Facing My Trauma Taught Me Self-Compassion
Trauma. It’s a word we like to ignore, push to the side, pretend never happened or doesn’t exist.
We don’t want it to happen to our loved ones, our children, our friends, or ourselves.
But the reality is that trauma happens to everyone- on different levels of impact and varying degrees of meaning. What might be a traumatic experience to one person, may not be that distressing to another. So we must view trauma without judgment, fully trusting and validating our own feelings as well as the feelings of others.
Some examples of trauma that we or others may have experienced:
Cancer. Divorce. Loss of a loved one. Layoff. Diagnosis. Disease. Injury. Assault. Bankruptcy.
Big or small, trauma is an experience that occurs when we do not have the skills to cope with what happened. According to google, it is a “deeply distressing experience.”
When we ignore the trauma and try to pretend “everything’s fine,” we deny an important part of our story. Our trauma can take us to a deeper place of gratitude and self-compassion, if we let it. While we don’t have the option to “opt-out” of trauma (I wish we did), we can take our power back by choosing how we respond.
When trauma happens, we have two responses, we can either let that distressing experience become the prison we live inside and become the victim OR we can let that horrible thing become the platform we inspire from and become the survivor.
Choosing the latter sounds a lot more like freedom, love, and healing to me. This is my story.
When I was 22 years old, I had just graduated college and was so excited to travel the world. I signed up to volunteer in South America for 6 months before I began graduate school. I was wide-eyed and bushy-tailed, ready to explore a whole new world. I was a bit naive, still a virgin by choice, unsure of the world that laid ahead of me. I had been heavily involved in the church throughout college; where I was taught if I had sex before marriage I would be considered impure; which I internalized as “unworthy of love.”
While I was down in Chile, I met a guy who I boldly asked on a date. He was cute and I was lonely, in a foreign land that spoke a language I could barely understand. I was impressed with my confidence for even asking him out- this well-traveled me was so brave!
While we were on our first date, I mentioned to him many times that I was a virgin and not ready to have sex. He didn’t acknowledge my demands and after a few drinks, he forced himself inside of me. I submitted because I didn’t know what else to do; there was no one in this country to call, no one to run to, I was alone. I felt that because I had gone on a date with him because I hadn’t pushed him off me and ran through the streets shouting “rape,” because he was someone I KNEW and not a stranger in a dark alleyway; it couldn’t have been rape. So it must’ve been my responsibility. I took the blame onto myself and carried the shame with me for years. And sadly, I truly believed I was impure and definitely unworthy of love.
After that happened, I easily slipped into a dark depression. Not only was I left to deal with the physical effects of him entering my body uninvited, but the mental and spiritual were much more painful. I lost much of my confidence and started “hooking up” with guys just to feel something. I left the church and isolated myself at home. This led to even more feelings of unworthiness and despair.
In an effort to repair what was broken (me), I set out to achieve every goal I could possibly think of - from hiking Mt. Kilimanjaro to learning to scuba dive to graduating with a masters in engineering. While all of these things were wonderful, I was doing them to make myself feel worthy. Worthy of love, worthy of acceptance, and worthy of that healthy, successful marriage I had always wanted.
In the midst of my overachieving chaos, I met my (now) husband, Matt. Even though I tried to break up with him many times, he kept loving me and practicing compassion and holding space for me to be me. No matter how much I questioned his love for me, he kept showing up, and he helped me to start believing that maybe I was worthy of love, after all.
Matt’s love gave me space to own the past and have the courage to face the trauma and finally heal. I finally let myself be angry- an emotion I had denied for years- for my rapist taking something I had been taught was so precious. Once I started feeling anger, I was not about to let what happened negatively affect my future.
So with that anger, I marched into therapy and re-lived that night over and over with my therapist. I left nothing out. And finally, I started getting clarity. I started feeling the weight lift off my shoulders. I began to heal.
Through vulnerably sharing the experience and owning what had happened to me, I was able to rewrite the story I had told to myself. I was able to look back at that night and have compassion for the girl who was scared, lonely, and naive. I was able to shift the blame and responsibility of that night to him and let go of the shame I’d been carrying.
Now I can also look back at the girl who experienced such a horrible thing and see bravery, courage, and resilience growing.
It might not have been how I wanted to have sex for the first time, but I’ve finally come to a place of gratitude. And I actually believe we all can come to this place after trauma. When we own our stories and face our darkest nights, we stop letting the pain unconsciously define us. We take our power back. And ultimately, that is the best form of revenge.
If I had never faced my trauma, I would still be that girl who feels unworthy of love, acceptance, and all the good things. But now, through owning my past, I truly believe my worth doesn’t come externally from what I’ve done, where I come from, or how I appear. My worth is deeper than that and it comes internally from a developed sense of self-compassion and an understanding of my humanity. My worth depends on one person- and that’s me. I get to decide what I’m worth. And I’m putting a big bold price tag on me. (no discounts here!)
This developed sense of self-compassion is one that has served me so well. I’ve learned that self-compassion is the ultimate form of self-love. When we can look at our pasts and our present with kindness, forgiveness, and understanding; it is the ultimate act of love. We can then extend that to the world and practice compassion for all. I believe that is where we step into the beautiful space of being exactly who we were meant to be.
A huge way I have learned self-compassion is through meditation, yoga, and filling my mind with positive thoughts. Specifically with meditation, learning to identify my thought patterns and become mindful of what I am thinking and feeling has helped me to let the negative, self-destructive thoughts pass. They still come up every now and then, but now I just identify them, say hello, and then see them on their way out. I recorded a meditation specifically inviting healing into our lives here. I hope it helps you as much as it has helped me.
With all that, I am sending lots of love, hope, and gratitude to you and yours in all your beautiful moments- even the one’s where life is “not okay.” My greatest hope is that after reading my story of healing you now have permission to do the same.