Self-Compassion

  • 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.

     

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    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.

     

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  • Our Need for Acceptance and the Pain of Rejection

    communication

    In Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, ‘social belonging’ is placed right after physiological needs – such as water and air, and safety needs – like protection from the elements. Most of us probably experience this to be true; that the need to be loved and wanted is high on our list of needs.

    When we feel rejected – whether it’s in love, from our family or friends, or in work or creative pursuits – this rejection can feel incredibly painful. Rejection can send us into depression or anxiety, and can make us question our value as a person.

    Rejection is Bound to Hurt

    Modern neuroscience backs up Maslow’s psychological theory of our strong need for social belonging. Studies have shown that social pain activates the same regions of the brain as physical pain does. A team of researchers, led by Dr. David T. Hsu, at the University of Michigan Medical School, found that our brains release the same chemicals to dampen pain signals when we experience social rejection as when we experience physical pain. So it makes sense that we would want to avoid rejection, just as we would want to avoid physical injury.

    In the same way that we will avoid putting our hand in the fire once we’ve learn how much it hurts, some of us will avoid starting new relationships, chasing career goals, or trying new things; we’ve felt the sting of rejection before, so we don’t want to put ourselves through that again.

    It seems that we are hard-wired to find rejection painful. But does that mean we are helpless when faced with it? Although mindfulness can’t stop us feeling the pain of rejection completely, it can help to take the edge off.

     

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    Remember to Breathe

    When we feel pain, whether it’s emotional or physical, we tend to tense up. Even our breathing tenses up; it might become shallow and irregular. We’re not accustomed to relaxing into pain and allowing it to be. It hurts, and so we want to fight against it! Yet this only makes our experience even more painful.

    The simplest and most powerful thing that we can do when we’re in emotional turmoil is to remember to breathe. Taking deep, measured breaths can help take us out of our mental chatter (which is probably moving at the speed of a runaway train after a rejection) and back into our bodies. Each breath is like an anchor to the present moment. And if we get caught up in our minds again? We simply notice this, and use the next breath as another anchor.

    Once we’re more calm and grounded, we can look at some of the thoughts and beliefs we have about rejection, and how they might be adding to our suffering.

    Breaking Free of Rumination and Self-Criticism

    If we’ve been rejected, we may end up ruminating on what we could have done differently; how we could have done more to make people want us. Thoughts like “What’s wrong with me?” might be echoing around in our minds. If we’re not mindful, we may start coming up with harsh answers to these questions. Before we know it, we’re caught in a downward spiral of self-blame and self-criticism.

    Yet by noticing our beliefs about what rejection means to us, and reflecting on the reality of the rejection, we can take a step back and view it with a little more objectivity. For example, if we get turned down for a job we really wanted, rather than believing in the emotion-packed thought of “I didn’t get the job because I’m useless”, we can re-direct our attention to what’s actually real, which is that we either didn’t have the right kind of skills for the job at this time, or that we did have all of the necessary skills, but for some reason or another, a different candidate stood out and was chosen. The decision to choose another person over us probably has less to do with us than we may believe, and is 100% nothing to do with our overall value as a human being.

    Learning from Rejection

    Viewing rejection with more objectivity will not only take some of the emotional sting out of it, but it can also help us use that rejection in a more productive and positive way. Taking it less personally gives us the opportunity to take lessons from it. So in the example of being turned down for a job, rather than sinking into depression about it and giving up on our hopes and dreams, we can take note of what we need to improve on for the next time.

    Of course, being rejected in love or from family is different, and is harder to turn into a positive. Yet even in our most heart-wrenching rejections there is space for growth, as long as we treat ourselves with compassion and patience, and keep the self-blaming in check. And if we’re unable to feel kindness towards ourselves, we can at least keep breathing consciously until we’re able to find some self-compassion for our predicament.

    Simply acknowledging that rejection will hurt, whatever we do, can in itself be a relief. Much of our suffering comes from wishing that our experience was different to how it currently is. But mindfulness helps us to see and accept this moment, however we happen to find it, even if our moment is filled with feelings of unworthiness. The trick is to remember that unworthiness is a transitory feeling, never an absolute truth about us.

     

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  • Have Yourself a Mindful & Merry Christmas!

    Mindfulness is all about getting out of our heads and into the present moment and the best way to do that is by connecting with our senses. Why? Because we can't smell tomorrow, or feel yesterday! That's why Christmas is such an amazing opportunity to practice mindfulness.

    Practise Coming to Your Senses this Holiday Season

    Whether you're out shopping for gifts or taking a Sunday stroll, be sure to really tune into the sights, sounds and smells of the season. Feel the winter wind on your cheeks, observe how the Christmas songs can take you back and give you a certain feeling inside, take in the smells of mulled wine and pine needles in the air. Be present for these things -- this is the real essence of the season.

