Psyhotherapy

Keeping Your Self-Compassion Safe

Western Challenges To Self-Compassion

We have to attend to our self-compassion in a way that keeps it safe in Western culture that is so driven by competition, striving, and accomplishment.  People are weary to be kind to themselves just because, when they have spent a lifetime learning that self-kindness is a response to having completed something worthy of praise.  You do not need to judge others to insist on this safety, and I actually urge you not to, but there will be other people, who hear about your self-compassion practice that will argue that it is soft, weak, or indulgent. 

In all fairness, they would prefer that you not be doing anything to eclipse their personal power or accomplishment (ie: show a dedication to education, fitness, healthy eating, or financial literacy).  That’s is just the competitive nature of our culture.  They are not bad people.  They just do not want to suffer by comparison.  Because of this fact, you will be tempted to give up your efforts to end this painful scrutiny, but also as a form of compassion towards the criticizers, who are clearly suffering.

Safeguarding Your Self-Compassion

Despite these challenges, you cannot hand over your self-compassion.  Whether people who love you understand it or not, you need self-compassion to live a good enough life to take care of yourself, and be able to give back to others consistently.  People understand compromises like this normally once they have kids.  Other people are annoyed by some of your kids’ needs or there are costumes or activities that would normally embarrass you, but you forgo the potential criticisms of others for the necessary well-being of your children, which is honorable.  And, you need to honor yourself in the same way.

3 Quick Steps To Keep Your Self-Compassion Safe

How can we go about preserving our Self-Compassion?  First, notice the tension that arises with this conflict.  Name the conflict, and soften around the tense areas.  Second, recognize that you and these other people come by your conflict naturally.  You just want to take care of yourself, and they do not want to feel that they have been doing it wrong for so long.  Wish yourself and them the wisdom to give yourselves compassion despite not knowing how to do so earlier.  Third, ask yourself how you can be kind to yourself in this very moment.  Remember, it does not have to be easy to get done.  It just needs to be consistent.

365 Days Of Self-Compassion.  Day 194.  In The Books.

Time To Tune In To Your Needs, And Your Needs Alone

Our Fear Of Boredom

Sometimes, we need self-compassion for things that would surprise you.  Our fear of boredom would be a good example of this.

Think about it.  We spend a lot of our life trying to entertain or hoping to be entertained.  We fear boredom, and the judgment of others.  We ask ourselves questions like, “What if I am stuck doing this mindless thing forever?” or “What if I don’t do anything interesting, and have nothing to share on social media?” 

These are real fears.  We actually stress over feeling good, and then stress equally about not feeling good enough.  It makes you wonder how we manage to find any time to relax, when we are stressing all of the time about disappointing ourselves and others.  Not to mention the stress of feeling like you have to remain in planning mode to live an acceptable life.

Annoying!

I don’t know about you, but even that paragraph annoyed me.  So, you see, there is a difference between actually feeling good (time without stress, living with ease), and what we and other people project to be feeling good (anxious planning around entertainment and social media).  You cannot avoid the world, so you are going to have to find time for both.  You want to do just enough for entertainment and social media that you do not feel crazy, or judged, while making time to simply enjoy whatever you are doing without trying to make it something spectacular.

Feeling Good

Most people enjoy a good walk or a nice conversation with a friend, but it is hard to share such activities on Facebook or Twitter.  “Hey just had a great time walking,” or “Had a really great conversation with Julie.”  It is possible to share such information, but we would rather quote the skydiving instructor or the concert musician.  So, how do we make time to do the things that recharge and serve only our well-being, and how do we make time to engage in activities that entertain others? 

Making Space Just For You

First, you must start with self-compassion.  You have to acknowledge that you come by your desire to entertain yourself and others naturally, but that it is also exhausting to live life that way.  Then, you can ask yourself with sincerity what activity would make you feel really good that you could have just for yourself.  Hey, sometimes it’s wise to be a little selfish.  If you are completely self-less, there will be no self left to enjoy life or others.  So, once you have chosen an activity, plan a time where you are sure you can focus on it uniquely, and allow yourself to recharge.  Then, do it!  You can thank me later, or better yet, you can thank yourself later. 

