Self-Compassion: The Value Of Validation

I've been sharing my story in bits and pieces here for so long that this blog has begun to feel like home. Aside from my therapist's office, this blog is the one place in my world where I'm just me. I'll write sad, happy, angry, whatever. I'll share my experience, my pain, my struggles, my strength. I've shared about the heartbreak of miscarriage, the beauty and stress of motherhood both as a coupled parent and as a single one, and I've shared the damage left behind on my life and spirit due to multiple abusive relationships and the impact of chronic illness.

There are only two major things in my life that impact me every day that I haven't shared here - and it's just because those wounds are still too deep to show in public. But even in the midst of the struggles I do share, I am making an effort every time I come here to use my experience to encourage and empower others. It sucks to feel devalued by the people you most want validation from. It sucks to bring insecurities and fears to people whose opinions you value, only to have your words fall on deaf hearts. It sucks to have those fear and insecurities used against you. It sucks to share a victim experience with someone trusted, only to have them re-victimize you by blaming you for whatever you went through.
  • If you were molested as a child, you DID NOT "ask for it."
  • If you were beaten so severely that you have flashbacks of those moments years later - or worse, you've blocked them out and can't remember at all - you need to know that you DID NOT "ask for it."
  • If you were raped, it had nothing to do with how many drinks you had, how long your shorts were, how much you flirted, or where you happened to be at the time. Even if you were completely plastered, laying stark naked in the middle of the street, that does not excuse being violated when you couldn't speak for yourself. You DID NOT "ask for it."
  • If you have been traumatized by a difficult experience that haunts you, your trauma is not because you can't "get over it" and it is not because "you're too sensitive" and you have every right to "take it personal."
  • The suffering you feel and the lingering psychological pain are not invalidated by the lack of understanding from others, nor should it be minimized just because "so-and-so went through that too, and they're fine now."

But owning your story starts with you. It starts with the honesty to admit your struggle, the courage to see it for what it is, the will to explore it actively and process it openly, because you can't fix a problem you won't admit to, you can't clean a mess by pretending it isn't there, and no amount of complaining will solve problems as quickly as getting up and working on it.

You owe yourself the compassion you crave from those around you. You owe yourself the understanding you seek from your surroundings. You owe yourself this moment, filled with love for the person you're trying to be, the person inside you who might still be hurting from old, long-covered wounds. You owe yourself belief and the power of validation.

Honestly though, I think we all struggle with our own sense of authenticity from time to time. I've mentioned before how my experiences with narcissistic abuse, passive aggressive attacks, and outright gaslighting have impacted me so severely that I now deal with constant self-doubt even when I have irrefutable proof of my concerns.

Example: I have spina bifida. Most of my life I didn't know I had it - I just knew that I was dealing with "a bad back." I have a scar on my back from a surgical treatment I had as an infant, an effort to remove "a tumor" that was "crawling up" my spine. Now that I have an official diagnosis, it turns out that surgery was performed in order to excise the lipoma characteristic of lipomyelomeningocele and release my tethered spinal cord. But my concerns have been invalidated so many times over the years that even with that scar I doubted myself. I told myself the things I had heard so many times from others, that it wasn't that big of a deal. That I was just lazy. Everyone has aches and pains. I should just power through. 
I just had a series of MRIs done last month that confirmed my spina bifida lipomyelomeningocele. It also confirmed a re-tethered spinal cord, an 11mm chiari malformation, degenerative disc disease, and sheuermann's disease. These things are all incurable, and they are all only effectively treated with risky invasive surgeries that may not work, may leave me paralyzed, or may work partially, only to need repeating every few years. Because of the risks, the number of issues, and the severity of the compounded impact, I've been told I'm not really a candidate for surgery - despite increasing neurological damage that is now beginning to have a solid impact on my mobility. 
And yet ... there is a part of me that whispers, "You're a liar. You made it up. You're seeking attention. It's not that bad. You're just lazy. You're making excuses. You're settling for a less than life. You could do better if you wanted to. Maybe if you look on the bright side and stop being so whiny/negative/self-pitying, you would get better. You need to let go of your victim mentality, especially if you're going to keep selling yourself to the world as a warrior woman living an undaunted life despite the odds. You're such a fake."

