An exercise in self compassion : Excerpt from The Reality Slap : How to Find Fulfilment When Life Hurts

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Find a comfortable position in which you are centred and alert.  For example, if you’re seated in a chair, you could lean slightly forwards, straighten your back, drop your shoulder and press your feet gently to the floor.

Now bring to mind a reality gap you are struggling with (things not being as you wish they would be.)  Take a few moments to reflect on the nature of the gap and how it is affecting you, and let your difficult thoughts and feelings arise.

  1.  Be Present

Pause.

That’s all you need to do: just pause.

Pause for a few seconds and notice what your mind is telling you. Notice its choice of words, and the speed and volume of its speech.

Be curious.  is this story old and familiar, or is it something new?  What time zones is your taking you into : the past, the present or the future?  What judgements is your mind making?  What labels is it using?

Don’t try and debate with your mind or try to silence it; you will only stir it up.

Simply notice the story it is telling you.

And notice with curiosity, all the different emotions that arise.  What did you discover? Guilt, sadness, anger, fear or embarrassment:  Resentment, despair, anguish, rage, or anxiety?

Name these emotions as they arise:  “Here is anxiety.”   “Hello grief!”

Pay attention like a curious child to what is going on inside your body.  Where are you feeling these emotions the most?  What are the size, shape and temperature of these feelings?  How many layers do they have?  How many different kinds of sensations can you find within them?

2. Open Up

Now slowly and deeply breathe into the pain.

Do so with an attitude of kindness.

Infuse this breath with caring and contribution:  see it as an act of comfort and support.

Imagine your breath flowing in and around your pain.

Imagine that in some magical way a vast space opens up inside of you, making plenty of room for all these feelings.

No matter how painful they are, do not fight them.

Offer peace to your feelings, instead of hostility.

Let them be as they are,  and give then plenty of space, rather than push them away.

And if you notice any resistance in your body – tightening, contraction or tension – breath into that too.  Make room for it.

Contribute peace and space to all that arises: your thoughts, your feelings and your resistance.

3.  Hold Kindly

Now chose one of your hands.

Imagine this is the hand of someone very kind and caring.

Place this hand slowly and gently on whichever part of your body hurts the most.

Perhaps you feel the pain more in your chest, or perhaps in your head, neck or stomach?  Whereever it is most intense, lay your hand there.  (And if you’ve gone numb, or you can’t locate any particular place, then simply rest your had on the centre of your chest.)

Let it rest there lightly and gently, either on your skin or your clothes.

Feel the warmth flowing from your palm to your body.

Imagine your body softening around the pain, loosening up, softening up and making space.

Hold this pain gently.  Hold it as if it is a crying baby, or a whimpering puppy, or a fragile work of art

Infuse this gentle action with caring and warmth as if you are reaching out to someone you care deeply about.

Let the kindness flow from your fingertips.

Now, use both of your hands.  Place one of them upon your chest and the other upon your stomach, and let them gently rest there.  Hold yourself kind, and gently, connecting with yourself, caring for yourself, and contributing comfort and support.

4.  Speak Kindly

Now say something caring to yourself to express kindness, support and affection.

You might silently say a word like ‘gentle’ or ‘kindness’ to remind yoruself of your intention.

You might say ‘This really hurts.’ or ‘This is hard.’

You might say  ‘I know this really hurts but you are not alone.  You can do this.’

If you have failed or made a mistake, then you might like to remind yourself  ‘Yes, I am human like everyone else on this planet, I fail and make mistakes.’

You might acknowledge that all this is part of being human, remind yourself kindly and gently, this is what human’s feel when they face pair or a reality gap  This pain tells you something very important.  That you are alive, that you care, that you have a heart, that there is a reality gap between what you want and what you have got.  And this is what humans feel under such circumstances.  It isnt pleasant.  It hurts and you dont want it.  And this is something you have in common with every other human on the planet.

Dr Russell Harris

 

How the inner critic hinders grieving (and anger)

Buried

The greatest hindrance to effective grieving is typically the inner critic.  When the critic is especially toxic, grieving may be counter productive and contraindicated in early recovery.  Those who were repeatedly pathologised and punished for emoting in childhood may experience grieving as exacerbating their flashbacks rather than relieving them.