If you are still worried about your social media presence, then plan one thing you can photograph or mention a day.  You would be surprised how much attention a quick photo or quote can get if you pick the right thing.  Here are can’t misses: a photo of an animal, a sunrise, a sundown, food, coffee, the gym, children, cars, and quotes about one subtle change you have made today that has gotten you excited (e.g., tea, coffee, food, clothing, mentality, plan to travel, etc.)  Remember, simple is always better.  People just want something to like or retweet that makes them feel good, and valuable. 

365 Days Of Self-Compassion. Day 188.  In The Books.

It’s Probably You: Overcoming Your Tendency To Sabotage Your Job, Your Relationships, And Your Well-Being.

Stronger Words

In self-compassion, we tend to use language that is soothing, clear, and supportive.  The goal is to orient the self towards better care, kindness, and a meaningful focus.  Once in a while, you need stronger words to compel you, especially when your life decisions are consistently leading to bitterness, self-criticism, disappointment, and self-sabotage. 

Tell me if this sounds like you.  I want to enjoy my job, and I want to be in a meaningful relationship, but I get bored at work or with my relationships, and then something happens.  I become impatient, and things don’t really work out.  Conflict and disappointment seem to follow me wherever I go.

So, let’s be honest.  It could be the relationships or the job, but it’s probably you.  You have no idea what you want, but you do not want to be alone or unemployed, so you pick a job, and a partner, and raise your expectations. 

This isn’t a plan.  It’s a set up. You can’t get what you need, if you don’t know what you want.  Most of us make the mistake of relying too heavily on our mind, and not enough on our heart. If we are to be happy, we must explore the heart to best understand what we need from ourselves and others.   Likewise, we also need to know what we are able to give.  Without this data, we just try to cheat off the life plan of the person next to us, which is great because it gets results, but frustrating because they are not the results that we need.

A Quick Exercise To Get Your Heart Involved

Ok, enough talk, now to the action.  Speak directly to your heart.  Um, heart, I need to be happy.  Do you think we could have a one-on-one to sort out what I really want out of life?  Of course, the heart will not be able to respond.  It lacks vocal chords, and well, a mouth.  But, you will have the space and reference to ask yourself the important questions. 

For instance, if money and external validation were not important, what three things would you want in a job, and what three things would you want from a relational partner?  Here is the tough part.  You must ask yourself what you are willing to give to a potential job, partner, and most importantly, what you are willing to give to yourself.  This will be your reference point to healthy jobs and healthy relationships.

The Good Life

Less talk, more doing.  Take some time right now to follow the aforementioned exercise.  Prioritize your happiness at work, and in your relationships.  It is never too late or too early to make sure that you are living a fulfilling, satisfying, and inspiring life.

365 Days Of Self-Compassion.  Day 187.  In The Books.

Self-Love Is The Only Way To True Love

The Origins Of True Love

It is no secret that self-compassion allows us to forgive and be kind to ourselves, but did you know that it can also give us true love?

For thousands of years, information has been passed down in stories.  We hold our breath as the characters pursue love, risk their well-being, and commit to a journey greater than anything they have come to know in their lives.  In the telling of these stories, we are most fascinated by two words: true love.

True love, you know what this is.  When someone feels completely understood, validated, secure, inspired, and desired.  The kind of love that promises to stay forever, and is staunch in its unwillingness to be shared.  These two words are so powerful that we use them to place the ultimate value on everything that we hold dear: our food, our jobs, our passions.

The Only Way To True Love

Let’s be real. You need understanding, validation, security, inspiration, and desire for true love, and the only way the world is going to know that you are worthy of it is if you give it to yourself first.  No, I am not talking about narcissism.  Narcissism is merely a stack of hollow compliments that make people obnoxious.  The world does not send them true love.  True love can only be found in those people, who love themselves so profoundly that the world waits in line for their turn to hug.

You do not have to be Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King, or Gandhi to get one of these hugs.  You just have to commit to understanding your experience, realize that you come by it honestly, and then give yourself the kindness, compassion, and love that you have spent your life waiting for.  If you can cheer on some person in a story that you have never met, loved, or held, surely you can summon this wish for yourself. 

