I want to add a bit more from Christopher Germer’s book.
“… we need to recognize that we deserve to feel better. When we feel really bad, most of us engage in self-punishment rather than self-compassion. We heap on self-criticism (‘This wouldn’t have happened if I weren’t so stupid’). We act as if suffering always points to a personal flaw rather than being a fact of the human condition. If we remind ourselves that wanting to feel better is a natural instinct, perhaps we’d be less likely to take ourselves to task when things go wrong. Wouldn’t you still clean and bandage a wound when you get injured? Why not do the same for yourself when you’re in emotional pain?
“… [a] group of people who might find self-compassion unnatural or difficult to practice are those who’ve been neglected or abused in childhood – suffered lots of stress in the formative years. The learning process for these folks may simply take a little longer. Many traumatized people feel they don’t deserve to feel good, or they haven’t had much practice feeling good. Furthermore, it may be hard for them to experience emotional pain in safe doses. Painful emotions recruit earlier pains. For example, a relationship breakup can trigger a tidal wave of loneliness and shame stored up from childhood, overwhelming one’s ability to focus and function.
“People with early childhood trauma, however, often demonstrate remarkable compassion and kindness toward other people or specifically toward pets or young children. Most everybody seems to have someone or something toward whom they experience natural compassion. … if it’s hard at first to feel compassion for yourself, you can use compassion for others as a vehicle to bring it to yourself.”
Thank you to all of you who attended Tuesday August 1 and participated in some really good discussions. In case you missed all or part of it, we revisited having self-compassion for ourselves. A. (my co-facilitator) read from Christopher Germer’s book the mindful path to self-compassion. Below are some highlights of what he read. I will put more of it on my blog.
“IS SELF-COMPASSION NATURAL?
“Although our personal experience may tell us otherwise, self-compassion is the most natural thing in the world. Deep within all beings is the wish to be happy and free from suffering. … Everything we do, even the good feelings we derive from helping others, seems to derive from the wish to make ourselves feel better. Self-compassion practice is therefore not adding anything special to our behavioral repertoire – it’s just fanning the flames of our innate desire to be safe, happy and healthy and to live with ease, but in a more helpful way than our tendencies to grasp for short-term pleasure and to avoid pain at all cost.
“… when bad things happen to us, we tend to have three unfortunate reactions: self-criticism, self-isolation, and self-absorption. [Dr. Kristen] Neff’s three components of self-compassion direct us exactly in the opposite direction: self-kindness, recognizing the common humanity in our experience, and a balanced approach to negative emotions.
“Why do we react like this? I look at it this way: the instinctive response to danger – the stress response – consists of fight, flight, or freeze. These three strategies help us survive physically, but when they’re applied to our mental and emotional function, we get into trouble. When there’s no enemy to defend against, we turn on ourselves. ‘Fight’ becomes self-criticism, ‘flight’ becomes self-isolation, and ‘freeze’ becomes self-absorption, getting locked into our own thoughts.”
I want to comment on this idea of linking the fight, flight or freeze responses with the three components of the Self-Compassion model. I think this is a wonderful way to be in the moment especially when we feel uncomfortable or we are in pain. We can stop and ask ourselves:
am I fighting with myself by being judgmental, critical and condemning? Am I fighting against what I am feeling? Am I trying to push away these emotions?
Am I taking flight by withdrawing from the world, into my own cocoon? Am I feeling ashamed and embarrassed because I feel bad about myself? Do I feel like this is only happening to me and no one else has any idea what this is like? Do I feel completely alone with this?
Am I ‘freezing’ and drowning in my own drama and story? Am I so caught up with my own issues and problems that I can’t think about anything else? Do I feel totally absorbed and stuck here, paralyzed like a deer in the headlights?
A wonderful image was shared by one of our members of the three components of the Self-Compassion model being like a net beneath us. Holding us. Maybe one net for each component – self-kindness, common humanity, mindfulness. Thank you for that.
We had a lengthy discussion on using the Talking Stick as one member expressed minor frustration with it. As facilitators, we want to make sure everyone is as comfortable as possible. It’s helpful to know if anyone is uncomfortable with something we are doing in group time. The group didn’t make any decision to use it or not but we simply continued to use it. A. and I are very much in favour of continuing to use it. However, if there is more discomfort with using it we can talk about it again.
