Creating a legacy of (self) compassion

Each of us leaves a legacy to the next generation. We leave this imprint both through our actions, and also by our way of being in the world. Consider the legacy that your grandparents gave your parents, and that your parents gave to you.

In my own family, my mother inherited a legacy burden from my grandmother. My grandmother, whose mother had died birthing her, suffered unspeakable abuse as a child. My grandmother was a strong, vivacious woman, and she imparted to my mother both her strength and the imprint of a trauma legacy. My mother in turn shared with my siblings and me both tremendous gifts as well as the shame that comes with inheriting a legacy of trauma.

When I had my own children, I wanted to end the effects of a trauma legacy, so I tried to do everything “right.” I thought if I could be the perfect parent, my children would be okay. Ironically, the pressure to be perfect increased my anxiety and decreased my ability to create a compassionate legacy. It was humbling to realize that even if I could get all of my actions “right,” my children would still be affected by the legacy of shame (both familial and societal) that affected my way of being. 

Parenting is about more than doing the right things….it is about loving our children and ourselves fully and unconditionally. Eventually I realized that ending a legacy of trauma would have to begin inside of me. I needed to learn to love myself as I was in order to show up in a way that would truly nurture my children. I had to love my imperfect nervous system. I had to love my intense desire to show up for my children, as well as my stumblings and shortcomings. Self-compassion was the gift that allowed me to do all this. 

Self-compassion can be both comforting and also encouraging. Gentle self-compassion helps us to love and accept ourselves as we are, with the understanding that all human beings struggle and fall short. Strong self-compassion helps us to see ourselves clearly. We can appreciate our strengths and also understand the ways we need to grow to become our best selves. 

Four elements of healing with self-compassion include: 

  1. Seeing yourself clearly (including your feelings and the context in which you live)
  2. Understanding that we are all imperfect beings, including you
  3. Offering yourself comfort for the ways that you struggle 
  4. Gathering resources that can help you grow and change in healthy ways.

We all need both strong and gentle self-compassion. Gentle self-compassion provides a foundation of self-love, which can help us seek the resources we need to grow and change without shame. Self-compassion can help us develop behaviors and a way of being that will help to heal the next generation.

With my own children, the legacy I’m leaving is mixed. I do my best, but I’m not yet completely healed. When I show up with more fear, frustration, and/or shame than I wish, I apologize and begin again. I also offer myself compassion. Amazingly, this fire of love and self-acceptance has the alchemy to transform a legacy of trauma into a legacy of compassion and self-compassion.

In our family we use the metaphor of a kiwi bird (click here to see the Kiwi Bird Metaphor video) as a lens for viewing each person as a unique and precious being. We are each wired in unique ways, which makes us imperfect and infinitely valuable. Self-acceptance and self-compassion have helped my children cope with things like dyslexia, social anxiety and other life challenges. With the resources of both strong and gentle self-compassion, facing each difficulty makes them stronger, more resilient, and more compassionate. Through modeling both compassion and self-compassion, I teach my children to love themselves and each other unconditionally.

Consider for a moment your own legacy. How do you hold the legacy that you have received? And what do you want your legacy to be? Remember, a legacy of compassion begins with loving yourself.

Jamie Lynn Tatera is creator and author of the Self-Compassion for Children and Caregivers (SCCC) program, Resilient Parenting training, and the (not-yet-published) Resilient and Self-Compassionate Kids Activity Book. She is a certified Mindful Self-Compassion instructor, an MSC for Teens teacher, and a parent-child self-compassion teacher and teacher trainer. Jamie Lynn has years of experience as an elementary school educator, and she trains educators, families and clinicians in her resiliency programs. Visit https://jamielynntatera.com for self-compassion-related resources for children, adults and families.

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Connect with the planet around you this Earth Day by taking this special meditation from our President, Dr Rick Hanson: