Thursday, 29 September 2016

The Purpose of Self Pity


Two weeks ago I began a series of changes that have been a long time coming. I knew that this would disturb my life a bit but wasn't prepared for the amount of old pain it stirred up.

As soon as I committed to the changes, my adrenal glands went into a kind of reorganising frenzy. This manifested itself in painful spasms lasting hours, very little sleep or eating and an inability to focus on much else beyond what was in front of me. 

In my worst moments I wondered did I have cancer and in my best I was filled with gratitude for the release. The weepings on the bathroom floor were breakthrough moments - when I finally gave way to a dam of tears that wanted so desperately to be set free.

I have been meditating every day for nearly twelve years now and have been processing the trauma of an abusive childhood for much longer, since I was only a few years old in fact. I know that I am not alone in this. I know that thousands of people around the world are doing the same.

It is one thing to deal with the physical effects of abuse, it is quite another to deal with the emotional. What came to the surface in all this pain was my father's voice, in so many situations spanning decades, telling me how full of self pity I was. Over and over again, he infiltrated me with the idea that I was So Full Of Self Pity, and that self pity was a very bad thing. The worst thing.

This dread of self pity has been a finger in the crack in a dam of unfelt emotions, creating enormous pressure and pain.

A weekend soon after he first attacked me, my father sent my brothers and I to our mother's house for a visit. In that place of relative safety and nature connection I began restoring myself. 

One day we all took a walk down to the lough shore. We got to a wetland area and, as I was wearing sandals, I wanted to go around it. My mother and her boyfriend laughed at such preciousness and proceeded to trudge us through the knee-deep mush. I knew that my sandals would now rub all the way home. It would be painful, and I was already in so much pain

I felt so sad, and the more sadness I displayed the more they laughed. They thought it was cute. Eventually I shut down completely and lagged behind.

My mother, an artist, came up and took a photo of me as I stood alone in the rushes. I was looking down at a reed in my hand, my face mostly covered by my hair. She saw beauty on the surface and completely missed the deeper need for compassion.

The next time we visited her we were greeted by piles of t-shirts in the hallway, all with that photo screen-printed on them. These garments contained my face and my name Aoife. My misery was now frozen in time and plastered around a world of strangers. I saw an older boy down at the swings one day with my sad and lonely face on his chest.

The only place I could go to be safe in those years was into a numb silence. This soon earned me the name The Incredible Sulk, one of many mean names crafted by my father. I was terrified of being what he said I was.

Since I have been releasing this particular pile of pain and letting the dam of emotions run free I have given myself permission to embrace Self Pity. I have been meditating and tapping into it. I have been wallowing in it like a hippopotamus and enjoying the freedom this brings. I have been loving my self pity, and thereby loving myself. 

It has been a joyful reclamation. A lead weight has been lifted and I feel light and airy. The pain has nearly all gone, and I know that eventually it will all go. My experience of meditation has shown me, time and again, that after the pain is illuminated and felt with compassion it fully dissolves.

Self pity is a stage in getting over something painful. It is a vital first step that has a purpose. Anger, depression, anxiety, jealousy - basically the whole landscape of the emotional world - is necessary in order to process life's ups and downs. We are meant to let it all flow through us; to respect all emotions and let them enrich us with wisdom and understanding.

If we refuse to feel something we get blocked up and go round in circles; emotions become personality traits and our true identity is shadowed by the past.

I googled self pity as I wrote this and was amazed at all the negative quotes about it. Not a single glimpse of compassion for this tender emotion. I wonder is my wee story a microcosm of the larger cultural story of fear that thrives by impeding the healing of individuals and groups. If you tell people that self pity is bad they will never relax into their sadness enough to heal. If they never heal, they have no personal power.

When I think of the beautiful little girl I was, so lost and lonely, I now see her smiling. I tell her she can take her sandals off and splash in the wetlands, or I lift her up onto my shoulders and keep her precious wee feet dry. When she is sad, I hug her and tell her that I love her no matter what she is feeling. The only names I have for her are sweetheart, darling and the best name of all - her own - Aoife.


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