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  • Writer's pictureAli

Grace & Gratitude | Self-Compassion

Updated: Mar 29, 2022

Welcome to the table again, friend! I'm glad you're with me, and I'm so ready to jump into another week of discovering the true meanings of grace and gratitude. Last week, we whole-heartedly defined both grace and gratitude in their own terms, and learned how to start implementing their deeper meanings in more practical ways. This week, we'll be using those same definitions to further emphasize the weight of our words. We'll be learning how to shift away from cliche comments that seem to hurt more than help, and learn how to validate our emotions and the feelings of those around us a little bit better. We're going to be discussing the difference between helpful, compassionate words vs. toxic positivity. There's a lot to unpack here, so let's get started!

 

In 2018, I was engaged to be married to an ex who was struggling with her own unhealed trauma. Unfortunately, there were times when I suffered emotionally, mentally, and physically from her unhealed places, as trauma most often does to those around us. I heard very unkind words that were expected to be interpreted as humor or mindless jokes, but instead, they were very hurtful. I vividly recall a time when I came home from a new job feeling completely stressed and overwhelmed. I immediately went into the closet to change clothes and try to decompress. The tears came flooding in, and they wouldn't stop. As she met me in the closet that day, I thought that I would be met with kindness and compassion - grace - but instead, I was met with harsh, hurtful words.

"Your crying annoys me."

Ouch. It still hurts to think about even today. There were times when I heard comments like, "you're so dramatic", or "don't be so sensitive" during other emotionally difficult times. Instead of being met in my brokenness, I was left feeling invalidated, unheard, and unimportant.


When I was younger, I heard similar statements from a family member who was and still is struggling with their unhealed trauma. Much like the story before, the statements I heard in response to my seasons of pain and struggles were, "toughen up", "you're too sensitive", and "you didn't really experience grief like I did". During that period in my life, I was dealing with family tension, depression, a toxic long-distance relationship, the death of a friend and classmate, attending a new high school my last semester, and general teenage angst. Those senseless statements made me feel invalidated, misunderstood, and unimportant during a time when I was really struggling. I needed compassion and grace.


We all have stories like these. We all have those people or that person who have said words we wish we could unhear. They cut deep and wound us more than we want to really talk about or admit. I get it, because I've been there. Some days, I can remember those times and look through a lens of compassion toward them. Other days, the memories flood in and contribute to my negative self-talk and trigger my PTSD responses. But no matter where I'm at on the spectrum, I deserve to give myself a lot of grace - to bend low in those places that hurt and sting, and give myself the kindness I was looking for in other people.

Whether people say or do hurtful things mistakenly or on purpose, the pain can often feel identical. It might be easier to process the innocent, mindless statements and actions that people say or do, because we recognize that they were probably doing their best within their own circumstances. But what do we do when the pain seems to feel a little more purposeful and harder to understand?

Before we talk about extending grace to others and accepting gratitude from the grittier moments in our lives, I think it's important to recognize the need for grace within ourselves first. We can't pour energy from empty cups, and the same principle applies to grace and gratitude. Let's start by empowering ourselves to recognize our emotions, identify our needs, and replace negative self-talk patterns with positive ones.


Helpful tips in recognizing our emotions:

  • There have been countless times when I've heard hurtful comments directed at me, and I've experienced painful circumstances due to someone else's actions, intentionally or otherwise. One of the most powerful sources of grace is to identify how those situations make us feel and calling the emotion to name. An example is something like this:

    1. I hear the phrase, "you're too sensitive". I become defensive and angry. I feel little empowerment to navigate the situation, and I either yell relentlessly, shut down, run away from the conversation, or avoid everything altogether.

    2. With the help of therapy (so much therapy), I've discovered the most helpful thing I can do in those types of circumstances are to give myself space, ask myself honestly how I'm feeling, and sit with that emotion. In this example, I can clearly identify that the emotion I felt the most was anger. Out of this realization, I'm then able to ask myself what I need in response to the emotion (we'll dive deeper into this in a bit).

