Compassionate Letter to Myself
This exercise was a doozy for me. The instruction is to write a letter to yourself about an issue that is really troubling you from the perspective of an all-knowing, all-loving being. This person or being knows everything about you, including every skeleton in your closet, and yet he or she loves you unconditionally. This entity also knows every good deed you have ever done and has seen every random act of loving kindness you have ever performed.
I remember writing that letter when I took the Mindful Self-Compassion eight-week course in 2011. It was a huge aha moment. I took it into my therapist appointment, and she actually became emotional: “Did you really say all those nice things about yourself? Are you sure no one helped you?” No one helped me. I got in touch with my compassionate voice, and thank God that voice is still with me today.
I’m sharing this letter with you. It was from a time when I was the most vulnerable, the most raw. This exercise was a turning point in my healing.
“I feel inadequate because I gave up my profession in order to be a full-time mother and my kids aren’t turning out so wonderfully. So that means, deep down, I feel like a failure. The disappointment in the choices they (twins) are making during their adolescence is crushing. Sometimes it makes me feel depressed and hopeless. Other times I feel angry. I think if I had a job while they were growing up, they would be more self-reliant, and maybe they would be more motivated workers.
I feel envious of the families whose kids get good grades in good schools, and do community service because they want to, and study for the SAT because they know it makes a difference. I’m jealous of the families whose kids love camp, and go away year after year in the summer and then become CITs and counselors. I’m guilty that I have raised kids who feel entitled and behave as though they think the rules don’t apply to them and demonstrate little motivation to better themselves.”
The compassionate response from my imaginary friend:
“Julie, you are not a failure. You gave up your profession because you were lucky enough to have the choice to be there 24/7 for your kids. At the time, you loved that choice. You were an incredibly caring, loving, creative, intelligent mom — in fact, you still are. Your daughters are still growing and changing. The jury is merely still out on how they will develop as women. They are smart and talented individuals. They just act immature. I’m sure that with your loving and firm guidance they will eventually grow out of their challenging adolescent phase. You and your husband are doing an admirable job keeping your relationship together while raising two very difficult children.
And as for you, it’s not as if you stayed home eating bonbons all these years. Look at all the positive impact you have had on so many organizations. Just think about all the people whom you have helped at the JCC — not only the staff, by implementing and raising the funds for a great retirement plan for them, but also all the people that the JCC serves every day that benefit from the long-term staff. And you were the one that made Shalom Baby a priority and achieved funding to protect that program now and in the future. There are hundreds and hundreds of moms that come together as a community in playgroups, classes and activities because of getting their start at one of the Shalom Baby programs.
And don’t forget the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem. They wouldn’t have an executive seminar if not for you. It was your idea for them to teach a weeklong unit of Torah text study and travel in Jerusalem to grown-ups in order to connect them to Pardes. That program has continued successfully for the last eighteen years and still makes a huge difference in donor cultivation. Julie, if you want to do something different with your life, you can do it. You are only fifty-one. The girls will be off to college in a year and a half. You are smart. People love you. They love your honesty. They love your sense of humor. They love that you connect so easily.
What would make you happy? I think it would be useful for you to find something you feel passionate about and where you feel like you add value.
I’m proud of you for taking the time to try to ground yourself by taking meditation classes and practicing yoga and meditation. The spirituality program you are taking is a valuable education. Who knows where that will lead? Yet, in the meantime you are feeling good about yourself and that’s important!
Please also know that you are a wonderful mother, wife, daughter, sister, and friend.”
How fabulous to soothe yourself in this manner. When you allow yourself to take in and feel a positive mental state in your body, you are rewiring your brain for more happiness and resilience. That is the beauty of experience-dependent neuroplasticity. What you think changes your brain. If you talk to yourself with gentleness and compassion and you take a couple of moments to savor the good feelings your compassionate voice brings up in you, that positive mental state rewires your brain.
Excerpted from Life Falls Apart, But You Don’t Have To