The Secret To True Love

Allow me to let you in on a secret.  You are the person for whom you secretly root.  So, start to think about your own story, and the characters in it.  Step back, and see if you would not be rooting for you had you heard your story in a movie theater or a book.  I would wager that you would.

Part of ensuring that you have healthy and happy relationships is having enough understanding of the world and others to live with well-being and ease.  So, note the following three rules about other people, where true love is concerned.  First, no one understands you as well as you do.  Second, other people will make mistakes about the way that they understand you because they are clouded by their own experience.  Third, you need to give yourself true love first, so that you can guide their responses in a way that respects this innate need.

Think I am joking?  Recall your last five conversations with someone that did not get you.  Identify the mistake they made.  Imagine how you would correct it, and notice how your body responds to this correction.  If you are like most people, then simply imagining a fantasy in which these people correct their mistakes will leave you with greater ease, and a sense of being loved.  This alone should be a clear sign of who best understands and can locate true love.

Quick Exercise To Get Your Daily Dose Of True Love

Like most things, true love is gained over time.  So, do this for yourself.  Upon awakening or prior to bed, promise yourself that no matter the cost, you will do your best to understand your mistakes, to credit your successes, and to love yourself without hesitation or conflict.  Finally, acknowledge that you tend to appreciate things that come with a degree of difficulty, and welcome the challenge of loving yourself completely every day.

Over time, you will find that you have consistent, honest, protective, and rewarding true love.  You will also find yourself unwilling to settle for less in your relationships, and people will come to respect that about you.

365 Days Of Self-Compassion.  Day 179.  In The Books.

Why This Life? Four Quick Steps To Answer Your Biggest Question

Why This Life: Getting The Answers We Need Before It’s Too Late

Self-Compassion appeals to a wide audience because it has something for everyone.  One thing almost everyone wants to know is why they are here, right now.

Why This Life?  The Question

As most lie awake at night or find themselves at the end of an unfulfilling day, they ask themselves the question: Why this life?  It is another way to ask, what am I here for?  We want a simple answer, preferably something with a single syllable.  If you practice self-compassion long enough, you will probably get one that defines the purpose of your whole life.  For our purposes, we are going to answer this question for today.  Because your only real responsibility is to get to tomorrow.  I know.  You have a million plans for the future, but the future you will be able to use the same practice we are going to use today, and he/she will be just fine.  Think of the alternative. If the future you does not make it, you will have even better questions to ask such as, why the after life?  Or Why the heck is there no after life? 

Why This Life?  The Answer

To discover why this life, you need three things: a semi-quiet room, a writing utensil, and a note card.  Step 1:  If I paid all of your bills, and assured all of your family and friends that they would be ok, what would you do with your life?  Don’t think for hours.  Go with your first response.  Step 2: Imagine that you do this thing, and it fills you with well-being.  Step 3: Describe the well-being.  Step 4: What can you do right this second to move towards doing step 2, and feeling like Step 3.  Boom!  That is why you are here right now. 

My Own Question And Answer.

Ok, no more questions.  Solving life’s problems is tiresome.  I am going to take a nap.  Right now that accomplishes four for me.  Loving you all, and having the time to soak it in.  Tomorrow, it will probably be sitting in my therapy chair, and then writing, but like I said, one day at a time.

365 Days Of Self-Compassion.  Day 175.  In The Books.

From Back Breaking Grit To Self-Compassion: My Own Journey

Harden Your Heart. A Heart This Kind Will Crumble.

When I was very young, I had someone very close to me say, “Harden your heart.  A heart this kind will crumble.”  It was an inauspicious, and rather unsupportive moment in which I was asked to question my most defining quality.  I knew of few examples to support an opposing argument, especially very few men.  While not always consciously, I set out on a journey to test my strength, my will, and my resilience. 

Like most kind people, kindness is not the summation of my qualities, just the quality on which most people focus.  However, at my lowest points, I can remember asking the universe if it would not permit me to simply not let go of love or my desire for other people to have lives filled with love.

Coming To Self-Compassion.

My story of coming to self-compassion is similar to many.  I dedicated most of my life to helping others, sometimes to a fault, until my body convinced me that it would succumb to illness, if I were unwilling to focus on my own well-being.  One of my favorite mentors refers to this as the oxygen mask necessity.  At the beginning of every flight, flight attendants warn that if the cabin loses air pressure that adults must first put their oxygen masks on before attending to children to avoid suffocating mid-task.