    3. Once I've given myself the power to identify my needs based on my emotions, I can then return to the conversation in a much more productive way.

  • I totally understand that not everyone has the opportunity to leave conversations, and that not everything is black and white. This is something to be practiced, not achieved. Don't beat yourself up if you stumble in this process, because I still do it, too.

  • When you're feeling whichever emotion you feel in response to your circumstances, be extra kind to yourself, and embrace positive self-talk. Some examples include:

    1. "I'm feeling _____. This emotion makes sense based on what I'm going through."

    2. "Feeling my emotions empowers me to make better decisions."

    3. "This emotion is hard to navigate. I'm going to be intentionally kind to myself right now."

Helpful tips to identify our needs in response to our emotions:

  • In my previous example of feeling angry in response to what was said to me about my sensitivity, the next and most important step is asking ourselves what we need in response to the emotion we're feeling. Some tips on how to do this might look like:

    1. Journaling through the emotion and asking yourself, "what is this emotion telling me that I need?"

    2. Talk through your emotions with someone you trust. Sometimes, having an unbiased person to listen objectively can help you identify what you need.

    3. Try setting a boundary with yourself and with others. If you need alone time, express that need and, then give it to yourself. The same is said for any other practical need. For example, if I'm feeling angry, I might need to take a walk, sit in a bubble bath, listen to music, or go for a drive. Giving yourself what you need is one of the most self-compassionate - graceful - things we can do for ourselves.

    4. Some people won't respect your boundaries or needs, and they won't see things from your perspective. It's hard, but it's okay. Remember, you are your most important voice and advocate. Your needs matter and deserve to hold space.

 

Before we go any further, I want to talk about toxic positivity, because it's a trend that I don't like very much. It's an easy pattern to fall into if we're not careful, but it's called toxic positivity for a reason: it's toxic.

I don't know about you, but some people have this uncanny ability to sweep any and every negative emotion under the rug by saying things like, "everything will be fine", "calm down", "don't cry", "don't be sad", "it could be worse", I could go on and on forever. Not only does this annoy me to no end, but it's also super-duper unproductive. Words like those don't leave anyone feeling validated or heard. It communicates the need to erase the emotion instead of feeling it, which goes in the opposite direction of learning to have grace with ourselves and each other.

Now that we've identified how toxic positivity can appear in conversations, let's counter that by embracing some incredibly validating statements that we can give ourselves and others during hard moments:

  • "It's okay to cry."

  • "I can understand why you feel ____ about this."

  • "This has to be really hard for you."

  • "How can I help support you?"

  • "I'm sorry you're going through that."

  • "Depression/anxiety/etc. really sucks sometimes."

  • "You're not alone."

  • "I'm here to talk if you need it."

  • "Me too" (without elaborating about your own experiences).


Oftentimes, we look for external approval and validation for our emotions, decisions, and circumstances. These approving statements are designed to be used inwardly so that we can reflect on what we're feeling and what we need. It's only then that we can extend the same grace we give ourselves in moments and seasons of grief, pain, uncertainty, loss, tragedy, and heartbreak to others who are in need of validation. And by extension of grace and honest validation first flourishing inwardly, we can then learn to have a true sense of gratitude for our seasons of hurt, which leads others to self-empowerment and self-compassion.


If you're in a season of hardship, struggle, feelings of invalidation, or just need encouragement, let me say that I'm deeply sorry you're in this season of darkness. I won't be that person who sweeps things under the rug by pretending to be positive. Some things in life just suck. They're hard to navigate. They're heavy. They're complicated. But I will leave you with this well-won lesson:

Life won't always look the way it does now. This season of pain and hurt has the potential to show you what self-compassion, grace, and kindness truly look like. It has the power to enable self-empowerment. It can lead you to a place of seeing goodness - having gratitude - through the uncertainty, believing that you matter; that you're seen, you're valid, and you're important.


You are seen.

You are valid.

You are important.

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