DISCUSSION & SUPPORT GROUP
SUMMARY OF DEC 5 2017
We have two ears and one mouth, and we should use them proportionally
SUPPORTING vs FIXING
One group member asked for group feedback on her relationship with her adult daughter. I gathered that the daughter is in a situation that is not at all pleasant for her and thus she complains to her mom a lot. Being a parent can be so hard sometimes especially when our child is suffering. So how to deal with such a situation? My suggestion is about listening (surprise! Surprise!). We can give our full attention to our child and hear their pain. However, this may be very hard to bear, and we need to have compassion for ourselves in this position — remembering that most parents go through this, the ones who really care about their children. This is a common human experience and we don’t need to feel isolated or ashamed of our feelings. The hardest part about this is that we want to fix things and we take on our child’s pain. This is compassion at its best and most loving, and yet it can be debilitating for us as parents.
I think it’s important to find a balance in our relationship with our children, and anyone we feel close to really. We can be a support to those we love and do it best by listening and allowing them to feel the way they feel in the moment. We can acknowledge and validate their feelings. This will make them feel heard and comforted. We can also step back and not take on the other person’s pain. We don’t have to fix anyone for everything to be okay.
To be good support, I believe that accepting my son exactly where he is can help him more than anything else. He may want me to fix things for him, rescue him from a situation, but it is far better for him to figure out how to fix it himself. Also, his way of fixing a situation might be more effective than my suggestion as he knows best what works for him and what doesn’t. My suggested ‘fix’ would be what I would do in the same situation. It doesn’t always fit.
Here are some things we can say to anyone we care about and want to show them that we care as well as accept them right where they are in this moment.
- We can say “Yah, you’re really upset about this. This seems to be really important to you”;
- Or “You sound very unhappy/angry/sad right now. Do you want to say more about it?” (Asking for more really shows you want to hear what’s going on with them);
- Or “I can tell this is a hard time for you right now. I think I would be feeling the same way if I was in your situation. How can I support you, how can I help?”
LISTEN and VALIDATE (acknowledge, paraphrase, rephrase, ask for clarification). I want to stress these two words. If we practice doing this with people, before expressing our own opinions, our communication with others may be a lot more effective and even powerful. There is such relief when we think someone has truly heard us and accepts us right where we are. I would call this MINDFUL LISTENING.
I want to point out, as well, that it is not about suppressing our own opinions, insights or feelings. Just the opposite. But if we are in a situation where emotions are high then we have a choice to ‘stand down’ for a minute in order to dilute things. Stepping back and giving space to what’s happening can be precious and yet so difficult to do. I believe it takes practice and lots of it. We are emotional beings and our tendency is to respond and react to them.
I hope some of these suggestions help.
DEALING WITH UPS & DOWNS – THE SELF-COMPASSION BREAK
Sometimes we feel great and other times – well, not so great. I’m having a ‘down’ time right now and not sure what’s causing it. Of course, that’s often what we do – ask why we feel this way. I learned not long ago about ‘overdetermination’ – the idea that significant things/events are usually caused by more than one thing. So now when I wonder why I feel down (or sometimes even really good) I look for ‘contributing factors’ rather than a single cause. For example, how have I been doing physically? Have I been eating well, getting lots of rest, exercising, not too much sugar? I know that these things can alter mood. I also go looking for any conflict in my life, or stressors of some kind. All of this is done without judgment of myself if possible. At least that’s my intention. I’m not looking to blame myself for my more depressed mood.
As well as asking those questions I also engage in the practice of SELF-ACCEPTANCE. Can I accept that this is the way I feel right now, today? Can I possibly embrace these feelings and allow myself to deeply feel my emotions? Not always easy. A scary place to go.
The SELF-COMPASSION BREAK is especially useful during these times.
- Recognizing that we are in a moment of suffering (I don’t want to be here, I don’t want to feel like this) “This is suffering. I am suffering. I am in pain right now. I hurt. What my friend said to me yesterday really hurt me. I feel so angry and upset.” Simple acknowledgement of the state we are in;
- Then — remembering that many people feel the same way. “This is a common human experience. Many people feel this way when a friend says something mean to them.” “I have no need to feel ashamed or embarrassed for my feelings as they are normal and appropriate”;
- Third — treating ourselves with kindness. A hand on our heart, our cheek, a self-hug. “I’m sorry you are hurting right now Caer”, “What do I (or you) need right now?” (Often, it’s some form of soothing and comfort. Maybe some reassurance from someone that I’m not a bad (unacceptable, unlovable) person).
READING: RICK HANSON from the Self-Acceptance Summit 2017
My ‘Rick Hanson’ experience
Our reading this week was a continuation of Rick Hanson and the idea of focusing on our positive experiences in order to rewire and retrain our brain. So, on my way home after the group I had one of those positive moments and it was really neat to recognize that it was such an experience and then hold it for a while. I was walking home, and an adult came towards me holding the hand of wee one. This little child stole my breath away for a moment. I just love babies and children and dogs and cats, and they give me such moments of pure love when I see them. They are so utterly vulnerable and so dependent on us. That nurturing instinct just gets firing in my brain.
Anyway … right behind me were two young women and they saw the little child at the same time and oohed and aahed. I turned to them and smiled, “So adorable eh?” and they said yes. It was a wonderful shared moment. A common humanity moment really. The recognition of a small human being just starting out in the world and how sweet their awkwardness and clumsiness is. We all seem to accept these things as part of the learning process. Anyway, I did what Hanson suggested and really held onto the moment. I felt it in all of its warmth. And I thought – wow, I’m rewiring my brain right now. I’m programming it to notice the good moments. Cool!