I have been struggling with those thoughts for ages now. Fighting it with self-compassion, carrying it to my therapist, setting alarms on my phone to remind me to literally practice positive affirmation. I've been rereading the reports from the doctors that confirm what I'm living with - what I have been living with - in order to refute the internalized abuse. And my physical health is only one example, one place in my life that looks like that. I'm also dealing with those same issues in terms of my mental health, my financial status, my relationship status, etc.

I was really having a tough time. I was feeling weak, sad, battered, shamed. But then I saw this on Instagram, and it changed everything. I thought I'd share it with you.

"Being a warrior or a survivor doesn't mean you've never fallen or have never felt absolutely broken. Validating you own pain does not make you any less of a survivor. You can still be, simultaneously, a victim and a survivor. You can still rise after each fall while acknowledging that you've fallen."  - Shahida Arabi

This quote was the catalyst I needed. It reminded me that I can be both a victim and a survivor. I have survived countless traumatizing experiences and abuses of all kinds. I am a survivor. But I am also a victim of the things I have survived. I am still triggered by things, sometimes unexpectedly, often uncontrollably.

Months ago, I read an article where PTSD was described as a gorilla. I wanted to find that article and link it here, but I couldn't find it. So here's my terribly inadequate paraphrase: the image presented was about unpredictability, brutality, chaos. Kind of a bull-in-a-china-shop sort of thing, but with a pissed-off gorilla instead. Like, sometimes it sits quietly in the corner, scowling into the room. Other times it starts flinging shit everywhere, shrieking and screaming and breaking everything. I related to that in a lot of ways then, but as I've sought treatment and strategies and learned to empower myself despite my disabilities, my gorilla has faded, morphed. I can't say it's gone or that it's settled, because I still have gorilla days more often than I'd like to admit. But for the most part these days, my PTSD is more like ... arthritis of the soul.

It's a lack of emotional grip and flexibility, a change in strength and ability to tolerate stress and change, a constant painful emotional ache that doesn't go away even when I know what it is and why it's there. In keeping with the PTSD-as-spiritual-arthritis, I can say the aching gets worse and more widespread when the "weather" of my life is stormy - it hurts more when the "weather" is cold, when the barometric pressure of my life changes. I never really know when it's going to be a good day or a bad day. And medication helps but it's nothing even remotely close to a cure - medication in itself is an emotional burden.

What I needed was a reminder that recognizing and validating the truth of that experience is an act of self-care, an act of self-compassion. What I needed was the reminder that it's okay to be both victim and survivor. That even warriors get wounded. And that broken can still be beautiful.

If you liked this post, drop a comment below - I'd love your feedback, as well as the chance to interact with you! It would also be great if you could share the link to this post with your friends - it helps me connect with new readers and bring new exposure to the Undaunted Army and what we hope to accomplish! Be sure you check out my quarterly giveaway page, too - there are several free and easy ways to enter - and members of the Undaunted Army are always eligible for extra entries!

Speaking of the Army, I'd like to personally invite you to take your place among those who have bravely fought and survived the battles of life. Addiction, abuse, violence, divorce, parenting, illness, and other traumas are real battles too; those who suit up to fight every day have a right and an obligation to nurture their own health, well-being, and self-empowerment. I know how hard it can be to keep going - but there is strength in numbers, and as a member of the Undaunted Army, you have the hope of knowing that you will never have to fight your battles alone again. Enlist as an Undaunted Army Private for free, or invest in the growing impact of the Army with an Undaunted Army Officer Commission for as little as $1 a month. And now, you can wear your Undaunted Pride right out in the open by sporting Undaunted Army merch!

However we stay connected, always know that my brand and the Undaunted Army are built on what I write and who I'm writing it for. "Love Stories and Lifestyle for the Undaunted Woman" isn't just a slogan or a tagline - it's a purpose and a goal, which is why, whether you're a first time reader or a long-time loyal follower ... from the bottom of my heart, I thank you for being here.