I meant to post this several days ago but got sidetracked.
I had a good session with Z, the spiritual director at the retreat, talking about my difficulties with one specific person and it emerged that though I easily feel compassion for others, I do not have much compassion for myself.
We went from my feelings of dismay when I see this person to my defensiveness at the jabs this person seems to take at me, to why I am defensive, to my less-than-carved-in-stone sense of authority, to how the jabs affect that sense of authority, to my need to be right and fix my mistakes.
That's where the hitherto unrealized-in-me lack of compassion for myself cropped up. So I told Z. that I was going to make a list of the reasons I deserve compassion from myself.
* Only I know what my real life has been like and is today.
* I have had my share of bad experiences: molestation, rejection by admired people, public embarrassment, marriage to a difficult man, a challenging child to raise, poverty, shouldering a good deal of others' responsibility and pain, divorce, shame around body and brain, failure to attain jobs I wanted, that sort of thing.
This is an incomplete but revealing list. If I had a friend with this history, I would have compassion and empathy for her. But I find it hard to aim that compassion at myself. I'm talking real compassion, not pity; I'm talking emotion, not just letting myself off the hook for unintended mistakes.
What would compassion (not pity) look like? to me? to others? What would it feel like to me? to others? Would grieving my losses get to be a problem? Is that part of "the problem"? Do I avoid giving myself compassion because I don't want to grieve too much?
When I express compassion for another, I am offering him/her an opportunity to unburden self, to grieve a bit, to let off some of the pressure. I am good at doing this, giving the invitation, staying for the grief, the unburdening.
Can I do this for myself when I feel my self-worth and authority attacked and my defenses start to climb?
I'm looking forward to talking more with Z. about this at the next retreat.