Archive for the ‘Self-compassion’ Category

Last week, I had the insight that, I may be co-dependent.  In the past, I have rejected co-dependency as professional jargon, but last week, something told me to check it out; I did, and I’ve decided that it is a useful construct.  The term co-dependency grew out of the Alcoholics’ Anonymous Movement, along with the understanding that, the alcoholic was not the only part of the equation.  In essence, co-dependency is excessive caretaking at significant personal expense.   It is learned behavior that is passed on from one generation to another.  Although it took me almost a lifetime to admit it; my father had a drinking problem when he was younger, which is, obviously, a risk factor.

As I write this, I am also reminded of female gender socialization; in other words, females, across cultures are socialized to be caretakers of their children and their men.  Then, there are the expectations in some cultures (like Hispanic and Asian) that family come first.  I started wondering about all of this, because I have noticed that I spend most of my mental energy thinking about others.  Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mean to imply that I am a martyr, since there is always a pay-off.  Thinking about others distracts  me from taking responsibility for myself.  For example, when I was on tenure-track at Michigan, I would stop my work, or whatever else I was doing, to answer a phone call.  Abandoning your routine to respond to somebody else is one of the symptoms of co-dependency, according to Melodie Beattie in Co-Dependent No More. It took me years, and I am not kidding about this, to figure out that I could choose not to answer, or if I did, that I could say, “I’m busy, can I call you back?”  And, although I am far better than I was back then, I still other-escape.  Feeling compelled to help people solve their problems is another one of my symptoms, which may be why I avoided clinical social work.  Instead, I was addicting to helping others as a hobby.

As I said, earlier, this behavior is learned.  In my family, my mother would put her needs aside for my father and we were supposed to as well.  Her needs, my sister’s, or mine did not matter because my father ruled the roost; this implied that we should not have needs that conflicted with my father’s, and after he died, my mother’s.  He wanted me to get an education, to marry young, have children, and to live near the family.  That, of course, was not what I wanted, so I rebelled: I left home, got a PhD, married late, and didn’t get around to having children.  I don’t mean to blame my parents, but to recognize that I have been programmed to be-other directed, and I wonder whether that is why I didn’t make active choices in my career.  I did choose to go back to school, in part as an escape, but once I did, I followed the program that was traced for me by my dissertation advisor, both to please her and to avoid struggling with getting a “real job,” one that was not a continuation of graduate school.  Fast forward, twenty-five years, and I am taking baby-steps to discern my needs and wants, making friends with uncertainty, taking leaps, and hoping that, as the saying goes, I grow wings along the way.  My mantra:  It’s all about me.  What about you?  Are you taking care of you?


Mental Health America: Co-dependency

Codependency | Melody Beattie


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Kindness in words creates confidence. Kindness in thinking creates profoundness. Kindness in giving creates love.

Lao Tzu


I am the past president of the Self-flagellation Society (SFS).  Although you may not be aware of it, you too may be a member.  For those of you foreign to this practice, it is extreme self-criticism; and as a Virgo, I am an expert, not to mention that I was born into an environment that reinforced my negative self-image.  As an obese, spectacled, Latina, working-class immigrant girl, I had plenty of critics.  My tops and elastic-wasted skirtsto accommodate for my expanding girth, were made by a mother that taught herself to sew, and with zigzagging bangs cut by the same hands and scissors used for sewing, made me a bully-magnet.  At home, I was told my left eye was smaller than my right (I squinted because I needed classes) and that my waistline was uneven.  If I got a A-, my father would question why didn’t I get an A; and, I think I mentioned that when I finished my Ph.D., he asked what I’d do next.

But I am not here to blame my parents, as I have been my fiercest critic.  In elementary school, since I could not forgive myself for needing “models” for my drawings, I stopped drawing altogether.   In junior high school, when I was in an accelerated (special progress) program, maintaining a passing average of 85, as anything below was failing, I compared myself to my friend Hilda, whom in my eyes got A’s without studying.  I, on the other hand, had to study and did not get “A’s”.  What was wrong with me?  Of course, looking back now, I have no idea how much she studied; I just assumed that she didn’t.

In graduate school, everybody had it together but me. And, when I began teaching, I had a traffic cop on my shoulder monitoring every word I said, shouting epithets, like “I can’t believe you said that!  That was so stupid.” Needless to say, my evaluations were horrific (e.g., “Dr. Z should not be allowed to teach” and “Clearly, she was hired because she is a minority”, since I spent most classes fighting assaults instead of teaching my students.  Today, the voice occasionally comes out of retirement to chide me with, “You should be tenured, not to mention full-professor.”  Or, “Look at you, all those years of education, and you can’t even get a full-time job.”  And the other part of me cries, “But tenure could not give me what I needed—-self-love and spiritual freedom!”  Then the sardonic voice strikes back, “Those lofty ideals don’t pay car repair and medical bills.”  I meekly reply that, that is true, but I would have died in the process of getting tenure.  Spiritually, and perhaps, physically, my heart would not have withstood the abusive tenure process, which mirrored the treatment I experienced living with a tyrannical old-world father.  Besides, why should I allow anyone else to abuse me, when I do a far better job, myself?

But, I am turning a corner, now, and I have applied for membership to the Self-Compassion Society.  Self-compassion means treating yourself with kindness, love, and acceptance.  What a novel idea!  Actually, it isn’t, Buddhists have been teaching this practice for thousands of years, but the West is only now beginning to see its value.  Research by Dr. Kristin Neff shows that, people who accept their imperfections are less depressed and anxious, more optimistic, and happier. And, if that weren’t enough, self-compassion may even help you to lose weight.  The reasoning is that, if you care about yourself, you will do what is right for you, which makes sense.

But, according to Dr. Neff, people fear that by being self-compassionate they are being self-indulgent.  And, I have asked myself the same question.  Have my life choices been motivated by self-compassion, even self-preservation?  Or, have I been a slacker?  In my heart of hearts, I know that I made the right choices for me, and that they came from a place of compassion, but there is always that lingering question.  According to my Self-Compassion Scale, which you can take on the Self-compassion website, I am on the higher end of self-compassion, globally; but, individually, my self-judgment scores are also high, and lowering them is my life’s work, as it is for Dr. Neff.  I am grateful that she is working on self-compassion, for me, for you, and for her, since her child, Rowan, has autism, and parents in this society tend to blame themselves for their children’s “imperfections.”  Instead of beating herself up, she and her husband found a way to help him connect with the world—his world.

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