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Posts Tagged ‘self-compassion’

“But ICute Little Girl With Her Teddy Bear HD Wallpaper-1280x720-cutelittlebabies.blogspot.com want to be a kind and generous friend,” my six-year-old daughter says, sniffling from the back seat. Underneath her unruly mop of curly hair, her big brown eyes fill with tears.

“But honey, how did you feel when Tommy insisted on taking your bracelet, even though you said no?”

“Bad!” She begins to cry, clutching her scruffy bunny to her chest.

This morning, I had an opportunity – albeit a painful one – to discuss the idea of “being a good friend to ourselves” with my daughter; to suggest to her that saying “No,” and learning how to stand up for ourselves, can be part of cultivating self-compassion.

It’s a tough ride, this thing we call life, and we all can get a little banged up along the way, adults and kiddos alike. But through the practices of self-compassion, a balanced, kind approach to the experiences we encounter as part of daily existence, we can ease our suffering, respond more skillfully, and feel more connected with ourselves – and others – as a result.

For more self-compassion resources and research from several of the pioneers in the field, check out Dr. Kristin Neff’s website or the Center for Mindful Self-Compassion, which was developed by Dr. Neff and another esteemed self-compassion researcher, Dr. Christopher Germer.

 

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advocacyIn one of my psychotherapy sessions, I found myself saying, “I’m your body’s advocate!” to a woman who was struggling to balance her need for food with the other urgent to-do tasks of the day. I wondered, aloud, how we’d all become so far removed from such basic elements of self-care, when feeding our bodies (and spending a few moments to think about the optimal choices) seemed an inconvenience, one we were eager to rush through and get done with, rather than a valued action.

But I get it, really I do. Even though I spend much of my professional life counseling others on how to “come home” to their bodies, and how to reconnect and respond with compassionate care. Because I’m also a cautionary tale, a “workaholic-in-recovery,” who spent 5+ years of doctoral training saying things like, “When I graduate, I’ll….” (take care of myself). “After I get licensed, I’ll….” “After I become a mother, I’ll…” (more…)

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Today, I woke up in pain, lots of it, after attending a second yoga class at a new studio. I’d felt hopeful and proud that I was committing again to regular practice, even if I was a little skeptical about whether the studio was a good fit. Because here’s the catch: because of previous injuries, anmountain-pose-400x400d due to years of benign neglect, as I pursed academic training and attended to many things, but not, in particular, my body, I still forget (or deny) that my body  needs extra care and support. This process requires loads of patience, and self-compassion, and also, ideally, a skilled teacher who understands my struggles, who doesn’t look at my body and quickly say: “You can do that…” or “you should…”

The best teachers are those that are invested in our process, not just in making sure we attain a pose or goal. They meet us where we are at, and provide encouragement, especially when the going is hard. Sometimes, we need them to help us become more grounded and strong, before we are ready to take the next step.  Sometimes, we need them to stay with us in our place of vulnerability and fear, so that we feel a little less alone along the way. In our society, we’re often congratulated for appearing self-sufficient or independent, but less often so for seeking help. Even if pulling back from something that might over-extend us, or asking for more support, is the wisest, bravest (and hardest) thing to do.

While each of us identifies those wise, skilled teachers to help us along our journeys, we can also practice standing by ourselves. Standing BY ourselves – as in, not alone, but instead, befriending: Acknowledging and Allowing our experience to be what it is, whether it is easy or hard; not Over-Identifying with the story of what this “means” about ourselves or our possibilities; and offering heaps of Self-compassion, along the way.

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I Love You, Nose! I Love You, Toes! by Linda Davick

A fun book for children about appreciating ALL of your body parts – and a compassionate reminder to us adults about the value of our bodies, regardless of shape or size.

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The Antidote to Shame

ImageLately I’ve been reading from several books by Brene Brown, Ph.D., LMSW, a well-known shame researcher who gave an amazing talk on shame and vulnerability via the TedXTalks two years ago. If you haven’t seen the short video, I highly recommend it.

In her newest book, Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead, Brown highlights how revealing vulnerability can feel scary or uncomfortable to all of us. It seems natural that we might all flee many risks of exposure, of being fully seen with all of our “warts” or shortcomings, either real or imagined, especially living in a society, family unit, or mental space where we feel that we never “measure up,” that we’re never good enough. At its most basic definition, shame is the fear of disconnection from others, the feeling that we are inherently flawed and thus inherently unlovable to others. Let that sink in for a minute. Can you relate to these words at all? Have you ever had an experience when you thought or felt on some level, “This is it. I’ve been found out – every dark, icky, horrible part of me has been revealed, and now I’ll be all alone.” For many of us, feelings of shame can activate all kinds of self-destructive behaviors, including “emotional” over-eating, drinking, withdrawal, or harsh outbursts toward ourselves or others. It’s just so hard to tolerate, especially if we didn’t grow up with family members who courageously modeled expression and acceptance of vulnerability in its many forms.