To help you find your way to your own moment, I will tell you about mine.  I was about twenty-five years old, and doing outreach work in the housing project areas of Boston.  I committed myself completely to this task, and spent most of my off time lifting weights at a local gym.  At some point, I was sleeping very little, and struggled with the harsh effects of sleep deprivation.  Amongst them, none was worse than a vague paranoia, which I tried to power through with the gritty toughness and back breaking work ethic that I learned in military college.

When Will It Be Enough?

In meeting with my first self-compassion mentor (although I was unaware that he possessed such skills), he asked me a very simple question: When will it be enough?  I understood that he meant how long will it take for me to realize that I needed to find another way to go about living that incorporated my well-being too.  I was puzzled and a little defensive, like most young Jedi.  But, I could not ignore the truth in his words.  Interestingly, a truth that had been expressed by a former professional hockey player that I used to train with at the gym, who had found his balance through family and by going to church, and urged me to find my own.

I struggled with this question.  I looked hard at my life, and realized that I did things that were compensatory instead of revitalizing.  I paid attention to my diet, fitness, and my skin, but with the intention to borrow on them as much as possible to do great things for other people.  The world of self-compassion finally opened up to me, when I admitted aloud that I believed that complete fulfillment and happiness were not viable options for me.  When my mother heard these words, she said, “They need to be.”

They Need To Be.

That was all the inspiration I needed.  They need to be.  My mentor taught me that it was much easier to move towards friendship and create well-being for the self, and experience loss than to move away from these things and be chained to paranoia, and unfulfillment.  His words were, “I would rather lose one hundred friends, and have those I have got, then never risk losing one, and have none.”

Once I allowed my actions to be guided by compassion for myself and others, the paranoia was gone, and with it my other somatic symptoms.  I still come back to this advice, and many similar tools from Dr. Christopher Germer today.  So, that is my story.  I hope it has helped in some way.  Please continue to send me yours.  They are so inspiring.

365 Days Of Self-Compassion.  Day 164.  In The Books.

Feed The Dog: Supporting The Most Intriguing Vehicle Of Self-Compassion

The Dog

Self-Compassion has many intriguing vehicles, but the dog is perhaps the most captivating of them all.  In all of us, lies a fighter.  It is the part of us that cries out at injustice, that desires to be free from suffering, that manifests as stress, frustration, anger, or even a verbal outburst, when our well-being is being taken for granted.  When we become too tired or too reticent to speak out against such harm or persuade ourselves to pony up, and advocate for good treatment, then we need to rely on our inner fighter, our dog.  We need to feed this dog by appreciating the anxiety, frustration, and anger that arises, when we are mistreated, and even the outbursts that cause those who would harm us to think twice about their actions.

Misunderstanding The Dog

We often misunderstand anger, anxiety, frustration, and infrequent outbursts as lesser qualities.  We see them as weaknesses that create misery and feelings of failure in our life.  When, in fact, these responses are actually our bodies’ self-compassionate responses to too much harm, even if the harm is not intentional.  Our body wants us to have well-being, and sometimes it is not enough to gently urge us.  Sometimes, it needs to fight a little bit.

Don’t get me wrong.  I am not advocating that you take your frustration out on others or aggress people to get your needs met, but I am also not telling you to fall to your knees, and beg them to be kind to you either.  You deserve kindness from yourself and others.  You owe it to no one to apologize or plead for this in any way.  It is an important strength to be able to advocate for yourself, and more important to be accepting of the parts of our experience, while not always garnering social applause, exist to protect us, when we fail to do so with ease.

How To Feed The Dog

So, how do you feed this dog?  Notice, when frustration, anger, anxiety, and aggression (verbal, physical) emerge.  Notice where they are in your body.  Soften around them.  Recognize them for their attempts to keep us safe from harm.  Reward them with kind words (e.g., thank you for showing up to protect me, or thank you for making it impossible for me to ignore that my most basic needs are not being met).  Accept these feelings, and take action (if you can) to advocate for yourself, so that your body does not feel like it has had to show up in vain.

