Radical Self-Acceptance

Journal Date: Saturday, December 19, 2020 2:45pm

I’m at home, in my room right now. I just got back from a walk around the neighborhood.

As I walked, I listened to Tara Brach’s book, Radical Self-Acceptance. (And cried).

It was an emotional experience.

It’s been so hard for me to have compassion for myself.

But that wasn’t even the most painful part.

I found myself even having compassion for people like my mom.

I found it co-existed there with all the anger and resentment and everything else I feel toward her.

It doesn’t take that away, and it doesn’t change my decision not to have any contact with her.

But I was able to see how frustrating and full of pain her own life had been. And how that continues. And how most of it is due to Abuelita, to her own mother. For no other reason than Abuelita’s own pain…


And I could see how difficult it must have been for mom to have me as a daughter.

Not through any fault of my own, really—I’m not buying into that anymore.

But I saw how likely it was that Abuelita was putting an extraordinary amount of pressure on my mom back then to dominate and control me, just the way that she had done to my mom.

I can even see how I may have appeared to my mom—maybe I really was the greatest source of her misery, the way she made it seem. I’m sure she suffered from her mother’s constant criticisms about not controlling me or punishing me enough.

It must have been hard having that woman around her, constantly criticizing, shaming and rejecting her.

And yet…

That still doesn’t absolve her of what she did to me.

It doesn’t mean that she had no choice.

She was in pain, she suffered,sure; but that doesn’t mean that there was no possibility for her to have had compassion for me, her daughter.

She still had eyes to see me cry, ears to hear my grief; and she chose to turn away from it.

She chose to add fuel to the flames, to kick me when I was down, and to abandon her own child completely.

I have done many stupid and foolish things, but—I know that it is possible to refrain from abuse, at the very minimum. And to even feel compassion and care.

I know, because I could do it for my mom, despite everything.

There’s no reason for her not to have been able to do the same for me, despite her many challenges.


So that was one of the first times I cried.

The second time was as I listened to Brach tell a story of a woman who was dying of AIDS, and the priest who was trying to comfort her, to no avail.

Brach tells us:

“The priest saw a framed picture of a pretty girl on the dresser.

‘Who is this?’ he asked.

The woman brightened.

‘She’s my daughter, the one beautiful thing in my life.’

‘And would you help her if she was in trouble or made a mistake, would you forgive her?  Would you still love her?’

‘Of course I would!” cried the woman. ‘I would do anything for her. Why do you ask such a question?’

‘Because I want you to know,’ said the priest, ‘that God has a picture of you on his dresser.’”

Brach continues, “You might find that as you’re listening, that if you can just invoke a certain image, maybe an image of someone that you really know and trust loves you, that just the remembering of that person opens the heart a little.”

Hearing that story was very painful for me.

I had no one’s image to invoke; there was no one out there I could trust ever loved me (I ended up just thinking of my dog, Beso).

And the way the story was told, how it was so naturally just assumed that the mother loves her daughter, “would do anything for her…”

How that is just so normal, such a matter-of-fact, assumed feeling that she would have towards her daughter… well, it really highlighted how abnormal my own experience was. How much of a loss it truly was. 

That it’s not just me being “too sensitive” or “overly emotional” about the way I was treated. No, it’s perfectly normal for me to have been upset about such a loss.

It’s perfectly normal for me to have suffered deeply for the lack of all the love and care I never received.

That has always been a major component of my pain that has gone unacknowledged.

I’ve always been told by everyone else in my family that “everything’s fine” and that I’m upset in any way, it’s because there’s something wrong with me.

I have had no right to grieve.

I have not even been allowed to tend to my wounds, because I was only further punished for even recognizing their existence.

I have been barred from any compassion, or any semblance of basic human dignity.

Unwilling to care for me, they denied me the right to even care for myself.

I was to have nothing. To be completely bereft was the only outcome they would accept for me.

And in their eyes, this was good and right and just. It was only what I deserved: nothing.

A Buddhist Approach to NVC

I’m grateful to have been able to attend a daylong program over at Spirit Rock Meditation Center in the Bay Area this weekend, “Skillful Speech in Difficult Situations.”

Essentially, it focused on a mindfulness-based approach to Nonviolent Communication skills. The speaker, Oren Jay Sofer, brought Buddhist principles to his knowledge of Dr. Marshall Rosenberg’s ideas regarding NVC through short lectures and transformative meditation practices that we then shared and reflected on with a partner.

It was very helpful for me to learn some of these ideas and skills at a time when I’m being challenged in certain key relationships. I’d like to share with you now some of what stood out for me, and hope that it can be useful for you, as well.

The first thing that caught my attention were the following fundamental principles underlying Sofer’s approach:

  • All humans share a set of fundamental needs.
  • Every action we take is an attempt to meet one of these needs.
  • Emotions are a response to our needs being met (or not).

Knowing these things, we can then begin to better understand other’s motivations and behavior. When we understand that their negative emotions and unskillful behavior is often a response to the pain and discomfort of unmet needs, we may be more willing to be compassionate and collaborative in our approach to them.

One of the practices that I found really useful were the 3 “Practices of Presence” that we later engaged in with a partner. We learned how to come back to the present moment through focusing on the breath, grounding in our bodies, and orienting ourselves to the wider space around us.

Other valuable skills mentioned were active listening, reflecting, and how to skillfully interrupt or pause a difficult conversation.

I was able to get myself a copy of Sofer’s new book, “Say What You Mean: A Mindful Approach to Nonviolent Communication.” I’m excited to get back home to LA and spend some time with this book, I can’t wait to learn more.