by Dana Faulds
There is no controlling life.
Try corralling a lightning bolt, containing a tornado.
Dam a stream and it will create a new channel.
Resist, and the tide will sweep you off your feet.
Allow, and grace will carry you to higher ground.
The only safety lies in letting it all in
the wild and the weak; fear, fantasies, failures and success.
When loss rips off the doors of the heart,
or sadness veils your vision with despair,
practice becomes simply bearing the truth.
In the choice to let go of your known way of being,
the whole world is revealed to your new eyes.
According to self-compassion expert, Kristen Neff, PhD, over 100 studies have been done showing the benefits of self-compassion.
Self compassion leads to:
- Emotional Resiliency: less anxiety, stress, depression, perfectionism, and greater coping skills.
- Increased Positive States: more optimism, life satisfaction, creativity, self-confidence, joy and happiness.
- More Motivation: more likely to pick themselves up and try again and keep on trying. Self-compassionate people are less risk-averse and more likely to learn and grow from mistakes. They set high standards but don’t beat themselves up when they don’t make the mark.
- Improved Health Behaviors: Self-compassionate people exercise more, quit smoking, practice safe sex, go to the doctor, and are more able to cope with chronic pain.
With all these benefits why isn’t self-compassion more prevalent?
- We think being kind to ourselves is being weak. Americans value strength! But think of the power behind leaders such as Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela and Ghandi. Each of their missions were based in compassion.
- We confuse self-compassion with self-pity. However, self-compassion does not enhance the victim story as a pity party does, rather it acknowledges our shared humanity.
- We wonder if we are letting ourselves off the hook. It is important to take responsibility for our actions; own up to when we have let others and ourselves down. However, harsh self-criticism clouds our perception of ourselves and may lead to underperformance and a fear of trying something new or different.
- The biggest block is that we believe we need harsh criticism to motivate ourselves.
Self-criticism had a role in our evolution to keep us safe. When we make a mistake or experience rejection, we feel threatened and go into a fight, flight, or freeze response. Our imperfect self is seen as a threat to our existence so we respond harshly out of fear. Be honest – we wouldn’t talk to a friend or child the way we talk to or about ourselves. We also internalize parental and societal voices that tend to favor the boot-camp mentality; no pain/ no gain, discipline, perfection, and competition. I think back to my son’s first competitive sports experience in the 4th grade. His coach screamed expletives, calling them sissies and worse. It broke my heart as I watched him develop a fear of failure and a loss of joy in playing basketball. He has overcome both but that coach’s voice I fear is in all of our heads. By contrast, my daughter’s kindergarten teacher’s response when someone made a mistake was: “Yay! You are human!” This approach is what the research supports. When we acknowledge our natural human shortcomings, our painful situations and feelings with love and compassion, the nervous system relaxes and we feel safe to keep trying or learn to try something different that may lead to even more fulfillment and satisfaction.
Here’s a short self-compassion practice to try (as often as necessary:). To calm the nervous system and give your bodymind a good dose of feel good neurochemicals try placing your hands on your heart or doing a self-hug with hands on opposite shoulders and take deep belly breaths.
- Bring mindfulness to the fact you are suffering. Say to yourself, “this is really hard right now, I’m struggling.” Validate your feelings by gently labeling them – sadness, fear, shame, etc.
- Remind yourself of the common humanity of struggle. Say to yourself, “this is part of life, this is normal, I’m not alone.” Don’t believe the story of “why do I have it so hard” or “why am I the only one who does this?”
- Bring words of kindness to yourself. Say “I’m sorry this is so hard for you, I care, what can I do to help?” Use a warm tone and words. Allow yourself to feel able to cope.
- Transform any moment of suffering by allowing it, not fighting against it. This is the alchemy of the heart.
More research and exercises at www.selfcompassion.org