Forgiveness

  • Dealing with 'Impostor Syndrome'

    bambiDo you often attribute your successes to luck rather than your abilities? Do you feel that you’re tricking people into thinking you’re more competent or intelligent than you actually are? If so, you may be experiencing ‘impostor syndrome’ – a term first used in the 1970’s by psychologists Dr. Pauline R. Clance and Suzanne A. Imes to describe high-achievers unable to internalise their accomplishments. It is also coupled with an ongoing fear of being exposed as a fraud; that one day people will realise that you’re not as good at what you do as they first thought.

    Whilst ‘impostor syndrome’ is not defined as an official mental disorder, it is often a painful character trait to live with. Not only do we fear judgement or rejection from others, but we also miss out on experiencing satisfaction and pride in what we do. Even when we do receive praise, this may be followed with anxiety over whether we can perform to the same standard again in order to avoid disappointing those who have praised us. So what can we do about it?

    Breaking the Rumination Cycle

    Those of us who feel like a ‘fraud’, whether it’s in our career or creative pursuits, may find that we typically spend more time ruminating about our failings than we do on enjoying our successes. Even if we succeed nine times out of ten, we’ll probably dwell on that one mistake more than anything else. Here’s where mindfulness can come in handy!

    By building some awareness around our thought patterns (i.e. “I know they said they liked it, but it could have been so much better”) we can begin the process of detaching a little from those thoughts. It may even help to give them a label, to help with recognising them for what they are. So for example, next time you find yourself reflecting on how you duped your boss into thinking you were good at your job, you can think to yourself, ‘Impostor syndrome thought’. This can be done with all kinds of thoughts actually, but the point is to start identifying with the thoughts less, so that in time you may come to think of yourself as less of an actual impostor, and more as someone who just has impostor thoughts.

    Lingering on Praise

    When someone praises us, our first thought might be something like, ‘Oh, it was nothing’, ‘I just got lucky’, or ‘Anyone could have done it’. If we’ve experienced impostor syndrome for a long time, we may brush off praise without even being aware that we’re doing it. Yet it may be helpful to start giving more attention to the positive feedback we receive.

    By spending a few moments to let the good feelings in, we can start to do a little rewiring of the brain to help it become more attuned to receiving praise. As Dr. Rick Hanson describes:

    “By taking just a few extra seconds to stay with a positive experience—even the comfort in a single breath—you’ll help turn a passing mental state into lasting neural structure.”

    So next time someone tells you that you did a good job, experiment with letting that positivity in, even if it feels a little uncomfortable at first.

    Self-Compassion

    This may seem like a difficult thing to give yourself if you’re feeling like you’re no good at anything, yet bear with us. When we’re feeling inadequate, what is it that we most crave? It’s probably a sense of self-confidence, or better yet, some self-esteem! We want to feel adequate, competent, enough. Yet, we tend to base our sense of self-esteem on our achievements, which puts impostor syndrome sufferers in a rather hopeless situation. As Dr. Kristin Neff says it in her book ‘Self Compassion: Stop Beating Yourself Up and Leave Insecurity Behind’:

    “It’s the old carrot-and-stick approach—self-judgment is the stick and self-esteem is the carrot.”

    Instead of constantly trying to succeed enough to earn ourselves some elusive self-esteem, we can instead give ourselves something that doesn’t rely on such conditions. After all, we don’t usually give compassion to others based on how much money they earn, how high-ranking their position is, or how popular they are. Rather, we give compassion to those who are suffering, and that can include ourselves too.

    Although mindfulness can’t completely remove our impostor thoughts, by using the above practices we can start to relate and react to them in a lighter, healthier way.

    COURSES/WORKSHOPS:

    Mindfulness for Work

    COURSES/WORKSHOPS:

    Self-Compassion Workshop

    8-Week Mindful Self-Compassion Course

  • Can Observing Our Dark Side Make Us More Compassionate?

    darkA key element of living a mindful life is being able to observe feelings (how they arise and fall away) and learning to be objective enough to allow that process to happen naturally. However, when it comes to extreme emotional experiences, such as hatred or intense anger, should we still be so accommodating? Can we really cultivate compassion if we make space for these destructive emotions?

    Mindfulness encourages us to become less judgemental, and so we are faced with a dilemma. If we don’t negatively judge feelings of hate, might it not just start to fester within us and start affecting our behaviour?

    It’s important to find some balance between knowing and living from our core values (i.e. being a compassionate person) and acknowledging that despite our best efforts we are not immune from experiencing the darker side of our humanity. People, events and tragedies are bound to sometimes trigger dark emotions within us; emotions that we would likely not want to admit to others for fear of judgement or misunderstanding. And this is where we might start to see the importance of allowing space for such experiences.

    Judgement leads to a denial of our internal world, and of the experiences of other people. This way of being is not in line with living a compassionate life. As dark as these feeling may be, it’s useful to look at them with the same openness and curiosity as other feelings.  Doing so creates a strange paradox; by looking at our very darkest emotions, we get to know them better, we get to see that they are fleeting experiences that we don’t need to hold onto or act upon, and also that we are not alone in experiencing them.  Therefore we are more able to become genuinely compassionate to the full spectrum of human experience, rather than simply the nice or comfortable parts.

    Being unafraid of our dark side, and honest about its existence, can help us live with greater presence and authenticity. And by shining the light of kind awareness on our darkness we reduce the risk of developing the types of cruel beliefs and ideologies that can grow from that darkness if left unchecked and ignored.

