Self-Compassion: Key To Avoiding
Sue Roberts, psychotherapist and longtime OPEN EXCHANGE lister (see Counseling and Singles) is our resident expert on the perils of being in a relationship with a self-serving narcissist, but here she addresses the vital skills of healthy self-concern, with examples that include experiences with her Zen teacher, Suzuki Roshi.
Self-compassion isn't the "self-esteem" gained by pulling up your bootstraps, competing and winning, or by positive Post-it notes around the house. It isn't self-indulgence or self-pity, but it can help you find what you really need, and give respect to your sadness, comfort to your disappointment, and validation to your anger. It requires courage to pause and watch your feelings when there's a surprise glitch or shortcoming about what you expected of someone, a situation or yourself.
With warm kindness extended to yourself, you register the change in "how things are NOW" inside and outside, refusing the trouble that comes from jumping too soon into criticism and harsh judgment. If you're not in actual danger in this moment, you choose the opportunity to take your time to be free, open, curious and safe.
If you're angry, disappointed, sad or in pain, some swear words sometimes bubble up! You can let them express themselves in your mind as you watch. Or if you're alone and out of others' earshot, you can say them out loud if you want! You increase your awareness of that feeling, take the pressure off and make more room for other feelings to be welcomed.
Many of us are afraid that we will be overwhelmed or stopped in our tracks if we really feel, so we deny what we know already and have elaborate avoidance habits we don't question. But the road to being kind, smart and safe with ourselves is consciously making a space where feelings and circumstances can be allowed to simply exist for that moment.
My Zen teacher told students we needed to accept EVERYTHING. Not being devotional sheep but deep questioners, we took him on, expounding about all the wrong things we knew aboutthe war, injustice, poverty, greed, hangnails...! He gently countered that acceptance meant letting into our being the awareness of what was already there. This didn't mean we approved, were just going along or giving up. He said if we wanted to manifest the changes we so dearly wanted, we must first see, understand and accept what he called, "things as it is." It was as if we were to create a painting, and we needed to know exactly what paints were on our palette. Just what are our tools and resources for living in real time? It doesn't help just to pretendlife finds you out.
I Refuse To Let Somebody Drive Me Crazy!
"My co-worker announced at a staff meeting that my well-liked idea was terrible and would hurt the company. I saw red and attacked her then and there. I HATE being accused unfairly! Did it help to find out she'd come back from lunch drunk, and got written up? Only a little. I'd lost it in front of the staff. I wish I'd been able to say to MYSELF, 'Oh, crap, here's my nightmareI'm very upsetmy response could be out of control. Let me just be my own buddy at my side and only say that I don't agree and that this needs to be handled later.' I troubleshoot for the whole companyI don't need to cause myself trouble. Now I breathe deeply, let it go and accept myself as one of the flawed members of the human race. I see my co-worker as one, too. I don't need to carry a huge resentmentI just need to take care and protect myself with the truth."
Well, How's It Working For You!?
"I always thought I had to liemy whole family did it, but we didn't call it that. We were so afraid of the truth we'd mold our lies into carrots, stick them on poles in front of our faces and each other, and insist we believed and needed them for motivation. I had excuses to jump into risky behavior for thrills and adventure and to get, fix or hold onto somebody or something. I'd close my eyes and not think about cost or consequences. I wanted pleasure and high drama to fill the empty. I ignored or exaggerated my feelingsI didn't want to know what they were and I didn't want to be bored or scared. I made lots of mistakes and, of course, blamed myself and everybody! It's a family tradition! Then I joined a Twelve-Step program and found out I'd hit bottom. There was a lot I could find out about myself and the world while experiencing kindness and acceptance I had not known before. I want to change my attitude, and I can."
That's Silly and StupidHow Could You Think That!?
"That's the overly critical voice of my parents trying to stop my questioning of what they did that hurt; it's the same voice of my controlling ex-boyfriend; it's what I've said to myself or a friend for expressing something that scares me, that is outside of what is 'acceptable" and might be punishable. But now I've created a protected place inside me that Pema Chodrin calls 'a softness that's accessible' where I bring in 'the way it is just at this moment.' I see what I'm afraid of, but I don't have to harden myself immediately to try to change it. I may end up with the same ignorance I started with, but at least I'll know I don't know! My wits and resources are mine, all mine! I'm smart, and I can be silly if I want to be! Every April Fool's Day I am part of the Saint Stupid's Day Parade in San Francisco, and I carry a sign, CHOOSE CONFUSION OVER DELUSION!"
I Made a Mistake!
"During group zazen meditation my teacher was suddenly harsh with Niels for continuously looking at the clock. 'But Roshi, I'm the bell ringer for the end of zazen!!,' Niels howled. We were aghast. Roshi instantly took Niel's arm, fully announced, 'I made a mistake!! I'm sorry!!,' and threw back his head and laughed at himself."
Self-compassion is a habit of frequently choosing to pause and extend kindness and curiosity to yourself, especially when you're having a hard time. You do it when you see it's a requirement for making wiser, happier tailor-made decisions for your path. You do it to spare yourself and others unnecessary excuses, blame, guilt and suffering. You do it when you've come to the end of your rope, or when someone else's brain squash program for you just doesn't work. You do it when you wake up to belonging to a tribe, where all members happen to need truth and kindness, too.
You do it because you want a good bit of lead time between wake up and the time you croak.
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