I have worked with numerous survivors whose tears immediately triggered them into toxic shame.  Their own potentially soothing tears elicited terrible self attacks.  “I’m so pathetic! No wonder nobody can stand me!”  “God, I’m so unlovable when I snivel like this!” “I f@ckup then make myself more of a loser by whining about it!”  “What good is crying for yourself – it only makes you weaker!”

This later response is particularly ironic, for once grieving is protected from the critic, nothing can restore a person’s inner strength and coping capacity like a good cry.  I have defused active suicidality on dozens of occasions by simply eliciting the suffering person’s tears.

Angering can also immediately trigger the survivor into toxic shame.   This is often true of instances when there is only an angry thought or fantasy.  Dysfunctional parents, typically reserve their worst punishments for a child’s anger.  This then traps the child’s anger inside.

In the dysfunctional family however, the traumatising parent soon eradicates the child’s capacity to emote.  The child becomes afraid and ashamed of her own tears and anger.  Tears get shut off and anger gets trapped inside and is eventually turned against the self as self attack, self hate, self disgust and self rejection.  Self hate is the most grievous reenactment of parental abandonment…

Over time anger becomes fuel for the critic.. creating an increasingly dangerous internal environment. Anything the survivor says, thinks, feels, imagines or wishes for is subjected to an intimidating inner attack.

When we greet our own tears with self acceptance, crying awakens our developmentally arrested instinct of self compassion.  Once we establish self compassion through consistent and repeated practice, it becomes the cornerstone of an increasing self esteem.  When an attitude of self compassion becomes habitual, it can instantly antidote the self abandonment that so characterises a flashback.

(copywrite) Pete Walker : extracts from : Complex PTSD : From Surviving to Thriving

Accepting vulnerability : freeing strength

I am thinking a lot about vulnerability today.  I just watched a video on Avoidant Personality Disorder which spoke of the connection between childhood emotional neglect and avoidance.

https://wordpress.com/read/feeds/47895396/posts/1460625306

The subject of vulnerability and fear came up in therapy yesterday.  The chance meeting with the boy next door from my childhood on Saturday sparked memories of little things I did as a kid that showed me how scared I was and how I must have been shamed for things in childhood.  I know that as a youngster I developed this coping strategy –  I learned to hide my vulnerability, shame or fear from others and that indicates to me that on one level I was terrified.  I see how I have carried this fear on and how it has limited my life in so many ways.

I was lucky enough not to have a contraption connected to the mattress to give me an electric shock when I was wetting the bed, like my neighbour did.  But I still think I must have felt so alone and vulnerable in childhood and that it was not safe enough to turn to others for protection and care.   In both my mother and father’s childhood they had no one much to turn to either, so its a carried pattern.

I think of all the hiding I did later in life.  The sixth and most painful termination of pregnancy which happened late in my addiction was one that I went through all alone and hid from my flatmate at the time.  When it happened we were both studying Naturopathy and we had the beginnings of a very close relationship, but I feared so much opening up to her about what had happened that I lied and in the end she moved out of the place I owned and the darkest and most painfully alone year of my active addiction began.

When I think about it now I am so grateful that I finally found my sobriety one year later, but by that stage I was in so much pain over all that had happened that on one level I was trying to obliterate awareness of with my drinking that it would take me years to really come to terms with it.  And it has taken me a lot of work over the past 18 months to stop seeing myself as ‘the bad one’ when really I just had developed very dysfunctional behaviours and coping strategies in my life due to emotional neglect.

I get pretty angry when addicts or alcoholics get demonised by others.  I think the judgement often comes from ignorance.  I am a huge fan of Canadian doctor Gabor Mate who comes out in defence of addicts and tries to draw attention to the early trauma so many addicts suffer which leads them to become addicts in the first place.  If you are damaged in early life and your ability to trust and depend is broken where are you going to turn and what are you going to do with the pain if no one around you is mirroring the truth of the situation for you?   The self condemnation or lack of compassion and empathy is something we can suffer for long years even into sobriety most often turning deep inside, leading many to suicide.

