You Gotta Fight!
When I was a kid, the Beastie Boys came out with a song called, “You gotta fight for your right to party.” It was a rallying cry to all those would be conformists to make contact with their most guttural impulses to be free and enjoy life, despite the obstacles that lay before them. Self-Compassion is no different. Social labels, social media, and social pressure ask you to continue to work your fingers to the bone, and engage in self-criticism to appease others, who ask you to produce and purchase more. If you want Self-Compassion for yourself, you gotta fight for it!
Taking on a new way of managing your experience is difficult, and there will be push back. Internally, you will resist that which is different because it requires extra effort. Externally, others may feel vulnerable to a position that directly contrasts to their own. If Self-Compassion was not effective, there would be no resistance internally or externally, but somewhere you and others know that it makes the most sense to pursue skills that help you develop strategies based on your own unique needs.
Of course, Self-Compassion is effective, and, in many ways, it is because it is based on a practice that is scientific and objective. It does not ask you to join anything or to commit to some philosophy that benefits others. The end game is a group of strategies that you have designed yourself that exist for your own well-being. So, of course there is going to be some resistance on the part of others. It is a little threatening to hear that you are going to become your own boss after they have spent a lifetime working for the well-being of others. Despite this resistance, Self-Compassion offers well-being for you and others that cannot be downplayed or ignored. If you want a good life, you have to fight for it.
I once worked with a first generation, introverted, Venezuelan boy about 17 years old, who had a very critical mother. He dropped out of school at age 15, and was currently homeless. Carlos’ primary relationship taught him to pursue relationships and jobs that were punishing and judgmental. Carlos lost his most recent job because his boss let him go because he looked too stupid to do the job at the machine factory, despite Carlos’ competent work. In his last romantic relationship, his girlfriend made him sleep on the couch because she did not like the way that he breathed at night. Eventually, she broke up with Carlos for “not having a backbone.” She said she wanted a real man.
He came to my office depressed, in and out of shelters, passing by his mother’s house for ten or fifteen minutes each day to grab a cup of soup, and to visit his little brothers. She bullied his brothers, and when he objected to this behavior, she would tell him that, “Losers who cannot make it in the world have no right to judge the ways of their mothers.”
It was clear that Carlos needed a new model for relationships, and positive relational alliances. To this end, Carlos would go out once a week to the neighborhood restaurant, and try to establish some form of conversation with the help of the sport showcased on the restaurant’s big screen television. Carlos made valiant efforts, but it was clear that given his history he could neither give himself credit for successful efforts nor locate healthy, affirming relationships.
So, we began our work on Self-Compassion practices. The more work we did the harder his mother seemed to work to challenge these changes, reminding him that he was a nobody and worthless at every opportunity that was presented to her. Carlos also had a friend from high school, who needed Carlos to be weak, so that he could feel good about himself. He was quick to downplay, and criticize Carlos for his efforts towards self-acceptance and compassion too.
On one dreary, cloud filled day, Carlos reported two especially difficult visits with his mother and friend, and I asked him how that made him feel. “Depressed,” he reported, but also “angry.” I asked Carlos if he was willing to stay with that anger for a minute, and I cued up the Beastie Boys song. What started as a slow rock to the music, turned into a fist pump, and then he literally screamed the refrains. “You gotta fight for your right to parrrrty!” Fortunately, it was one of those days, where my entire side of the office was out. At the end of the song, Carlos was smiling and filled with energy. “I’ve gotta fight,” he said. “Yes,” I replied, “You’ve gotta fight.”
We came up with a plan in therapy for how Carlos could advocate for himself, and discussed how like his little brothers who stilled lived in the house, the little Carlos that still lived inside him needed a protector: a self-compassionate warrior. That week, he was making grilled cheese sandwiches for his little brothers, and his mother stopped to tell him he was too stupid to even make grilled cheese sandwiches correctly. He had enough. What he said surprised even me.
“You don’t have the right to talk to me that way, mom. I am a good person, and, by the way, I love you.” She was so shocked that she dropped the lipstick she had been applying to her lips. She cried, and once Carlos realized they were real tears, he cried too. She told him that she had failed as a mother, like her mother before her, and her mother before her. He told her how he had nearly died sleeping on the street, and that he thought learning how to be good to themselves and each other were worth fighting for though he made not mention of the Beastie Boys. “My mother loves Jesus,” he told me later. “The Beastie Boys might be harder for her to follow. They do a lot of yelling.” They came in for family therapy the next week. The family therapist said that they had some big challenges ahead, but that they seemed motivated.
Don’t Give Up The Fight
Life is hard, and will offer us some many reasons to be unkind to ourselves. People we love may even stand in our way. While these moments are difficult, we have to see the big picture and recognize that all people are worthy of love and acceptance, even us. The road may be hard, but if we are willing to fight for self-compassion, and to find alliances, we can be sure that our world will feel a little safer, and a little kinder. Wishing you all safety, kindness, compassion, and the willingness to fight for all three.
365 Days of Kindness. Self-Compassion. Day 100. In The Books.