Here are some of the reasons the Talking Stick is helpful:
Helps us be more mindful about what we say and when we say it;
Slows the discussion down and gives us all time to digest what people share;
Helps keep us on topic (though tangents do happen – which is fine once in a while);
Creates a sense of boundaries and safety;
Gives a sense of a ‘sacred’ space – one that is held with respect and attention;
Gives us some silence between sharing.
INCREASING THE FREQUENCY OF GROUP
We talked about the possibility of running this group every week, starting in the fall. We put it out to the group to see if that would be something that people want. Everyone who responded seemed to be in favour of more frequent meetings. A. and I will discuss booking the room. We will let everyone know when the change happens. In case you miss a week, I will try to send out a brief summary of what we talked about. My blog will often have more on the topics if you want further information.
We have decided to end our meetings with these few words.
May I be safe.
May I be happy.
May I be healthy.
May I live with ease
Though I would love to change the last line to “May I be free of unnecessary suffering”. We have talked in the group about Resistance vs Acceptance and that Resistance to what is tends to lead us to ‘unnecessary suffering’ and Acceptance can lead us to experiencing deep joy.
WHY SHOULD I?
Most of us often tell ourselves things we should or shouldn’t do and I think this gets us into trouble. Should is such a word of force, of pushing ourselves to do something or be something rather than accept who we are and where we are at in life. I think the part of me that tells me I should do something is a part that was created when I was a child. This part has all the things that people said to me and that I believed to be true. “You should be a good girl. You should clean up your room, not talk back, not speak up, not protest, etc.” Now I recognize that this should part is only one part of me and it’s only a small part now. I recognize that I have a much bigger part that is true to myself and my needs, not someone else’s.
I think should always begins with an external source and we internalize it. These shoulds become our bible for living. They are hard and solid facts about us and what we should do. And they are to be believed. But I have learned over the years that these voices from the past, these shoulds are not about truth but about meeting someone else’s needs – usually our parents and close family, our teachers, and other community ‘authorities’.
I have changed my shoulds to coulds. When I catch myself saying I should do this, I correct myself and say I could do this. It depends on my needs in the moment. If I want to please others, to meet their expectations (and sometimes it’s totally appropriate) then I am choosing to do this. If I place more value on something else that I’m needing then I can decline meeting someone else’s expectations.
Possibly a good question to ask ourselves when we say ‘I really should do …’ is ‘Why exactly should I? What am I getting out of this? Are my needs being met here or am I meeting someone else’s?’
Also if we want to channel our energies towards something, rather than forcing ourselves using shoulds, we can direct ourselves, as if steering a canoe. You’ve got to go with the current to some extent but you’ve also got to steer the boat to where you want to go. Gently.
She is well known for her talks and books on the subjects of vulnerability and shame (as well as other topics). There is a TED talk on her website on shame. When we have a hard time feeling self-compassion for ourselves it’s often because we feel so much shame for being who we are. I hope her site might help with this.
This is such a useful website on the topic of self-compassion. Dr. Neff is a leader in the field. There is a self-compassion quiz you can take and a more in-depth article on the self-compassion model of self-kindness, common humanity and mindfulness.
This is an amazing website. It’s all for free. You can watch about 30 short videos on self-compassion and related topics. The first video is Dr. Kristin Neff speaking and she touched my heart profoundly. After listening to her I committed myself to learning how to be self-compassionate 100% of the time. And it worked!!
A week ago I began trying something new with my meditation practice. My co-facilitator in the SC Group said to the group, ‘even if you only meditate for 5 minutes a day you will benefit’ and that made me think. So I went home and started sitting for 5 minutes. Only I did it 3 or 4 times in a day.
I usually meditate 15 to 20 minutes just before I go to bed. It works most of the time. Though sometimes it’s a bit of a chore as I just want to go to sleep. However, I began to think of my meditation as the ‘cultivation of stillness’. I have a hard time being still, as if I have too much energy and just gotta be doing something. So, as a challenge to myself – I decided to cultivate stillness and doing ‘nothing’.
