by guest blogger Pam Fullerton, psychotherapist and writer
A few days ago, I found out that a family friend had passed away. This friend was someone I had appreciated in my life when I was young but hadn’t seen for years. I’d assumed that she was simply off living her life, only to discover that for the past few years, she’d been in a nursing home.
I felt like a terrible person for not having seen her in years, and for not knowing that she was in a nursing home. I immediately felt regret for not sharing with her how much I’d appreciated her as a teenager. I could say so much about what I loved and valued about my friend, and about how sad I am that she has passed away, but I want to share with you what I’ve learned through this experience.
Did you notice that my first reaction to not staying connected to my friend was to feel like a terrible person?
After sitting in sadness upon learning of her passing, and swimming in shame and guilt for not staying connected with her, I realized something that didn’t occur to me until a few days later. A better question was, “Why had we not stayed connected with each other?”
I tend to take more than my share of responsibility for situations (I’m constantly working on that), and it took me days to shift from, “I’m a terrible person, and why didn’t I” to “Why didn’t we?” Upon more reflection, I became certain that the reason had nothing to do with anything negative about either one of us. It upset me when I realized how quickly I felt like a terrible person and felt shame. Oh, shame—it really can derail me. I sometimes forget how fragile we are in life. I know in my heart that I’m not a terrible person.
Another thing that I realized was that during my struggle to understand why we hadn’t stayed connected, I felt nothing but compassion and understanding for her. Then I realized something more: I struggle to extend that compassion and understanding to myself.
I think I know partly why that is; it has to do with not being truly seen, loved, and accepted by some people from my past in my life. And so I worried that she thought I was a terrible person. I don’t believe that she did, but it was my fear. I think she would be upset that I even considered such a thought.
However, when people don’t see the real me—when they impose on me whatever it might be that’s not me—it hurts. And I don’t feel seen for who I am, or at least, who I always strive to be. At times, I’m left feeling or seeing myself through the eyes of other people.
But let me end with this thought. In my process toward self-healing and nurturing, this morning I was doing an online yoga class in my home. At the end of the class, the yoga teacher suggested that we thank ourselves for doing the class. This thought seemed odd to me—to thank myself? But I did, and it felt good.
Then I did a bit of meditation, and I meditated with this affirmation: “As I open the door to my own self-love, I attract more and more loving tenderness to me.”
And then it hit me, I thanked myself for doing the yoga class, but I have never, ever said to myself, “I love you, Pam.” That’s silly, I told myself. But I did it anyway. It felt very uncomfortable, and then I cried—a forgiving, loving cry.
Pam Fullerton has been in private practice as a psychotherapist for the past 19 years. Although she works with a variety of life issues that are presented to her in therapy, her passion is to understand the vast complexities of all relationships. She believes that healthy connections with others are what promote personal growth. Keep up with her writings on relationships, mindfulness, and more by subscribing here.