Not Being a Dick to Yourself is a meditation.

There is a meditation on not being a Dick to yourself.

The photo was taken by Kohei Hara. It is possible to hold yourself accountable.

It is not like I pursue the arts in my spare time because I am well-rounded. I ended up at the piano because I was bored after 24 seasons of America’s Next Top Model and my husband and I were in the middle of a flu outbreak. I was at the piano a few days ago. It had been some time. I used to play a lot, but these days I am not a musician. It had been years since I sat down in front of sheet music to see if I could still read it.

I was sweating for seven minutes. I had been stuck on the same four measures and I couldn’t figure out what the fingering was supposed to be. I kept getting stuck counting ledger lines because I had been a lazy piece of shit who was wasting her brain on reality TV, and I couldn’t stop thinking that the last time I heard this was when some nine-year-old played it. Flawless.

I prepared to go as slowly as I needed to go, so I reminded myself to breathe and be patient with myself. I was the epitome of emotional evolution. I made a mental note to tell my husband what a good job I had done of practicing the shit I preach.

When we miss the mark, we tend to resort to self-abuse. It isn’t an instinct that has intelligence to it, but it is an emotional one. Pema, don’t look at me. I’m ugly.

For some, that instinct toward self-abuse is an organic attempt at self-motivation which may once have been healthy, but has now become warped and weaponized over time. It is a direct result of trauma, if we were abused as a child, we would find ourselves in survival mode. My dad had unrealistic expectations about what my practice technique should look like and how to enforce them, even though he wasn’t a musician. I don’t blame him for my piano meltdown, I’m a grown-up, I’m capable of finding healthier, more creative methods of holding myself accountable than those my dad uses, but on a neurological level this stuff gets embedded in us. Shame promotes the idea that we didn’t just make a mistake, but we are a mistake.

We are afraid to surrender the self-abuse. One of the most common fears I hear from my clients is that they will never get any better if they are not beating up on themselves. If self-abuse were an effective strategy for transformation, wouldn’t it have worked by now? Shame-based self-abuse isn’t an effective technique for evolution, it’s about time we acknowledge the data.

Shame promotes the idea that we didn’t just make a mistake, we are a mistake, and that is the root of self-abuse. It is all about what we should be. By now, we should be better. We should have a relationship. We should have tackled the entire to-do list. We should be willing to make sacrifice for our children. I coach these issues, so I should be more compassionate with myself. These are valid things to want for ourselves, but the shame that is driving them undermines our ability to actually grow.

Compassion is the most reliable catalyst for healing and lasting behavioral change. I know, I know, it is a therapy term, and in our culture of overachieving black-and-white thinking it is even a dirty word. I wrestled with it myself, and I was convinced that the self-love/self-compassion thing would make me soft. I imagined myself being conditioned to forgive my own self-destructive patterns, bid my critical thinking adieu, start wearing mood rings, join a commune, and eventually melt into an underachieving puddle of Pollyanna self-acceptance. What is that?

Compassion wants us to change our relationship to accountability so that it isn’t a root of abuse We seem to have misinterpreted compassion as being lazy, or simply letting ourselves off the hook. Clients often say that if I am compassionate with myself, I will accept my flaws and never improve. I can see why compassion is so dangerous.

It would have created more suffering for me if I had told myself that I did two and a half minutes of work. Compassion wants us to change our relationship to accountability so that it isn’t a root of abuse We are invited to re-parent ourselves. Take a deep breath, girl. Slow the pace down. That doesn’t mean you’re stupid, it means you’ve been using this skill for a while. You have a chance to relearn it. Compassion doesn’t have to be overly saccharine, it’s just the truth that comes from kindness, rather than our shame and judgement.

Being tender with ourselves is a form of enabling that many of us have been conditioned to believe is a brave act. Our brains are telling us that compassion is at risk of going down a slippery slope. We need to identify how much fear we have about being kind to ourselves, and wonder if compassion isn’t as one-dimensional as we’ve understood it to be. It is more nuanced and includes accountability.

I haven’t been playing the piano since my mini meltdown. I was hoping that writing this piece would be enough of an apology to myself, but it has made me realize that I need to break that Prelude again for my own spiritual and professional integrity. I will let you know how it goes. I might need a lesson again. Send me the name of a patient who can sight-read.

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