My intention, as well, is to befriend however I am feeling at any given moment. To practice meeting my emotions head on. I realized recently that I am very afraid of some of my emotions – like anger, like depression (if you can call it an emotion), grief. So I asked myself what do I do with this fear. My answer was to meet it head-on, to feel it, to possibly even embrace all of my feelings. To enter fully into these feelings.
This is pretty scary territory. Yet I recognize that when I resist this scary place, I cause myself ‘unnecessary suffering’. In other words I make it worse than it really is. But if I can simply sit and feel this uncomfortable, unpleasant feeling maybe I can make friends with it. I think I said in an earlier post that I will sometimes try and name the unpleasant feeling. Then even give it colour, form, sound, location in my body. This helps me step back from the feeling and feel a little ease. I can more easily accept and even be curious about the feeling.
Five minutes a day, or several times a day, has proven to be enormously helpful this week. I have chosen to stop 3 or 4 times a day, to just sit with whatever is going on in that moment. I have chosen to ask – so how are you doing right now? I am able to say – hey look at that big tree out your window. Look how it catches the sunlight. How high and mighty and proud it looks. And I have been breathing – great big deep breaths that start in my belly. This tells me I am beginning to relax.
Five minutes a day I wake up. And wow is it amazing!
For the last two nights I have had dreams about participating in a contest. For the past month I have been doing rather deep work with my dreams, trying to understand what is going on in my unconscious mind. I have been using Robert A. Johnson’s book Inner Work: Using Dreams & Active Imagination for Personal Growth (1986). It has helped me immensely.
Anyway …. looking at these two dreams I came to understand that there is a part of me, only a part, that compares myself with others – in other words, ‘holds a competition’. I imagine many of you hold competitions in your minds, comparing yourself to everyone else. Am I a winner or am I a loser?
I think in high school I felt a bit of a ‘loser’, more a failure. Eventually I simply gave up and quit. There were reasons why I was not doing well academically and they weren’t my fault. Still, I blamed myself for all of my failings. In my ‘competition’ I was definitely last.
I think that if our society, our culture had never thought about competition in any way, that many of us wouldn’t even be thinking about it. What I’m saying is that I think comparing ourselves, competing in the game of life, is a cultural thing. Competition is often the name of the game in this society. Unfortunately, when we apply it to ourselves, on a deep personal basis, we tend to come up very short. Just not good enough.
At the MDABC support group I attended for 5 years it was often said “Don’t play the comparison game. You always lose.” Comparing ourselves to others may be useful sometimes, if we want to simply understand ourselves. But when we want to rate ourselves in some kind of standing, then we tend to be in trouble – unless we’re playing a sport or game.
I think that people who don’t play the comparison game are already ‘winning’. They don’t feel the need to compare themselves, as if they are confident they are exactly where they need to be. No rating is necessary. In my dreams, I wanted to play the game in the best way possible, and in a way that I thoroughly understood what the game was all about. This is the way I want to live my life – that’s what I think my dreams are telling me. I want to understand life, not ‘get ahead’, not ‘succeed’, just play it thoroughly and well. And understand what the heck it’s all about.
I want to post an excerpt here from Jon Kabat-Zinn’s book Wherever You Go There You Are. This is a book about mindfulness practice and it has been so helpful to me with my own practice. He acknowledges the cliché-ness of the phrase yet “it is such a powerful inward maneuver that it merits looking into, cliché or no.” (Kabat-Zinn)
“Letting go means just what it says. It’s an invitation to cease clinging to anything – whether it be an idea, a thing, an event, a particular time, or view, or desire. It is a conscious decision to release with full acceptance into the stream of present moments as they are unfolding. To let go means to give up coercing, resisting, or struggling, in exchange for something more powerful and wholesome which comes out of allowing things to be as they are without getting caught up in our attraction to or rejection of them, in the intrinsic stickiness of wanting, of liking and disliking. It’s akin to letting your palm open to unhand something you have been holding on to.
