Compassion is Not a Substitute for Self-Respect (Neither is Self-Care)
Compassion is essential, but it’s not a substitute for self-expression, or self-respect, or self-compassion. Emotional self-care is also essential, but gently soothing our wounds does not replace communicating about them.
This became very clear to me yesterday.
But let me rewind. I’ve had an interesting few weeks—interesting and difficult. About three weeks ago, I finished the draft of my second book, The Art of Talking to Yourself, and sent it off to beta readers. (I also posted a pre-release sneak preview!)
Historically, I have had a hard time transitioning between creating something and sharing it with others. When I’m creating, I’m always thinking about how to improve what I’m working on. Then, after I’m finished, I keep thinking that way. Trying to improve a work-in-progress is useful. Trying to improve something that’s out of my hands is torture.
My motivation quickly turns to criticism and self-judgment, and then I get intense feelings of depression.
That’s what happened when I got my first bits of feedback on the book. The feedback wasn’t negative. My perception of it was. I twisted and distorted everything, until I felt like I never wanted to write anything ever again.
I’ve written about my experiences with creativity, pain, and shame in this post as well as this one. Two weeks ago, in the midst of this most recent episode of creative depression, I decided to make a video to share with you how I was feeling. If you haven’t watched it yet, here it is.
Right after I made the video, I felt better. Plus, I planned a live event in Toronto for the next weekend, so I had some motivation to shift my focus.
I believe that depressed feelings are self-communications, and I could hear what mine were saying to me loud and clear: stop ripping yourself apart, be kind.
I went into radical self-care mode. I did hot yoga, took walks, and played my guitar. I practiced for my event, cried on Jamie’s shoulder, and watched TED talks. I ran. I ran a lot.
The event went beautifully, and the depression returned only briefly afterwards. The next week was more peaceful. That is, until a few days ago.
I have been reaching out to well-known authors for endorsements of my upcoming book. I reached out to one who not only refused to read the book, but was also very critical of me. So I did what I always do. I was kind to him, and I cultivated compassion. Then, I went for a long run, letting myself feel all the shame and pain. I forgave him and forgave myself.
However painful it was, I’m grateful it happened. If it hadn’t, I would not have been as emotionally vulnerable the next day, and might not have had the epiphany that led to this post!
The next day, yesterday, I received a message with a Facebook screenshot of a well-known public figure posting my words without attributing them, as if they were hers. On Goodreads, when I shared this quote, it got 4 likes. On my Facebook, it got about 100. On her Facebook post, there were 3,600 likes, hundreds of shares, hundreds of comments.
I felt hurt, but I also felt disrespected. This person’s audience was 25 times the size of mine. If I’d been credited, maybe I could have expanded my horizons and reached some new people. She could have helped me shine my light brighter. I try so hard to help others, and it was hurtful to feel like someone was neglecting the opportunity to help me.
So, of course, I started to do what I always do—be compassionate. But when I looked within me, I found no anger, no blame, no judgment. I had compassion. But I still felt unsettled. Compassion for her was not enough.
Of course, then I thought—maybe I need to go air out this energy, take care of myself, so that I can return to a state of peace.
But something still didn’t feel right. My own thoughts triggered creative depression, so it made sense that I focused only on self-care. This situation was different. This person’s actions triggered my feelings. Of course, I have been in the habit of taking responsibility for my reactions to other people. But wasn’t this actually unethical?
That was when it hit me—I needed to stand up for myself.
Before I discovered compassion, I was an expert at advocating for myself in any and every situation. I’ve spent the past few years working on compassion, but where did my self-advocacy go?
I tell Jamie how I feel and what I need, but with everyone else, I can’t remember the last time I stood up for myself! I thought being compassionate and understanding was always enough. It’s not.
I sent this person an email, and I posted a polite, but direct, public comment on the Facebook post. I said it was my quote. I said I felt hurt and disrespected. I provided a link for proof.
After I posted the comment, I felt better. I felt a little guilty, but I felt better.
But why did I feel guilty? Some part of me thought that, because I was advocating for myself, I was somehow losing compassion points. Like I can’t be a loving person and ask for respect. Like I can’t be a kind person and enforce boundaries.
Pardon my language, but that’s just bullshit.
I can love this person, and still think what she’s done is disrespectful. I can feel compassion for that author who was rude to me and still feel hurt by his words.
Even if I understand completely why someone has done something that triggered me, that does not mean I need to keep silent. And I’ve realized that, with everyone but Jamie, I often do.
I have stressed so many times the importance of approaching reality with an open mind and an open heart. Well, this past week, I’ve learned that, sometimes—not all the time, but sometimes—it’s important to approach with an open mouth too.
In addition to my comment, I reached out to some friends for support. This, I realize now, was motivated by an incredible post by Chelsea Cordes on The Real Us. Her words left seeds within me, and yesterday, those seeds sprouted.
Now, as I write this, a dozen people have come to support me on this issue, some of whom I’d never met before! They just heard about what happened and wanted to help me. If I hadn’t spoken up, I wouldn’t get to feel what I feel right now—like I’m not alone. Like I don’t have to deal with everything alone. Like there are people in my corner.
I’ve realized that self-expression, for me, is indivisible from self-respect. I keep finding these dark corners within me that I unconsciously hide from you. I suppose that is the magic of self-discovery. There is so much hidden, so much treasure, so many opportunities for courage.
As for the post, shortly after I wrote this blog, I received a message telling me that she had added an attribution and issued an apology. This was an amazing gift.
Before I heard this happened, to be honest, I doubted that she would attribute me or apologize. But I was okay with that. I didn’t need this situation to be resolved to have peace. I told myself that how I acted was a reflection of my own values and beliefs, while how she chose to respond is a reflection of hers. I spoke my truth and allowed myself the space to be a human being just like everyone else. I got peace within myself, and that was more than enough.
And now, I am overflowing with not only peace but also gratitude. I am beyond grateful that the poster chose to be respectful, and I am so grateful for all of the people who helped me stand up for myself.
If I had never spoken up, I would not have received support from my community, nor would I have received an apology or an attribution from that public figure. Most importantly, I would not have had peace within myself.