Yet Brown argues – and backs up her statements with references to her own research, and that of her colleagues – that the antidote to the sense of shame, this fear of disconnection, which permeates our culture, is Courage….to reveal ourselves to each other, to approach our own struggles (and those of others) with greater compassion, perhaps even with a little gentle humor. To acknowledge – even if it is painfully so – “Yes, I am flawed. I have vulnerability. And I still matter. I’m of value, and deserve to belong.”

To close, I’d like to share the opening quote from Chapter 3 (“Understanding and Combating Shame, aka Gremlin Ninja Warrior Training”) of Brown’s book:

“Shame derives its power from being unspeakable. That why it loves perfectionists – it’s so easy to keep us quiet. If we cultivate enough awareness about shame to name it and speak to it, we’ve basically cut it off at the knees. Shame hates having words wrapped around it. If we speak shame, it begins to wither. Just the way exposure to light was deadly for the gremlins, language and story bring light to shame and destroy it.”

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Lately in my clinical practice I’ve been exploring the gap between our habitual “stories” or personal narratives that we carry around with us (sometimes for many decades) and the reality of our present moment  in-the-body experience. This has come up repeatedly in my personal life as well. For example, in this week’s new Hatha yoga class, I found myself thinking “I can’t do this” or “It’s too hard,” as the instructor presented a new pose. Fairly quickly afterward another thought followed – it was a real “golden oldie”: “And I’ll never be able to do this. Why am I even trying?” Immediately I began to feel sad, and then very much alone in the class.  More old story emerged as I lay there on my mat: “I’ll never move beyond these old injuries or pain. This is as good as it gets. I guess I just have a body that can’t do a lot of the things that I would like.”

A few years ago, I would have believed some or all of this old “story.” I would have left the class feeling discouraged, separated from others around me, and I probably wouldn’t have went back for several months (if at all). But as part of my own mindfulness practice, I’ve learned to discern the difference between the story of the mind, and what else is happening – or actually real – in the moment. In this recent yoga class, I noticed the thoughts, and the sadness. And then I reconnected with my deep-felt intention to learn how to be in my body and how to work toward greater strength, flexibility, and ease, one inch…heck, maybe even one centimeter…at a time. I recognized the thought of “I can’t do this” or “I’ll never do this” as just thoughts, not fact; just part of my mind’s mental activity that come and go. And I remembered to gently, compassionately, explore what what was actually possible in that moment, through careful attention to my body. So I called the yoga instructor over and she showed me how to adapt the pose with the help of props, to meet my body as it is right now. I stretched only to the point that felt comfortable and not painful, and  paid attention to what it felt like to move in this way, without pushing too far but also without giving up too easily on the possibility, the hope, of this movement.

Here’s other common examples of how our “stories” can replace or overshadow our actual experiences, which can limit our potential and our ability to skillfully choose desired options. I’ve heard people say: “It’s too scary to feel my emotions right now.” Or: “I can’t possibly share how I feel – it would be too embarrassing.” “Or someone might get mad.” “Or I might start crying.” One’s story often can be heard around food, as well: “I won’t be satisfied with just one bite.” Or, “I know I like this….but not that.”

But often what happens when we begin to courageously investigate the experiential reality of that bite, that emotion,  that interaction, as sensations arise and fall away in the body, we realize that our experience often holds richer (and much more accurate) information than our old one-dimensional story. I invite you to investigate this for yourself, whether it relates to a life activity or some attribute (“I’m boring” or “I’m not good with people” or “people don’t like that part of me”) that is part of an “old story” about yourself. Over time, as we learn to peel back the layers of our own personal stories, we begin to see their limitations and how they might blind us to what is actually unfolding in this moment, in our bodies, in our hearts, and in our lives.

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Love After Love

The time will come

when, with elation,

you will greet yourself arriving

at your own door, in your own mirror,

and each will smile at the other’s welcome

and say, sit here. Eat.

You will love again the stranger who was your self.

Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart

to itself, to the stranger who has loved you

all your life, whom you have ignored

for another, who knows you by heart.

Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,

the photographs, the desperate notes,

peel your own image from the mirror.

Sit. Feast on your life.

 

Derek Walcott, Collected Poems 1948-1984.

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