DISCUSSION & SUPPORT GROUP
SUMMARY OF OCT 31, 2017
When we are no longer able to change a situation,
we are challenged to change ourselves.” ―
SUPPORTING YOUR PRACTICE
Reacting vs responding
“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing:
the last of the human freedoms—
to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances,
to choose one’s own way.” ―
One of the topics we got into early in this segment of our meeting was about (emotionally) reacting to something someone has said without really thinking about it. I have lived in a housing co-op for 33 years and have had some of the same neighbours. Inevitably we have conflict every once in a while and I can be a real hothead sometimes. I hang onto an issue like a dog with a bone. However, over the years I have learned to drop that bone sooner and sooner. I still have a ways to go though.
Choosing to pause, think and then respond is what I’m aiming for. (Victor Frankl said something about that. I can’t find the quote so I will paraphrase it. Between the stimulus and the response is a gap, and that gap is freedom. The freedom to choose.) This means that when my neighbours send out an email or say something to me that I feel strongly opposed to, I need to pause and embrace that gap, that moment before I make a choice. ”Okay Caer how do you want to respond to this? Do you want to be right or do you want to be kind and compassionate?” I have to admit that sometimes I want to be right at first, but as soon as I can feel the pain this causes me and possibly my neighbour I deescalate and try to repair things – apologizing for my part in things. It’s so hard when we are triggered into anger. And it’s challenging to pause and stop ourselves from speaking those angry words, and instead finding out what the other person is needing. Why did they say what they said? What is bothering them?
Self-criticism really was the hot topic for today. Some of you just hate that self-critic and desperately want it gone. I hear that some of you are very tired of it. Fortunately, our reading continued with the compassion for the self-critic .. so see below.
READING: COMPASSION FOR THE SELF-CRITIC continued
Excerpts from Compassion for the Self-Critic by Dr. Kristen Neff (in the Self-Acceptance Project edited by Tami Simon of Sounds True)
Just to revisit the concepts from the last time…
We need to have compassion for our self-critic. That voice wants to keep us safe especially from rejection. That voice says “I am scared to be who I am because I don’t think I will be loved and accepted then. I need to make sure I behave in certain ways, I need to control my behaviour, so that I will be loved and accepted. I can’t trust myself to do the ‘right’ things, the things that will bring me love and acceptance.” The self-critic comes from a place of worry as well as caring for us. However, and unfortunately, its methods are not effective in the long-run, not helpful, and not healthy.
It’s hard not to be angry back at that voice. We want it to stop nagging and hounding us, day in and day out. But the reason it is doing this is because it’s trying to tell us something and we keep disregarding it and trying to push it away. One of the things we can do is have a dialogue with it, maybe even in writing, to get the thoughts clear in our mind. We can ask our self-critic “What is it that is so frightening to you? What are you so worried about?” From there we might have to evaluate and determine whether that fear is realistic. I once thought I would be evicted from my co-op because of some angry emails I sent out. However, when I talked to that self-critic and found out its fear I was able to think clearly and know that wouldn’t happen.
It’s also important to understand that having this self-critic does not mean that there is anything wrong with us. In fact, the opposite is true for many of us in this culture, in this society. This is normal. We have been trained and programmed as children to be self-critical, to crack the whip behind us in order to keep us going on the ‘right’ path. Other cultures do not experience self-criticism. The Dalai Lama was astounded that we think this way. Your self-critic is not your fault.
READING – Why people are afraid of letting go of their self-critic
“..people are often not self-compassionate because they really believe they need their self-criticism to motivate themselves. In parenting, we used to have the idea of ‘Spare the rod, spoil the child.’ We used to think that children needed harsh discipline, and we really thought that we had to use critical methods with children to get them to work hard and try hard. Our parenting styles have changed, and we now know that harsh criticism or corporal punishment makes children depressed and actually isn’t effective at all. … self-criticism makes us anxious, stressed, afraid of failure, and puts us in the worst possible mindset to do our best.”
