About five years ago, I badly needed a breakthrough.

I was incredibly sad. As painful as it is to admit, I was in the habit of thinking mean things about myself and looking with disgust in the mirror in the morning. On my good days, I wasn’t as hard on myself. I just doubted everything I did and said and felt guilty about all of my shortcomings. That’s not so bad, is it?

Love myself? I didn’t even know how to be polite. Or to offer myself the benefit of the doubt, as I would for a stranger. If you know me personally, can you imagine me treating even the most casual acquaintance this way? Yet I thought nothing of doing this to myself. I thought I deserved it.

Something I read or heard at the time recommended that I try to treat myself as I would a small child or a close friend. And the clouds started to part just a little bit.

I found this photo (below) of a precious young girl and set out to reconnect with her. I printed out her photo and put it on my desk and practiced treating myself the way I would want to treat her.

Rachel at six

After all, why would I want to be cruel to this little girl?

Would I tell her that she was ugly? That she wasn’t good enough?
That she was unworthy of love? Or even of someone’s undivided attention during a conversation?
Would I tell her that she should feel ashamed of herself and how terribly she does everything?
That she hasn’t accomplished enough with her life?
That she needs to get her teeth fixed or lose weight or have her hair colored to be truly pretty?
That other people were much more valuable and successful and together?
That she should hide her feelings and squelch her needs and pay attention only to what other people want and need?

It sounds ludicrous now. But these are the things I thought I needed to hear.

One day I decided that the pain was too much. I was not just sad. I was angry and wanted to start fighting. In the light of day, the lies I was telling myself were truly astounding. It took a special therapist to gently point out where there were lies and where there was truth. To help me reclaim my life.

And one day I acknowledged that perhaps I was worthy of a little more tenderness and compassion. After all, I was still the girl in the picture. I had not changed in some horrible way on the inside. And I certainly hadn’t done anything unforgivable. Most tangibly, if I met someone like me, I would not think that they were a loser and pathetic excuse for a human being.

What happened between this:

Rachel in her first year

And this…my 38th birthday…

Rachel feeling sad...maybe I don't look it, but I was feeling it.

…is what everyone experiences to some degree (some less, some far more than me.)

So-and-so did tell me in 7th Grade that I needed a nose job.  I did feel deeply that my perfect behavior was the one and only key to my parents’ love and acceptance. And someone did say to me in college that I couldn’t be depressed and be a Christian.

As a child, I might not have had the ability to sort out truth from fiction. But as an adult, and with practice, I could choose to shine light into these dark experiences. And it started with allowing myself to be kind. To myself. I could be just as compassionate and forgiving and encouraging to myself as I would be to a stranger.

I don’t need to ask anyone else for permission to be kind to myself. Nor do I need to be dependent on anyone else to experience acceptance.

Gazing into my childhood eyes with compassion helped me to make this transformation. Now, I can look at my 42-year old eyes with the same tenderness and – imagine this incredible bonus – with joy. Just because it’s more than ok to be me.