    Wooden reindeer in snow

    Savour the Flavours without Going Overboard

    Mindfulness not only helps with truly savouring all the treats that Christmas brings, it also helps limit the overconsumption that often accompanies holiday parties and family meals. We tend to end up consuming more food and drinks than we'd like, however this holiday party season is the perfect time to practice using mindfulness to help us determine when we've had enough. By really savouring our food and drinks more slowly, we can naturally notice when we've had our fill. We can use mindfulness to check in with our bodies and follow the signals that it sends about fullness. So rather than acting when our mind says: "I want another cookie!" we can listen to what our belly says. If you notice that you are comfortably full or maybe that your belly is already bursting then thank your mind for that thought and try to leave the cookies in the jar -- or simply close your eyes and smell the cookie. Sometimes savouring with the nose is just as amazing as savouring with the tongue. Try it out!

    Don't be too Hard on Yourself

    A big part of mindfulness is not only compassion for others, but also for ourselves. Therefore, have the intention to be kind to yourself! We spend so much time leading up to the holidays thinking about everyone else: shopping for gifts, planning around others' schedules, and trying to create the perfect atmosphere for everyone. It's important that we have a little self-compassion as well. Make a point of just noticing how you might be putting too much pressure on yourself, or beating yourself up when things don't go as planned, or feeling like you ate too much. In those moments just remember to take a few deep breaths. And like you would tell a good friend: don't be so hard on yourself -- that's just part of the holiday experience as well.

    It's Just the End of the Year, Not the End of the World

    In the frantic run up to Christmas, we might see the holidays as like a drop-dead date and we forget that -- as beautiful as Christmas can be -- it's just another day that will come and go. Bring awareness to the expectations you might be holding for the day. Every time you notice your mind racing ahead to any sort of inflated or unrealistic expectations, just take a few breaths and come back to the present moment. The same applies to the good old expectation of a family drama. Ruminating about what could happen over Christmas dinner won't help. It only makes you more and more tense during the lead up to Christmas. Let go of any expectations and greet the day when it's at the door step.

     

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  • Welcome Everything, Push Away Nothing

    Wouldn’t it be lovely to be happy all the time? Waking up with a big grin on our faces, bouncing out of bed and skipping into work every morning for a whole day of joy and laughter.

    Unfortunately, our minds aren’t designed like this. However naturally positive we are, it’s impossible to be in a state of constant pleasure all of the time. Our brains have evolved to preempt possible threats (a leftover from when our ancestors were struggling to survive in a dangerous world) and, sophisticated though they have become, still have a tendency to act like Velcro for the bad stuff and Teflon for the good.

    There will always be times when we are fearful, angry, bored or sad; and depending on our upbringing or genetics, some will experience these feelings more than others. The challenge arises when we do not welcome and accept these natural human tendencies and instead try compulsively to shut them out or make them go away.

    In the attempt to be happy, many of us try all sorts of ways to avoid uncomfortable feelings. For example, when sitting in the car in a traffic jam, we might turn on the radio or start texting a friend - anything to avoid potentially feeling bored or irritated.

    In a more extreme example, we might turn down an interview for a dream job because we don’t want to put ourselves in a position where we might be anxious or embarrassed.

    As well as trying to avoid uncomfortable feelings, many of us also chase after enjoyable ones, such as pleasure and excitement. Unfortunately, no matter how hard we try to hold on to these feelings of happiness, they will, at some point, change or slip away.

    When inevitably they do, we leave ourselves open to disappointment or despair, or a neverending quest for the next high. In fact, as Russ Harris in 'The Happiness Trap' writes: "The harder we chase after pleasurable feelings, the more we are likely to suffer from anxiety and depression".

    So where do we go from here? Mindfulness-based approaches work on the belief that true wellbeing comes when we learn not to avoid uncomfortable feelings or chase after happiness, but to accept what is. By observing our minds and bodies, and how they react to situations, we practice a kind of self-awareness that allows us to be with challenging thoughts or feelings without allowing them to erode our quality of life.

    So if we’re sitting in the car and notice thoughts and feelings of boredom or loneliness, instead of trying to distract ourselves, we can consciously turn towards these sensations with an attitude of non-judgemental friendly curiosity.

    We might ask ourselves: What exactly is my mind’s reaction to this situation and what kind of feelings do I experience in the body? Instead of immediately grabbing the phone to send a text, we can become mindfully aware of the arising thoughts and feelings and then make a conscious choice of whether we want to check the phone or instead be with what is.

    The more we practice this, we learn to respond in a more mindful and attentive way to unpleasant experiences, accepting them as just thoughts and feelings that will, as with everything in life, pass away. By noticing and accepting as they arise and pass, we reduce their pull over us. We learn to 'welcome everything and push away nothing'.

    Developing this mindfulness skillpower will mean we don’t have to go through life desperately trying to avoid challenging situations or chasing an impossible dream of constant happiness. It means we can have a choice of how we want to approach the circumstances we find ourselves in... and this will ultimately lead to a richer and more meaningful life.

     

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