“Letting go is only possible if we can bring awareness and acceptance to the nitty-gritty of just how stuck we can get, if we allow ourselves to recognize the lenses we slip so unconsciously between observer and observed that then filter and color, bend and shape our view. We can open in those sticky moments, especially if we are able to capture them in awareness and recognize it when we get caught up in either pursuing and clinging or condemning and rejecting in seeking our own gain.”
We were talking about the need to be ‘vulnerable’ with people and it makes me ask what that really means. I think, I think, that people often mean authenticity in relationship and communication with others. When we are suffering illness how do we remain with ourselves and yet still participate in the larger world? How do we communicate truthfully when someone asks “How are you”? So many of us feel compelled to say “Oh fine” when inside we are not fine.
Of course, one way to meet this need is by coming to a support group like this where we can talk about these real things going on inside of us. We feel a sense of being understood and sometimes even find shared experiences. This can be so gratifying and it can really help validate us. When I hear someone speak of an experience that is very similar to mine, and I hear them talk about how they felt during that experience, I feel validated without having said anything. I can feel a sense of – oh. Maybe there isn’t anything wrong with me. Other people feel the same way.
I think the most important thing though is that we are authentic and honest with ourselves first of all. If we can acknowledge our pain and decide how best to deal with it we may find less frustration overall. We have to be willing to be honest with ourselves about our emotions, our wants and needs. Not easy though because it can bring up a lot of shame. Brene Brown also talks about shame.
If we want to be vulnerable with others, we need to find the right people who will respect our boundaries. We need to work through to a level of trust. That means we have to start with the chit-chat, the superficial, and sometimes very boring, conversations then make our way down to the deeper more meaningful levels after both of us are satisfied that we can trust each other – so far. It’s a kind of dance. I say something then wait for your response. My trust will either go up or down with your response and the same with you.
Wanting to be vulnerable with others, to be authentic and to truly connect is all about satisfying a need that every human being has. So when we have a need, we figure out where we can get it met and where we can’t. I know I can’t really talk about my mental health with some friends and I can with others as well as in the support group. And this satisfies my need so that I can go and have ‘lighter’ relationships with others. The important thing is that I get the need met in some way.
A final word – about ‘sadness’. Sadness comes up a lot for many people and often we don’t like it. I have learned however, that sadness can be seen as the act of letting go of something that no longer works. Sadness seems to be a mourning process of something we feel we have lost. I now look at sadness as a sign of movement and moving on and I feel good about it. ‘Oh look I’m sad about that. I must be letting it go. Cool.’ This helps me deal with sadness in a really positive way which means I don’t block it. I allow it to be.
We had our fourth meeting of the SC group yesterday and talked about dealing with pain. I read out an excerpt from Christopher Germer’s book, the mindful path to self-compassion, and I want to print it here again.
“From the moment of our birth, we’re on a quest for happiness. It may take no more than mother’s milk to satisfy us in the first days of our lives, but our needs and desires multiply as we age. By adulthood, most of us don’t expect to be happy unless we have a nice family, a good job, excellent health, lots of money, and the love and admiration of others.
“But pain still strikes even under the best of circumstances. Billionaire Howard Hughes found himself desperate and alone at the moment of his death. And our circumstances inevitably change; one person’s marriage may fall apart, another may have a child with a developmental disability, and yet another may lose everything in a flood. People differ from one another in the amount of suffering they endure over a lifetime, or in the type of suffering, but none of us gets off without any. Pain and suffering are common threads that unite all of humanity.
“Pain creates a conflict between the way things are and how we’d like them to be and that makes our lives feel unsatisfactory. The more we wish our lives were different, the worse we feel. For example, if a car accident lands someone in a wheelchair for life, the first year is usually the toughest. As we learn to adapt, we typically return to our former level of happiness. We can measure our happiness by the gap between what we want and how things are.
“A new approach is to change our relationship to pain and pleasure. We can step back and learn to be calm in the midst of pain; we can let pleasure naturally come and go. That’s serenity. We can even learn to embrace pain as well as pleasure, and every nuance in between, thereby living each moment to the fullest. That’s joy. Learning how to spend some time with pain is essential to achieving personal happiness. It may sound paradoxical, but in order to be happy we must embrace unhappiness.”