Must Love Dogs

There you are.  Feed the dog.  Accept the dog.  Love the dog.  Reward the dog.  The dog keeps you safe.  Also, make time to surround yourself with others that support your self-advocacy practice and general wish for well-being.

365 Days Of Self-Compassion.  Day 163.  In The Books.

Harnessing The Power Of The Wild Heart

The Wild Heart

The best kind of self-compassion is able to harness the power of the wild heart.  Despite all social attempts to settle, entrap, and conform the heart to secular order, it remains wild, and free.  The heart wants what it wants.  It does not fair well with compromise.  It does not live well deception or relationships of convenience.  It yearns for connection, acceptance, inspiration, kindness, warmth, forgiveness, and love.  It is not better served by drama or neglect, nor substitutes, such as money and power.  It is resilient even though it would rather not be apart of rejection and abandonment, and, if you let it, it will guide you to the wholly fulfilling experience of loving and being loved.

Fears About The Wild Heart

The reason people shy way from the heart is that they think it makes them weak.  They believe it to be a vulnerability that, having no reason, chooses relationships or makes decisions that invite harm.  The heart is actually not responsible for these things.  The heart does not want selfishly, and it is not impulsive.  The heart does not want to take on relationships that are exciting, but clearly damaging and dangerous.  The heart certainly does not want you to make decisions that barter your well-being and safety for conditional acceptance.  Insecurity makes these decisions, and insecurity is an idea, a feeling, and a set of conditions that lives in your brain.

Insecurity VS. The Heart

In life, we are all led to a crossroads with respect to important decisions.  We either make conservative decisions and barter whatever we can to get the conditional promises of acceptance, and support from relationships or jobs (decisions based on insecurity), or we decipher what is necessary for us to feel safe, loved purely for who we are, and given work opportunities that inspire even more movement towards our core values (decisions based on the heart).

The reasons people pick the former rather than the latter are two-fold.  Deciding from insecurity is common, and people tend to base their actions on the actions of the people, who surround them.  Moreover, fear is a powerful motivator.  We tend to make any decision that decreases fear or helps us avoid it altogether.  However, knowing insecurity’s tricks gives us a distinct advantage.  It tells us how to get back to the wild heart.  We must simply acknowledge fear.  You do not need to puff your chest up or even defeat fear.  Simply, acknowledge it.  Know that you come by it honestly, and allow it to pass.  Then, focus on how you can make decisions from the heart.

Wild Heart Benefits

This may be a small thing to you, and you may be asking yourself why you need to change at all.  From my position, it is hard to see so many loving, worthy people accept a life of unfulfilling relationships and jobs, of abandonment and rejection, and of sadness and malaise.  Especially, when there is something that they can do about it.  We are all vulnerable to these things, and may even experience some by following the heart, but we will also have the ability to survive, find fulfilling love, and live in an inspiring way.  Seems worth it to me.

365 Days Of Self-Compassion.  Day 159.  In The Books.

The Self-Compassionate Wisdom To Give Enough Without Giving Too Much

Optimal Giving To Ourselves And Others

Self-Compassion, like a heart monitor, lets us know when we are optimally providing well-being to ourselves and others.  When we are giving too much, our self-monitoring reveals that certain areas of the body are filled with tension.  This tension tends to live in the throat and the stomach, as these areas are connected with aversion.

Why do we develop aversion towards this person?  The reason is that when we give too much, the body experiences pain.  When this pain becomes overwhelming, the body will naturally tell the brain that it would be a good idea to avoid this person.  It is not personal, but rather based on simple conditioning.  When a stimulus becomes harmful enough, the body and mind label it as punishment.  The body and mind will always seek to avoid punishment, and when they cannot, they will experience great anxiety instead.

People, who desire our care, would like to escape this kind of avoidance and resentment, and we would like to think of them with love and kindness.  Love and kindness are a lot easier feelings to carry than aversion, which is weighty and stressful.

The Self-Compassion Strategy For Optimal Giving

So, how do we prevent ourselves from giving too much love and compassion?

First, we need to pay attention to our self-monitoring.  When the body starts to get overwhelmed, then we need to respect its limitations, and find our way out of this conversation. 

