Letter of Self-Compassion: Learning to learn

Image description: children gesture at a map hanging on a wall. Stock photo from pexels by Tima Miroshnichenko.

Learning takes effort and the capacity to wrestle past frustration. What’s referred to as a “learning curve” is more tolerable for some people than for others. While some of this tolerance is innate, a large amount of it comes from experiences. My tolerance for the frustrating process of learning something new is very low. I could tell myself, as I have many times over the years, that I’m a bad person and I should just suck it up. However, such harshness has not and will not improve the situation.

I have learned some things that I wasn’t initially good at, but those are outliers. In my upbringing, I was either failing or succeeding, and there was no in-between. This fed a demanding perfectionism. From early childhood, my parents taught me to obey or be punished. As a young child, I was punished with physical abuse. In my later childhood, I was punished with verbal abuse. In my adulthood, abusive partners reenforced these patterns.

My trauma has worn deep grooves in my brain, setting up expectations that nothing good happens when I persevere against obstacles. Learning takes a bit of stubbornness and a lot of dedication. While it’s true that I left behind many of the beliefs I was raised with, there are so many things I’m still unlearning.

Image: a child holds a plastic skeleton with removable plastic internal organs. One hand holds the brain, and the head is cut out of the frame. Photo from pexels by mart production.

My compassion for myself here is so limited. My first instinct is to be hard on myself, but that’s part of the issue. I’m so incredibly hard on myself that it makes it very difficult to tolerate learning. I am learning so many things now, and it is very frustrating and overwhelming. I am, at the same time, learning how to learn – that is, I’m learning how to tolerate the process of learning new things.

Part of compassion is validating my feelings. Yes, this is difficult, and yes, the feelings are overwhelming. Nevertheless, I am capable of tolerating the discomfort until it passes. Whenever I do this, I am fortifying the belief that it will indeed pass.

I can improve my capacity and tolerance for learning. It is genuinely difficult to believe this because I have little experience to back it up.

I deserve compassion in this process. Life is full of learning. I experienced cruelties and then turned them inward toward myself. I am learning how to give myself compassion and care.

Perhaps someday I will have developed these skills and can move forward with more confidence. Until then, I am practicing.

Image: two blonde children sit in a wide windowsill, smiling and balancing stacks of books on their heads. Photo from pexels by olia danilevich.