I am so grateful that lately my self talk has been becoming that much more loving and supportive.  I am so happy that I am able now to recognise and champion the vulnerable self in me that lay hidden under so many of my dysfunctional coping behaviours.  I was sharing with Katina yesterday my growing realisation of how I use avoidance out of fear.  Once I can admit to myself the fear or vulnerability then I can step in with the loving supportive adult presence to talk to that little one in me who is so scared and help her to take more positive, healthy, nurturing steps in my life.

Sadly as I grew up I absorbed a self shaming voice that was taken in from my parents and the nuns at my school.  I never learned about self compassion.  I really feel so strongly that self compassion is something we should teach children from a very young age.  At that early stage we need help to deal with our feelings, vulnerabilities and fears.  We do not need to be shamed for self assertion or sticking up for ourselves either.  We should not be taught to fear our vulnerability but to embrace it and learn ways to encourage ourselves from within in the midst of it.  In the absence of this we look to others to do it for us and if we are unhealed or wounded in this area we often attract those who project the shadow of their own vulnerable self onto us and then reject or shame us for it.

Part of our healing in therapy and most particularly if we come out of a narcissistically wounded family involves recognising we are not to blame but that in adult hood we do have a responsibility to change patterns and often we can only do this with good help if our wounds are serious.

Yesterday Katina said to me kindly “you did the best you could at the time”. Lying in bed this morning and thinking about that I thought what a relaxing and accepting thing that is to say in many situations.  People who hurt us do the best they can.  It may be the very worst for us and only we can break away from that kind of hurt and we must not continue to lie to ourselves about the damage such ignorance caused, well meaning as they may claim it was.  Come to think of it just re-editing this now my mother often uses excuses when I try to bring up certain painful things with her, she cannot bear to admit her own vulnerability at times.

At the same time as accepting our vulnerability we need to keep reaching for the best we can at the time and accept when our worst is all we could have done at that point with all we knew at the time.  This to me is showing mercy, it relaxes our muscles and it lets ourselves off the hook so that we can search for healthier kinder and more positive ways to self nurture and grow beyond old formerly unrecognised vulnerabilities and fears.  It may be the most valuable tool we have in our arsenal for dealing with depression which often is created by the unloving things we tell ourselves over and over about our selves or wounded and wounding others.

How can I take care of myself?

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In this moment when I am feeling sad what can I do to help myself more through that sadness to a place of peace?  Is there something I could do that would bring me comfort? Are there some kind things I could say?   Could I recognise when I might be beating myself  up with unkind thoughts or see where I am not accepting what I need to feel and recognise to find peace?

I find once I touch base with what I am feeling in the moment, then I have awareness, if I can then accept and make room for the feeling it can rise and fall and often as I stay with it insight comes into where in my life the feeling traces back to.  I can learn to look within the feeling to see what I can attribute it to.  Often that feeling is one I know very well and have had a lot of experience with and I can learn about the part is has played in my life. When the tears of compassion and feeling for myself and my long struggle comes with the feeling, then I am in the healing phase.

Then I have work to do to decide what action to take with the feeling.  I could write about it in my journal.  I could express it to a trusted friend.  Or if I have really no one there to turn to I can be there for myself.

Once I have unpacked the feeling I can then turn my attention back to this present moment and ask, what do I need right now? What would make me feel loved?  What would help me touch base with the present moment?

I DO feel there is always some little thing we could do to take care of ourselves and I have just been reading that it has been shown in studies that people who are not trapped in thinking are happier than those endlessly pulled away from the present moment in thoughts. If we can focus on pleasant sensation in the present moment for example we can pull away from painful thoughts that may make the pain worse.  For example :

Walking barefoot on soft grass.

Giving yourself a foot soak and massage with essential oils and lotion.

Watching a movie you love.

Listening to a beautiful piece of music.

Listening inwardly to your own breath or heart beat (if this is not too triggering for you).

Going for a walk with a friend or alone.

Being in nature.

I am sure you could come up with a lot more things.

This for me is the path of self care I can take in learning to care for me in the midst of my emotions.