In this time of stress, we need to have compassion for ourselves. We’re in a new reality and we have no idea how to react.
In Krav Maga, our movements are based on natural tendencies. However, what is natural isn’t always best. Instead of fighting our body’s responses, we modify them in order to make them efficient and helpful to us.
Many people who are naturally very compassionate to others. These natural caretakers are very kind and loyal. They go above and beyond to help others. They have patience and understanding for everyone around them. In my experience, many of these people struggle with showing the same compassion to themselves. They will demand so much of themselves that they would never expect from anyone else, because they are so desperate to be liked and so scared of being rejected.
Okay, I shouldn’t use the word “they” but the word “I” in order to be accurate. I am a caretaker who takes it way too far until my self-worth becomes tied up in how others view me. Many of us are very cruel to ourselves. We expect perfection in everything we do and get frustrated when we can’t meet an impossible standard. We sacrifice our own well-being for the benefit of others. We put themselves last, and we don’t accept help when we need it. We suffer alone, and our loved ones have no idea until we break down.
We also desperately need approval. A few words from someone we admire, and we completely fall apart. When something goes wrong, it’s always our fault, and our problem to fix. It’s exhausting. So why do I do it?
I feel so awkward in the world. I feel like I don’t understand people, and their complex social mores baffle me. So I try to do the most simple equations possible. “Make them happy. Happy people stay my friend. If my friend is not happy with me, they won’t stay my friend.” You can see how this can become toxic and self-destructive really easily.
Although I admit, sometimes it can be a little bit hilarious. The last time a friend upset me, I end up sobbing at midnight in my bathroom tub, googling for jobs where I wouldn’t have to deal with socialization. I was done with dating or friendship or human contact. Farewell, mankind, I would exile myself from all of this.
I thought I had found the perfect job, estate warden at the Calf of Man, a job that requires hermit-like isolation for months at a time. I had this fantasy of leaving it all behind, and living in some cottage, alone, romantically writing gothic novels and walking the windswept beaches dramatically for the rest of my days.
Then I realized the job also involved heavy manual labor to maintain the house, fetching water from a well for my basic needs, being limited to one shower a week, no Amazon Prime delivery, and getting power only by a generator. I’m an urbanite who finds Central Park to be roughing it. I have the survival skills of a domesticated rabbit and the domestic skills of a toddler. There was definitely going to be a skills gap involved here. Also, I heard something about emptying the composting toilets, and that’s when I decided I needed to stop and just go to bed.
Okay, I needed a plan, because I shouldn’t get that way because of the people I care about. This natural tendency to help others is beautiful. However, in order for it to be healthy, it must be modified to be balanced and not self-destructive.
We understand instinctively we can’t physically pour from an empty pitcher. However, we will be the ones who will pour ourselves dry and then will apologize for not giving more to others. Our desperate need for approval just leads us to be miserable, and that misery only poisons the loving gestures I want to offer. We also embrace black-and-white thinking, assuming someone has to be the problem when in reality, life is complicated.
People do things with good intentions and it spirals in ways we never imagined. Sometimes, we have no idea the damage was done, until it happens and then we’re left with a mess we never even imagined, and no clear way to fix it. Even if we apologize, we can’t really change the past, and the scars remain.
For caretakers, this is especially painful, because we need someone to blame and that is almost always ourselves. If we feel wronged, we feel we deserve it and should have caretaken better. We try to double down on the caring to make sure it never happens again.
We can’t fix our way out of all problems. We can’t bake enough cookies to make things There is no one to blame, it’s just the way life works, and by trying to make into a neat story, we end up making ourselves the victim or the villain, when in reality, we’re characters in a story that we couldn’t possibly understand.
Sometimes though, we do get a taste of understanding. Before Quarantine, at the beginning of every Krav Maga class, we lined up in rank order. When I first started, I remember looking up at the head of the line and thinking that they were Krav Gods. I was struggling so badly, and they seemed to know everything and it just seemed easy for them. They didn’t seem to be awkward or slow or incompetent, or all the things I felt about myself.
After hundreds of hours of work, I reached a point where, in a number of classes, I was first on the line. However, I still struggled badly, and I didn’t know everything, and nothing felt easy to me, and I still felt awkward and slow and incompetent. Nothing had changed. Yes, things came easier for me in some aspects, but at the same time, I was expected to achieve a much higher standard.
What surprised me is when I spoke to higher ranking students, they told me they also often felt awkward and slow and incompetent as well. They saw every mistake they made, and they were self-critical and frustrated at times. We were all in this together, and I didn’t have to worry so much. I was normal, and I should flow with it.
It’s comforting to realize that the people I look up to also struggle with the same fears and doubts I have, and that humans are unpredictable, and boundaries are hard to navigate, and feelings are complicated, and we’re all doing the best we can.
The solution isn’t to freeze in fear and caretake as a form of control because I can’t move past my own fears.
The solution isn’t to run away from my fears and forgo my three-showers a day, Netflix and indoor plumbing.
The solution is to fight my fears, and realize I’m much more valuable and much less awkward than I believe, and that everyone feels this way.
I don’t have to reject my natural tendency to help people. I just have to modify it to make it something that betters my life. Speaking of which, time for a hot and pampering shower.
I deserve it!