Kristen Neff gives an example:
“..there is a mother, and her teenage daughter has a failing grade in math. This is a problem because the girl wants to go on to college; she has goals and aspirations. There are two ways to motivate that child. The first would be through criticism. The mother could say to the child when she comes home with her failing grade, ‘I’m so ashamed of you. You disgust me. You’re a failure. You’ll never amount to anything. Go to your room.’ Those words make you cringe, don’t they? But isn’t that exactly what we often say to ourselves? Do you think it’s going to motivate the daughter? It might for a short time – she might do her homework because she’s afraid of her mother’s criticism, but she’s going to lose faith in herself, she might drop math, and it’s going to put her in a terrible mind state the next time she takes a test, worrying, ‘Oh my god, what if I fail again?’”
“What if the mother takes a compassionate approach, and first says, ‘Oh, I’m sorry you’ve failed. You must be feeling bad about yourself. It’s okay. I love you anyway. It happens to all of us. It happened to me when I was your age. But I know you want to go to college. I know how important it is to you. I know you need to get your math grades up to do so. How can I support you? Let me know how to help you reach your goals.’
“An encouraging, supportive approach with the message that ‘I believe in you and I know you can do it,’ is going to be so much more effective with a child. It’s the same with ourselves. We can use encouragement and support to meet our goals. And the thing about self-compassion is, it is concerned with the alleviation of suffering, and if we are not reaching a goal that is important to us, a goal that may be possible for us, whatever the goal happens to be, we are going to suffer. So if we love ourselves and we care about ourselves, we are going to want to do everything we can to reach our full potential, just like a mother wants her daughter to reach her full potential. That’s how compassion, support, love, and kindness become a resource for motivation. We just need to catch ourselves when we’re trying to motivate ourselves with harsh self-judgment, and adopt this new habit.”
QUESTIONS FOR GROUP:
What is your experience with self-criticism? Do you think it helps or hinders you? What if you stopped criticizing yourself? What effect do you think that would have on you?
A PERSPECTIVE ON ANGER
Often group members talk about their anger towards someone who they feel has betrayed them. Many of us have been betrayed during childhood by those who were supposed to love us, protect us and accept us exactly as we were. Some of us use anger to motivate us towards self-respect, courage and determination. One of our members often shares their experience with family betrayal and their courage speaks loudly. They are learning that it wasn’t their fault. They do not want to carry this blame and shame anymore. I think this is a wonderful and healthy response to betrayal and I believe this member will be able to let go of that anger and that deep hurt at some point.
However, this may not be the way others of us work with our anger. My own way is to see my anger as a form of non-acceptance. I was angry at my neighbour last week (and I lost it a bit) because I could not accept what she was thinking about a situation in our co-op. I couldn’t accept that at that moment she felt defeated by events and my non-acceptance triggered my anger towards her. I was able to apologize and explain myself afterwards and the relationship is fine again. Fortunately, I was able to clearly see that it wasn’t her behaviour that was the problem, but that I couldn’t accept her behaviour/thinking.
Maybe we have to slowly work our way towards acceptance of ways that we have been hurt. Bit by bit. Most important is that we understand acceptance is not condoning someone’s behaviour, does not mean we will let someone do this again to us. This acceptance is the kind that holds that we are all human. We all take care of our most pressing needs and sometimes to the exclusion of others. It hurts and it happens. We cannot control anyone else. We can’t even make them say they are sorry. We can come to accept that this has happened and acknowledge that it hurts. We did not get what we needed as a child and that feels so unfair. Acknowledging and accepting our pain may be the first step towards freedom.
THE BOOK WE USE AS OUR MODEL
The mindful path to self-compassion: freeing yourself from destructive thoughts and emotions by Christopher K. Germer, PhD (2009)
THE SELF-ACCEPTANCE PROJECT http://live.soundstrue.com/selfacceptance/
There are about 30 short videos online at this site. All for free. Just need your email address. Each video features someone speaking on aspects of self-acceptance. The first video is by Dr. Kristin Neff, a pioneering self-compassion researcher and is so inspiring.
Here is Christopher Germer’s site. One of his books both Alex and I are reading is called “The Mindful Path to Self-Compassion”. It’s excellent and very helpful.
Dr. Kristin Neff’s website: http://self-compassion.org/about/
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.
May you be safe
May you be happy
May you be healthy
May you live with ease