When talking about loving kindness with clients, I am always reminded that creating a loving and kind relationship with ourselves can be the most challenging of all. Unless you are sociopathic, you are fairly to very good at being kind to others. You may even be the person who is always willing and ready to lend a helping hand. But do you do the same for yourself? Hmmmm sound like a familiar pattern? Any harsh perfectionists out there? I know about this pattern as I can relate. See the thing about perfectionism and ambition is that it is more than socially acceptable in the US; it is actually what we are socialized to think of as successful. But the thing about perfectionism that is so dangerous is that a) it’s so not based in reality and b) it can keep you stuck in the muck. Yup, quicksand it is. It would seem like the missing link for perfectionists on their path to success self compassion. With all this focus on happiness, healing, forgiveness, embracing and cooling anger, it would seem that if we have any hope of practicing this in our affairs with others we must first start within.
Self compassion to me is like the feeling I get when I put on a cozy sweater on the first cool days in the Fall. It’s also like the blanket that my Nana knit (in a god awful color of green) that never leaves my side the whole winter. The key is remembering to choose the blanket instead of the hammer.In our fast pace culture we are constantly focused on doing that it’s odd to contemplate being. We are so busy trying to get things done, make things happen, take care of “things” that the concept of how we are treating ourselves during this process goes out the window. Positive psychology, my new hot topic, was created with the harsh doers in mind. In fact some of the critics of the theory have stated that it doesn’t apply UNLESS you tend towards perfectionism. I would disagree as it would seem that learning how to see the glass as half full could definitely be helpful for most people these days. Yes, it’s the concept of loving kindness that we have chatted about and how the practice begins with bringing loving kindness towards oneself. It would not surprise you, I am sure, to know that there are actually several researchers and therapists that work on looking at the power of self compassion for healing. The following link includes an interview with Christopher Germer, PhD, Kristine Neff, PhD and Paul Gilbert, PhD http://www.mindfulselfcompassion.org/. Dr. Germer discusses that self compassion is a skill that we can use to help us to live fully. The key to the practice is learning how to shift from seeking compassion and love from others to seeking it within ourselves. Thich Nhat Han discusses that if we are to learn how to better deal with our anger we first have to understand that it’s like a crying baby that needs its mother for nurturance. Self compassion is the practice of becoming your own mother.
During the above Ted talk lecture Kristin Neff, PhD discusses her research that she has done on self compassion and discusses it’s difference from self esteem. Self esteem has been a central focus for some time as a measure of psychological wellness. If it’s high, your golden, if it’s low, your screwed. Neff states that this is not necessarily so. She states self esteem is a “global estimation of self worth, a judgment about being a good person or bad person.” If you are better or best than it would mean that someone is not as good as you or worse…bad. Neff states that the statistics on narcissism are at an all time high. Bullying has become an epidemic not just with children but also with adults. Neff states that this could be due to the increased focus over time on increasing self esteem. There is information that the Y Generation (people raised in the late 1970’s to mid 1990’s are struggling now to find their way due to this increased focus on boosting self esteem. They often walk into the world expecting things to come easily because they were told that they could “do and be anything.” During this time period there was also a push for parents to constantly praise their children and work towards shielding them from feeling adversity. This can be recreated in psychotherapies as well for people on all ages. Some training would suggest therapists work towards continuous understanding their client’s past as a reason for their current behavior. This can, over time, prevent people from accepting personal responsibility. It also doesn’t prepare people for dealing with the real world. Self compassion is a very different animal. It is about embracing self fully; flaws and all. Neff discusses three components of self compassion 1) Treating self with kindness and love as if you were tending to loved one; 2) Embracing common humanity. Self judgment is seeing yourself as less than others. Also seeing your experience as different than others. We are all in this together. We all go through tough times. and 3) Embracing mindfulness which is being with what is arising in the moment with love and compassion. Neff suggests that self criticism triggers the fight/flight stress response thereby your body reacts in attacking itself. Self criticism that thing that has been thought to help motivate oneself is actually the thing that tears it down. The increase of cortisol released during the stress response ends up causing depression. Oooo that’s so not motivating, right?
So it seems that it all comes back to self love. I agree with Kristin Neff that it does seem that our society does appear to be at an all time high with aggressive tactics to be the best. It is happening everywhere and it is a very American concept which stems capitalism. In order to achieve and win the race it seems society is on, it means taking down others along the way. I keep coming back to the South African concepts of Umbutu which means “I am who I am because we all are.” It is about compassion for humanity and a connection to others. Practicing Umbutu means that we achieve only when the whole achieves. Self compassion is about beginning umbutu within. As I read my words that I am writing, I can help but notice that what this all means is that in order to feel better within we have to drop the concepts of good, bad, right and wrong. The only right path is the one that leads back to your own heart.
Many blessings along the path. I offer up a suggestion of beginning to practice sending yourself love every time you notice that you are judging yourself. This would mean this week instead of noticing how awkward my body is as it’s trying to re learn tap dance, I will rejoice in the joy that I finally got myself back in those shoes again!