Then I fell…. (seriously I did). Off the curb. A moment of inattention. While I was practicing one thing (storing up those positive experiences) I was forgetting another – mindfulness of where you’re walking. (I’m okay. Whew!)
TAKE IN THE GOOD. – RICK HANSON, PH.D.
Scientists believe that your brain has a built-in “negativity bias.” In other words, as we evolved over millions of years, dodging sticks and chasing carrots, it was a lot more important to notice, react to, and remember sticks than it was for carrots.
That’s because – in the tough environments in which our ancestors lived – if they missed out on a carrot, they usually had a shot at another one later on. But if they failed to avoid a stick – a predator, a natural hazard, or aggression from others of their species – WHAM, no more chances to pass on their genes.
The negativity bias shows up in lots of ways. For example, studies have found that:
- In a relationship, it typically takes five good interactions to make up for a single bad one.
- People will work much harder to avoid losing $100 than they will work to gain the same amount of money.
- Painful experiences are much more memorable than pleasurable ones.
In your own mind, what do you usually think about at the end of the day? The fifty things that went right, or the one that went wrong? Like the guy who cut you off in traffic, what you wish you had said differently to a co-worker, or the one thing on your To Do list that didn’t get done . . .
In effect, the brain is like Velcro for negative experiences, but Teflon for positive ones. That shades “implicit memory” – your underlying expectations, beliefs, action strategies, and mood – in an increasingly negative direction.
And that’s just not fair, since probably most of the facts in your life are positive or neutral. Every day, lots of good things happen, such as a lovely sunset, someone is nice to you, you finish a batch of emails, or you learn something new. And lots of other good things are ongoing aspects of your world (e.g., your children are healthy, life is peaceful in your corner of the planet) or yourself (e.g., personal qualities like determination, sincerity, fairness, kindness).
Besides the sheer injustice of it, acquiring a big pile of negative experiences in implicit memory banks naturally makes a person more anxious, irritable, and blue. Plus it makes it harder to be patient and giving toward others.
In evolution, Mother Nature only cares about passing on genes – by any means necessary. She doesn’t care if we happen to suffer along the way – from subtle worries to intense feelings of sorrow, worthlessness, or anger – or create suffering for others.
The result: a brain that is tilted against lasting contentment and fulfillment.
But you don’t have to accept this bias! By tilting toward the good – “good” in the practical sense of that which brings more happiness to oneself and more helpfulness to others – you merely level the playing field.
You’ll still see the tough parts of life. In fact, you’ll become more able to change them or bear them if you tilt toward the good, since that will help put challenges in perspective, lift your energy and spirits, highlight useful resources, and fill up your own cup so you have more to offer to others.
And now, tilted toward absorbing the good, instead of positive experiences washing through you like water through a sieve, they’ll collect in implicit memory deep down in your brain. In the famous saying, “neurons that fire together, wire together.” The more you get your neurons firing about positive facts, the more they’ll be wiring up positive neural structures.
Taking in the good is a brain-science savvy and psychologically skillful way to improve how you feel, get things done, and treat others. It is among the top five personal growth methods I know. In addition to being good for adults, it’s great for children, helping them to become more resilient, confident, and happy.
Here’s how to take in the good – in three simple steps.
- Look for good facts, and turn them into good experiences.
Good facts include positive events – like the taste of good coffee or getting an unexpected compliment – and positive aspects of the world and yourself. When you notice something good, let yourself feel good about it.
Try to do this at least a half dozen times a day. There are lots of opportunities to notice good events, and you can always recognize good things about the world and yourself. Each time takes just 30 seconds or so. It’s private; no one needs to know you are taking in the good. You can do it on the fly in daily life, or at special times of reflection, like just before falling asleep (when the brain is especially receptive to new learning).
Notice any reluctance to feeling good. Such as thinking that you don’t deserve to, or that it’s selfish, vain, or even shameful to feel pleasure. Or that if you feel good, you will lower your guard and let bad things happen.
Barriers to feeling good are common and understandable – but they get in the way of you taking in the resources you need to feel better, have more strength, and have more inside to give to others. So acknowledge them to yourself, and then turn your attention back to the good news. Keep opening up to it, breathing and relaxing, letting the good facts affect you.
It’s like sitting down to a meal: don’t just look at it—taste it!
- Really enjoy the experience.
Most of the time, a good experience is pretty mild, and that’s fine. But try to stay with it for 20 or 30 seconds in a row – instead of getting distracted by something else.
As you can, sense that it is filling your body, becoming a rich experience. As Marc Lewis and other researchers have shown, the longer that something is held in awareness and the more emotionally stimulating it is, the more neurons that fire and thus wire together, and the stronger the trace in memory.
You are not craving or clinging to positive experiences, since that would ultimately lead to tension and disappointment. Actually, you are doing the opposite: by taking them in and filling yourself up with them, you will increasingly feel less fragile or needy inside, and less dependent on external supplies; your happiness and love will become more unconditional, based on an inner fullness rather than on whether the momentary facts in your life happen to be good ones.
- Intend and sense that the good experience is sinking into you.
People do this in different ways. Some feel it in their body like a warm glow spreading through their chest like the warmth of a cup of hot cocoa on a cold wintry day. Others visualize things like a golden syrup sinking down inside, bringing good feelings and soothing old places of hurt, filling in old holes of loss or yearning; a child might imagine a jewel going into a treasure chest in her heart. And some might simply know conceptually, that while this good experience is held in awareness, its neurons are firing busily away, and gradually wiring together.
Any single time you do this will make only a little difference. But over time those little differences will add up, gradually weaving positive experiences into the fabric of your brain and your self.
“The Mindful Path to Self-Compassion”. It’s excellent and very helpful.