My last entry in this series was rough, I know. It was a lot to digest, but I hope the point was clear: none of us are perfect. And in one way or another, we’ve all been bit by a bug that has changed us, sometimes for the worse, and we have to fight for our change.

The day that I’d written it, earlier that morning, I’d received an e-mail from a reader who was having a rough go of it. The entire e-mail was full of stories of people talking down to her, treating her poorly, making her feel worthless, primarily because of her size. She felt desperate, despondent, and defeated. Everyone who society tells her should be heaping unconditional love upon her, was treating her horribly, and she’d reached a point in her life where she felt like she deserved it. She’d also ‘deserved’ the eating disorder she’d developed in response to it all. Her exact words were, “it made sense to punish myself for looking this way.”

“All I see, are the imperfections that won’t go away.”

“What’s there to be proud of? You look disgusting.”

And as I read it all, all I could think of was, “Damn, I know this life.”

People who loved me unconditionally, loved me the best way they could – dysfunction and all. My mother, who I love like the river is deep, is the one who told me that if I kept eating what I was eating, I’d be big as a house. I was eating boiled cabbage.

People around me treated me funny-style, too. Passing remarks about my size, not being thin, being undesirable, being a virgin for so long… so much went right over my head as a teen, to the point where Young Adult Erika looks back at those people with anger and frustration, but now? I understand.

So much of what I learned over the years had less to do with how I felt, and more about how the people around me felt about me and why they felt that way. That’s why it was so important for me to write about people who hate fat people and fat-shaming – why would you tell me you love me, and then turn around and say things to me that you know are hateful? Why do you think that being cruel to me would help me? Why would otherwise great people behave so horribly towards me?

Understanding the ways in which we are encouraged to hate ourselves, hate others because they’re different from us, hate anything that isn’t the ideal, it permeates everything. It permeates us. It affects the way we look at ourselves, the way we understand the treatment we receive, and the way we react. Do we need to protect ourselves? Do we need to fight for our own self-worth? Or do we… “deserve it?”

That e-mail prompted me to write the previous entry because I wanted to share that I know that life. Hell – considering how tumultuous the past two years have been for me, I feel like I’m still in that life and fighting my way out. So much of my family life has been so crazy… first my mom, then my dog, then my daughter, and I feel so incapable of managing it all. When people say mean or negative things about me, I still occasionally slip into “I deserve that” mode. Stress fatigues you – it makes it harder to fight every single time… eventually, your will to fight shrinks and shrinks.

But then, I think about compassion and how it works. A post I wrote, a few years back, on self-compassion changed the game for me. Approaching everything from a place of understanding instead of a place of reaction has helped me – it’s not about making “excuses” for someone’s (or my own, for that matter) bad behavior, because we’re not giving them a pass for it. We are understanding why it happens, and accepting that it has happened.

And then, we let go.

We let go of the fact that people say hateful things about us, because that’s what they encourage us to do. We snark and nitpick what other people are wearing, their hair, their lipstick color, their shoes, because they didn’t choose the way we did or the way we think they should’ve chosen. We’re constantly comparing, and looking for ways to put ourselves on top. We know this is a world that makes comparisons, so we try our best to prepare our children for it, no matter how it may demolish their self-esteem. “It’s for their own good.”

We tell one another that it’s gross to date a fat person, regardless of whether or not you truly like them, think they’re amazing, find them attractive on your own, and enjoy their company. We snark one another and shame each other for choosing otherwise. We make it hard for people to willingly choose to love a fat person, and then everyone around them all learn the same lesson: being romantically linked with a fat person is the worst thing that could happen to you socially.

None of this is okay – we could choose to prioritize our children’s self-esteem over the need to force them to conform. We could even find tactful, compassionate ways to express our concerns to them without saying cruel things, but some don’t. Some people could buck societal thinking and partner with whomever they love, but some don’t. This is okay to accept.

When I wrote about my own experiences that have caused me pain, I wanted to share that I’ve been there. Repeatedly. We’ve all been there, whether we admit it or not. And it affects not only how we view ourselves, but how we view others, and what kind of treatment we think they – and ourselves deserve. It is only once you understand this, that you can understand the importance of compassion: compassion for others manifests from the ability to display compassion for ourselves. We don’t deserve this, but neither does anyone else and, while you may not be able to control or change anyone else, you can certainly do your part to act differently.

We can shake our heads at the cruel things our family members might say to us, and then let go. We can shake our heads at the way society looks at us, and then let go. We can stand in the mirror, look at the way society encourages us to view ourselves, and let go of that, too.

And, suddenly, you feel twenty pounds lighter.

To view other parts of the self-care series, visit the official full listing here.