs is a bad apple? Well, it would infect and limit every aspect of your life. Which brings us to my story...
Though I wasn't aware of it for most of my life, my numero uno limiting belief was that I was not enough--and let me tell you, this is a bad apple. This belief was a disease that infected every one of my relationships, decisions, and feelings, though I didn't know it at the time. If your relationship with yourself is damaged, it's impossible for it not to reflect in your relationship with the world around you.
Subconsciously carrying the belief of "I'm not enough," gave me no choice but to make up for it. So, among other things, I attempted to master perfection in order to gain approval and love from others. One problem with this tactic is that perfection is subjective and, therefore, cannot truly ever be satisfied. Also, it's impossible to be the best in every aspect of your life.
And what happens when you inevitably "drop the ball"? Enter the inner critic: "What is wrong with you? You have to GET IT TOGETHER. Other people can do it, why can't you?" My heart hurts just writing these phrases, but at the time, I couldn't imagine how other people "kept themselves in line" without an inner-disciplinarian (and, of course, mine was the best).
Coming from this place of lack or "not-enoughness" is dangerous business. I walked away from my dream of becoming a writer because someone indicated their disapproval. I went to school for Marketing because someone I admired threw it out there as an idea. Over years of of following everyone else's truth, I lost my own. I was subconsciously working harder than everyone else in order to be enough for everyone else. I didn't yet understand that the love I was seeking was my own.
In my mid-twenties, I found myself living a life anyone would have wanted: I had a nice place to live, a car, a great job, and a boyfriend. I ate organic veggies, I went to the gym, I had a lot of close friends. So how did I end up at my therapist's office on the brink of a breakdown?
I couldn't hold it together anymore. I was staying in a relationship I didn't want to be in because I believed if I left, it meant there was something wrong with me. I was fervently juggling my responsibilities as if they were fine china and when I couldn't get it all done, the inner critic would come in and berate me. I lived not by inner guidance, but by whatever was next on my color-coded calendar. I was pushing so hard and seemingly accomplishing so many things, but it was never enough. I was simply spinning my wheels in the mud, exhausted and overwhelmed with very little to show for it.
That’s because what I really wanted was my own love and acceptance which cannot be achieved by checklists and certificates and adoration from fellows. This pure love and freedom of the soul can only be had when all of the other illusions fall away and your truth and your heart are all that's left.
So how in the world does this happen? It'd be nice to say that you can just become aware of your limiting beliefs and swat them away like flies. The truth is, these beliefs and the underlying feelings that we've carried/buried since childhood need our love and attention. They need space to fully express themselves in order to heal.
My first experience with self-compassion was due to a not-so-gentle nudge from my therapist to join a Mindful Self-Compassion course she was teaching. At one point, my she directed us to do a basic self-compassion practice called "soothing touch" where you close your eyes and lay a hand on your heart. In that moment, I felt my heart respond. It was like a cat stretching up to reach my hand. Finally, she said.
But this healing work is not all purring kittens; rewiring the mind is no easy task! That's why having a "compassion mentor" was (and is still) so important for me. I needed guidance on how to build this new relationship with myself. I finally understand the true meaning of unconditional self-love. I no longer abandon myself for the sake of others. I can hold space for my feelings rather than discounting them or ignoring them. In turn, my inner world is a safe, spacious home where I can truly rest.
Outwardly, I have more compassion and love for others and my relationships have become three dimensional. I can be vulnerable and speak my truth without concern for the reactions of others. My life has a passionate purpose and I am more successful than I've ever been (and doing far less). Now that I can clearly hear my heart, I can trust it to guide my way.
Am I always compassionate with myself? Do I never catch myself in old perfectionist patterns? Absolutely not! I am a work in progress. The difference today is that I am aware when old patterns arise and I have a choice to decide differently. If and when I am unwilling, I can still offer myself compassion because, even in those times, I am worthy of it.
So I'd like to say to you what I often say to my own heart, "I see you. What you are feeling matters. Please sit down and tell me your story."