My TS therapist has been trying to get me to write a self-compassion letter for ages. I haven’t done it because I’m stubborn and it seemed difficult. After a few tough weeks of no therapy and then a few tough weeks of therapy, she brought the letter up again. This time I figured I would actually give it a go. The instructions were long, so here is a simplified version: write down some insecurities or imperfections and the feelings associated with them. And, then, write a letter to yourself as if you were a very loving, kind, understanding friend. I’m going to share because maybe a letter like this might help you with self-compassion, too. Or, maybe when you read this, you can see yourself in some parts and feel the compassion I was trying to convey.
This is my letter:
I know how much you like quotes, so I want to start with this one: “To be beautiful means to be yourself. […]. True happiness and true power lie in understanding yourself, accepting yourself, having confidence in yourself” (Hahn). Sometimes it feels impossible to accept and understand ourselves, I know; that’s why I want you to have this letter. I want to help you to see what I see.
You always hide yourself. You bury yourself in fabric, layered under cotton and polyester; you hope that no one sees the bumps beneath the fabric. Keloids: raised and angry scars. I see your shame, your disgust when you look at them. When I see your scars, I see a story laid upon your skin like braille or constellations. They aren’t just shapes; they’re rich, experience-laden works of art. The story I see is one of pain, strength, difficulty, perseverance, struggle, and resilience. I know life hasn’t been easy for you. Since the beginning it has been a fight. When you came into the world you were dark purple, like the flesh of a plum. You’d flipped and tumbled yourself into a bit of trouble. The cord was wrapped around your neck. This, of course, would become a family joke: you’d been trying to kill yourself since the moment you were born. Only, the joke wasn’t funny, because of how true it would seem to be. I think you’ve carried the undercurrents of that joke inside of you. The idea that death was always just there seemed tangible, realistic. Life threw a lot at you and you were never taught what to do with all of those difficult emotions. You were told to “suck it up” and “stop crying or I’ll give you something to cry about” and “stop being so sensitive” and “you’re too emotional.” Emotions were shunned. Yet, you couldn’t just shut them off. You couldn’t stop feeling.
It seems only natural that you turned to self-harm, to suicidal ideation. This world is an already difficult place to live in and you had to live in it without attunement, without validation, without reassurance, without a secure base. The cutting was like a release valve for you; it was a quick fix of dopamine. The SI was deemed “dramatic” and “stupid” and “all for attention” but it served a purpose then. You made an attempt on your life and for those 24 hours while you were in the hospital, you were seen. You were in such agonizing emotional pain with no healthy coping skills to get you through. You were told to just talk to God and the depression will go away. I know you felt awful, when you prayed and prayed and the pain didn’t abate. You really wanted out. It wasn’t about attention. You wanted the pain to end. Or, you wanted to not be alone in the pain. You wanted to feel normal, not ashamed. Everything you did was survival. Where you see something to be ashamed of and disgusted with, I see something that helped get you through. I see the strength it had to have taken to survive all the bad things you’ve survived. I see resilience. I see someone who, no matter how bad it hurts, kept trying.
I know you got so used to doing things on your own. I know that you learned that you couldn’t share your feelings with anyone. I know it feels like no one could possibly understand. It’s okay if you’re afraid of asking for help. That first time you asked, you were ignored. Then when you sought help for yourself, your parents were called. You were punished for having feelings that were deeper than they could possibly understand. It’s been a pattern ever since. You ask for help in ways that don’t seem to get you what you need. And, then you would act out against yourself. People would leave and it would feel like it was all your fault. You would feel like you were being punished for doing something wrong. It felt like you deserved to be left. You deserved the silent treatment. The closer you felt to someone, the more you wanted to be seen, understood, and cared about by them. It became a vicious, painful loop. I want you to know that no one deserves to be punished for their feelings. You did nothing wrong. You tried. You tried to ask for help. You did the absolute best you could in every single moment.
And, it wasn’t your darkness that caused people to leave either. I know your mind wants an explanation. It needs to make sense out of why people would leave when you would try to get close to them but sometimes there just isn’t an answer. Sometimes people can’t understand or tolerate another person’s hurt and trauma. But, you couldn’t know. You never learned how to discern a safe person from an unsafe person. You never learned when it was okay to share and when not to share. You never learned what to share. There was no one to talk to about these things. There was no one to model it for you. And, so, you tried the best you could with what you had. It has been a painful Hell for you, trying to learn these skills as a teen and an adult. I hope you can see now though, that not everyone will leave. Some people love your darkness. Some people love your depth. And, some people can see the light in you. I know most of the time you can only see the “bad” in yourself but you are so, so much more.
your dear friend.