    COURSES/WORKSHOPS:

    Self-Compassion Workshop

    8-Week Mindful Self-Compassion Course

  • A Thought on Judgement

    judgement

    With the practice of mindfulness comes a lot of talk about non-judgement. Indeed, when we become more mindful we do naturally loosen our ideas of what’s good and bad, right and wrong, etc., and as a result we may drop some of our past prejudices and knee-jerk reactions to things. However, judgement is also necessary; we need it in order to navigate our daily lives and to make decisions. So how do we find the balance?

    It’s useful to approach judgement with curiosity. If we can step back from automatically buying into every opinion we have, we can start to learn more about where our judgements are coming from, whether they’re helpful or not, and whether they are in line with our true values.

    For example, say we’re with a friend and they’re telling us about a problem they’re having. As we listen, our minds may be throwing up many judgements about why the problem is happening, what our friend could do differently, even judgements about the overall character of our friend. These judgements are inevitable (we can’t stop our minds from judging) however our reaction to those judgements is slightly more within our control. As soon as we notice them, we can try to hold them more lightly. This way, we don’t get so lost in our judgemental thoughts, and can instead redirect our focus on listening with more awareness.

    However there will of course be times when we must act on our judgements. If our friend is constantly telling us about their problems and yet never asks how we are doing, we may feel that we no longer want to spend time with that person. And that’s okay. Being mindful isn’t about passively accepting everything that happens in life. It’s about cultivating that ability to reflect on our judgements first, and then take action.

    So next time you notice a judgement, get to know it a little better. Is this judgement coming from your values, or just from the temporary mood you’re in? Is it true? Is it fair? After taking a few deep breaths, or even meditating for twenty minutes, is the judgement still the same? Don’t push the judgement away or make it wrong, simply sit with it for a while and explore.

    MEDITATION:

    Body Scan

    Good Friend Meditation

    RETREATS:

    8-Week Interpersonal Mindfulness Course

  • Forgiving Ourselves

    forgivenessAlthough we might make every effort to respond to other people and stressful situations in a mindful way, we’re only human and won’t get it right every time. Try as we might, we can’t be mindful twenty-four hours a day; we’re bound to sometimes say or do things mindlessly. As a result, we may end up hurting other people’s feelings, doing things we later regret, or getting ourselves into difficult situations.

    Our first reaction might be to blame ourselves: “I should have known better. Why on earth did I do that?” However, mindless moments give us opportunities to become mindful again. Even though we may have caused trouble for ourselves or others, it’s never too late to re-centre and go forward with mindfulness.

    What If We Don’t Want to Forgive Ourselves?

    “When you forgive, you in no way change the past - but you sure do change the future.” - Bernard Meltzer

    It’s normal to feel some resistance to forgiveness. In some cases, it’s the very last thing we want to do. To forgive ourselves may make us feel like we’re saying ‘It didn’t matter’. Of course, how we treat each other matters very much. Forgiveness isn’t about diminishing our responsibility to others and it isn’t about dismissing the effect of our actions. 

    Forgiveness is about acknowledging what has happened, and accepting the reality of it with open-heartedness and understanding. This is why forgiveness is so difficult to do! It’s not easy to open our hearts in painful situations, especially when we know it is us who has caused the pain.

    Mindfulness gives us the opportunity to become clear on our intentions. If we have caused pain, suffering or even simple inconvenience to others, what is our heart-felt intention going forward? It’s probably to put it right somehow, to re-connect or find resolution. However, if we’re unable to forgive ourselves, it’s unlikely that we will be present enough to heal the situation, because we’ll be too caught in self-blame and anger towards ourselves to be there for the other person. If we really want to be of use to others, we must find a way to become grounded in the present. After all, the solution to mindlessness is not more mindlessness.

    Forgiveness as a Re-Entry Point

    When we feel that we’ve done something wrong or bad, we very often slip into mentally beating ourselves up over it. We chide ourselves, and can become overwhelmed with thoughts of how stupid we are, how selfish we are, how we were so wrapped up in ourselves that we didn’t think of the consequences of our words or actions. But here is the important point: when we are wrapped up in ourselves, there’s always a reason. Usually the reason is that we are experiencing some kind of pain or stress. We become blind to the present moment because of our own difficult internal experience.

    This is why forgiveness is so important. If we beat ourselves up every time we act mindlessly, we are simply continuing to suffer and therefore not being as present as we could be. Acceptance and forgiveness helps us step out of our mental chatter about what a bad person we are, and back into the here and now.

    Self-Exploration and Understanding

    It may be useful to spend some time reflecting on what distracted us away from being present in the first place. What was on our mind at the time? What was going on in our life? Approach this process gently and lightly, with a sense of compassionate curiosity, rather than blame or guilt. If we can gain a better understanding of ourselves, then we are more likely to not get so stuck next time around. And if we do get just as stuck, we might be able to notice more quickly and accept the situation with a little more ease. Either way, taking the time to listen to ourselves and understand ourselves better will have an outwardly positive effect on those around us. So even though it might be hard if we’re in a self-blaming mindset, try not to think of it as a self-indulgent or selfish practice.

    We all experience many mindless moments throughout the day. Yet this can be harnessed as an opportunity to really explore the inner workings of our minds. Every time we notice that we have become mindless, we can gently bring our attention back to the moment. We can practice forgiving ourselves, accepting that we, like everyone else around us, are only human and are always doing the best that we can in any given moment. In time, we may notice that practicing this self-forgiveness enables us to extend that forgiving nature to others too.