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On Complexity and Self-Compassion

By: Katarina B., Renfrew Alumna

Posted on January 11, 2021

1.11.21 blog header I have had a line of poetry stuck in my head recently. A Walt Whitman line, from his poem Song of Myself, 51.

"Very well then, I contradict myself, (I am large, I contain multitudes.)"

We all encounter days, moments, and situations that we feel will never end: perhaps they are terrible, dragging us down. Or perhaps they're wonderful days, that we never want to end. But they all do; each moment passes, and with this movement, we learn and change and grow.

Recently, I experienced an odd sort of dissonance resulting from this impermanence. I was full of joy at one moment, but exhausted and overwhelmed the next. And as unpleasant as the second feeling was, I was more upset that I had shifted so quickly. To me it seemed that I had been unable to hang on to the joy I was feeling, and that frustrated me.

But I think a more fair appraisal would be one that recognized not my movement from one feeling to the next, but my capacity to experience more than one thing at once. Like Whitman's narrator, I contain multitudes. I can be joyous and sad, grateful and relieved, remorseful and satisfied. I think this understanding is so, so integral to self-acceptance. Knowing that we are complex, contradictory creatures is sort of freeing: our brains have learned to handle mixed emotions, and our lives are fuller because of it. 

As the new year begins, I wish for each of us to move a little closer to self-compassion and acceptance. I hope we can all take up space as we are, multitudes and all.


Katarina B. is an alumna of The Renfrew Center of Boston.
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