Second, it helps to have a phrase on which you can rely.  It may prove too difficult in the heat of the moment to come up with just the right thing to say.  I usually say, “I want to hear more about this, but I need to take care of myself right now (sometimes I substitute with “I need to take care of this other thing” if there is, indeed another thing).   

Third, we need to do something immediately that helps ground the stress we are experiencing in our minds and bodies.  I like biofeedback breathing (a slow 6 second breath in and out) because 5 minutes of it normally resets my body, and I am free to return to the day’s work without a losing too much time.  I also have a convenient app on my phone called peaceful breathing that I can follow without overthinking this process.  You may do some mindful walking, if you have time, or some basic mindfulness or self-compassion meditation (simply follow your breath, and once you become more relaxed, wish yourself safety, kindness, self-acceptance, and ease).  I also find that doing the red caboose visualization helps me clear my mind.

Fourth, just do a gentle check-in, and see if you are feeling enough ease to return to your day.  Notice your body and your thoughts.  Are they filled with tension or soft and relaxed?  If you are still tense and have time, return to an activity from step three to move towards optimal functioning. 

Finally, give yourself credit (read: reward yourself) for taking such good care of yourself.  It is as easy as saying, “I am so grateful that you chose to be kind to yourself in this moment.”  People tend to underestimate this step, but I promise you what remains unsaid to the mind remains unread.  Needing a reward is healthy human need, and giving it to yourself is powerful self-compassion move.  Think about it.  Do you really want to depend on others to tell you that you are doing well or are good enough all the time?

Practice Goal Achieved!

And, abacadbra, you are now giving enough to others, and not too much!  This work is so important if you want healthy, sustaining, life-giving relationships that are free of resentment.  If you give too much too often, you will inevitably let go of these relationships, and feel burned out. 

Nobody wants that.  Allow this self-compassion practice to serve as your guide for meaningful, and realistic giving, and if you find something that works for you that has not been mentioned, feel free to include it in your practice.

365 Days Of Self-Compassion.  Day 156.  In The Books.

Unconditional Self-Compassion: Why It’s Good To Be Helpless Sometimes

Unconditional Self-Compassion

Self-Compassion is probably most valuable as a modality that allows us to be whole, and enough simply as we are.  Whether we are sad, disappointed, angry, afraid, anxious, happy, joyful, or excited, according to self-compassion, we are enough.  Each feeling and emotion is something that we come by naturally, and necessary for the epiphanies and relationships that come with having a full life.  At the very heart of all this humanity is the experience of feeling completely helpless.

Being Helpless Can Be A Good Thing?

Being helpless sounds like a terrible thing to most people.  The movies tell us to be superheroes.  Feeling helpless is an awful feeling.  How could it possibly be helpful?  The longest time most of us can remember being helpless for is our childhood.  We were so needy, but if we had good parents, or one good parent or caretaker, our helplessness was enough for them.  They actually appreciated it.  They wanted to be needed, and were gratified by their successes in helping us feel accepted, loved, and cared for.

The Value Of Being Completely Helpless

We either have that good early parental experience, or we seek it as adults.  Either way, we are smart enough to recognize that it is important to be loved unconditionally, and to find people who are safe enough and love us enough to be there, when we are completely helpless.  If they can show up for us, then we know that they can be trusted, and our relationship with them deepens. 

It is no different in our own minds.  If you can feel completely helpless, and still be willing to give yourself compassion and kindness, then you can be sure that you can trust yourself, and your loving relationship with yourself will deepen.

Of course, I am not saying that you should make yourself helpless all of the time.  You do not want to ask so much of yourself on a consistent basis, if it is not necessary, but when it does happen, and it happens for all of us, see it as an opportunity to give yourself the greatest unconditional love you can.  Your efforts will be rewarded both by extraordinary self-compassion powers moving forward, but also the self-knowledge that you can, in fact, endure all things.

The Rewards

Because the rewards are obvious, I will not waste your time with a litany of descriptors.  Instead, I will wish you compassion and kindness, especially when you feel helpless.  Whether you know it or not, you deserve complete self-acceptance.  The kind of acceptance that makes managing less troubling experiences that much easier.

365 Days Of Self-Compassion.  Day 151.  In The Books.