As if there were not enough people trying to oversimplify Self-Compassion Psychology, here I am telling you that all you need is love to get unstuck from overwhelming stress! Not exactly. Love is important and helpful, but the L.O.V.E. I am talking about is an acronym for dealing with overwhelming stress in which you find yourself trapped.
How would I define overwhelming stress? Overwhelming stress is the kind of stress that causes you to believe that it defines you in some way and will pervade your life at least in the short term. Take the following thought process as an example of overwhelming stress: I am late. I am always late. I will never be on time. This traffic today is ridiculous, and there is no way it is getting better anytime soon. People I do not want to disappoint are mad and disappointed at me for being late. I am always going to disappoint them and myself. I am such a failure.
If this thought process sounds like you, do not worry or at least do not worry any more than you already are worrying. Hey, you deserve a break. What are you a worry machine? Honestly, the process from which we extrapolate a stressor and multiply it until it becomes all encompassing and infinite is a pretty common symptom of too much stress and too little time to rest and recover. Rarely, do we fail so extraordinarily all in one go that we begin to feel hopeless about our chances of overcoming this stress.
The question is not whether we will encounter overwhelming stress. The forecast says 100% chance of overwhelming stress at some point in your future. So the question is more likely, how do we not become trapped by this stress? And how do we prevent this stress from defining us or persuading us that we are bad and life is hopeless?
To deal with the cleverness of overwhelming stress, we need any equally clever tool. In this case, our tool is an acronym called L.O.V.E.
The L stands for Let it Pass. No feeling, thought, or bodily sensation will ever stay the same in how it manifests and how long it stays. The truth is that it will not stay at all. This means that sad feelings give rise to happy feelings. Anger gives way to relief. Hopelessness gives way to hopefulness and on and on. When the overwhelming stress announces itself, let it pass.
The O stands for Open Your Heart. Our tendency when we are flooded with stress is to tighten up and become embittered, which only draws on the energy we have and makes it that more difficult to deal with the stress. Instead, open your heart. Constant stress and self-judgment cannot live where love does. They grow because we try to repel them and with these efforts we increase rather than diminish their intensity. Opening our hearts gives us permission to feel the way that we do, and the confidence that we can both handle it and that it will pass without defining us.
The V stands for Very Kindly Address Your Suffering or Experience. Have you ever yourself chastised or seen someone else chastise a child who is already afraid or upset. What happens? They just become more frightened and more upset, right? The same is true of your experience. The tone you use in addressing your experience matters. If you address it with honesty and kindness, you will find the resources you need and recover. You are so stressed. It’s hard to be stressed. Let’s do something nice for you that helps you feel a little better, so that you can get back on your feet. If instead you choose to be hard on your experience, your stress will increase and you will begin to feel helpless as you become deplete of resources despite getting no closer to resolving the stress. So, you are stressed. Suck it up. Don’t be a child. It’s your fault that we are all stressed out in the first place. You are such an idiot. Get your stuff together.
The E stands for Exhale. You want to both exhale literally and symbolically. Let the air flow out of your body and feel your muscles slowly begin to soften. Let your breathing become regular. Give yourself the opportunity to stop worrying about how or if you will be able to address the overwhelming stress. You have just addressed it in the best way possible. To allow our bodies and minds to recover we need to give it as much oxygen and relaxation as possible, and this includes giving ourselves permission to feel that using this tool for dealing with overwhelming stress is more than enough. Finally, give yourself the gift of gratitude for being wise enough to understand your experience and being kind enough to do something to soothe it. Appreciating good self-compassion makes sense. Think of it from the perspective of how you felt after being treated with compassion as a child or an adult. We didn’t say to our parents, partners, friends, or medical staff, Well is that it! That’s all you have got for me! We say thank you because it is the right thing to do, and (let’s be honest) we thank them because we hope they will do it again. So thank yourself because it is the right thing to do, and you because you hope that you will do it again!
May your suffering be enough for you to accept it. May your wish for well-being be enough to attend to it in a kind way. May you feel that your acts of kindness towards yourself are enough, so that you may heal and recover. Most importantly, may you have L.O.V.E., love, and be loved.
365 Days of Kindness. Self-Compassion. Day 42. In the Books.