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Posts Tagged ‘self compassion’

Roberta Baker Veiled Woman with Spirit

Roberta Baker
Veiled Woman with Spirit

I have become increasingly aware over the last month or two of just how terrible I am about self compassion. I was better about it for a bit towards the beginning of getting serious about the mindfulness meditation, but then it seemed as though the internal directive to treat myself harshly redoubled and I was harsher than ever, when I most needed to be kind.

Last week, while I was searching for MP3 recordings of mindfulness meditations to download onto my phone, I stumbled across an audio training program of 6 sessions on mindfulness and self compassion. It’s called “Self Compassion, Step by Step” and it’s by Kristin Neff. It combines some “lectures”, exercises that are designed to demonstrate what she is talking about, and meditations to put it into practice. Dr. Neff comes across as being gentle, compassionate, and genuinely wanting for the listener to benefit from learning how to be more self compassionate. Based on the first 2 sessions, I highly recommend it, if you are at a point where you feel like it is right for you to work on mindfulness and self compassion. You can get the series either through her web site or via Amazon.

I find that I have to take the series in measured doses, because it has a real impact on me. I’ll listen to a session or part of a session, wait a day or more for my system to process what I have heard and practiced and then listen to the next. Tonight I listened to the end of the session on Loving Kindness and I found that it reached deep inside of me. (As I understand it, compassion is being with the self or other in you or another’s suffering, while loving kindness is about being with the self or other and wishing good things for yourself or them.)

When it got to the meditative practice, she had the listener first imagine a being (person, animal) that the listener has very positive feelings towards (I used my daughter) and imagine saying, “May you be safe. May you have peace. May you have health. May you live with ease.” Then the listener transitions to sitting with the other and including both parties: “May we be safe. Etc..” Finally the listener transitions to “thanking the other and letting them go” and just practicing the loving kindness on herself. “May I be safe. May I have peace. May I have health. May I live with ease.”

This is where things got very intense for me. It was like most of my energy was focused into the “may I have peace” portion of the mantra. The others still mattered, but they were more at the surface, while I could feel the section on peace being drawn deep inside. It was like I could feel it flowing and swirling around and between my different parts, going deeper and deeper and it suddenly became clear to me what a profound lack of peace I have lived with my whole life. I have been able to find periods of happiness and I am establishing more and more safety, but peace? No peace. How can there be peace when at some level I am always managing the trauma reactions?

“May I have peace.” As I felt this part of the mantra swirling down among my parts, bathing them in something soothing, I started to cry. Sometimes crying hurts, but this time it didn’t. It didn’t really “feel good” either, because it was deeply felt and deeply connected to a painful place, but as the tears ran down my face and fell onto my hands held over my abdomen (where is seems that my most vulnerable parts shelter), it was as if they were being offered as another soothing balm to all of me that has felt the never ending acid of being betrayed and hurt by those who should have protected me. There is no peace when I try to believe what I was raised to believe: the sky is green and the grass is blue. Such craziness only leaves me with a sense of everything being wrong for now and always. But today, I realized that I can wish for peace for myself. I can work towards that peace.

So after the meditation ended, I mentally “wrapped” myself in a blanket of caring and “sank” into the wish for peace for all of me. All of the traumatized parts. All of the aspects of me that struggle to cope- no matter how badly they botch the job sometimes. The me that is afraid to feel the pain of life. The me that tries to pull it all together. Every bit of me that is so thirsty for peace.

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Shaun Downey

Shaun Downey

A while back, I said that I would do a post on how I experience different parts. I quickly realized that writing such a post is quite difficult, because I generally lose my sense and memory of what a part is like, soon after I am no longer blended with that part. However there is one distinctive part that has been showing up a lot recently, and I think that I might be able to capture some of what the experience is like…

First of all, please bear in mind that I am trying to use words to describe nebulous and often transitory experiences, so I am sure that I will only be able to capture a portion of it. Also, I am going to refer to the me that I generally experience as me- the outer most me- as ‘I’ in this post.

With this part, I fairly strongly retain my sense of ‘I’, but it feels as though there is another slightly different and slightly distant ‘me’ draped over me. Simultaneously there is an awareness that this part is of me and yet this part also sees things from a different view point than ‘I’ do. Most of my parts are needy, hurt child parts, but I seem to have one helper part that morphs from time to time, and this is that helper part. She feels wiser, calmer, and far more compassionate than I do, and I wish that I could access this aspect of myself more consistently, but sometimes I go for months without accessing her. Lately, she has been more present, though, and she has been involved in my making progress at accepting what is, rather than fighting against what is, because I don’t like it. A few days ago, the part helped me to see that if my mind needs to be divided in regards to the abuse memories and keep them from feeling real to me, then that is what I need and I should accept it, rather than fearing that it means that the abuse didn’t happen. She helped me to grasp that I may simply need to chose to believe myself because I am worth believing and it’s the explanation that makes the best sense out of the facts that we have been able to verify. Tonight I realized that this part has no doubt that the abuse happened. I don’t think that she has access to the memories, but she has better access to the rest of me and it’s hard to doubt the abuse when faced with the results of the abuse.

She is one of the better “formed” of my parts, but she hasn’t always kept the same form or had a clear one. In the past she has shown up as a fairy godmother, a spunky teen, and other forms that were nebulous. Now, she seems to be a mirror image of me. Oddly enough, I don’t actually ‘see’ her, but I have a strong sense of her, which gives me the outline of what she looks like.

I am grateful for this part of me and I wonder why she is separate from the rest of the me that makes up ‘I’? There have been many times when I have needed the additional strength and calmness of this part and I simply haven’t been able to locate it. Why do I consider it necessary to dissociate the me that is more self compassionate, forgiving, and wiser? I suspect that it may be because I can’t simultaneously live from those qualities and be willing to twist myself into a pretzel in regards to my mom. I can’t treat myself gently and believe that everything is my fault at the same time.

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I’ve discovered that having it feel more safe to feel real and to know that all of me is alive has its downside. It can also make the pain and the grief that much more intense. This really is my pain and my grief. Over the last several days, it has been intense enough that it makes it difficult for me to think, much less communicate with anyone.

That intensity was utterly overwhelming to me, so I shut down my connection to the painful emotions, without even realizing what I was doing. Shutting myself off from the pain came at a terrible cost, though. I found myself in a period of intense self loathing. I heard myself inside saying things like, “I should die” and “Please kill me,” and I had images of intense self harm. I knew that this state of mind would be damaging for me to stay in- repeatedly imaging harming yourself just isn’t a good way to reinforce feelings of safety in the here and now- but it seemed that I just couldn’t get myself fully out of that state. I couldn’t figure out why I was doing this to myself- the only thing that I could think of was the fact that Mama Bear had gone off on vacation, and I seem to always have a crisis of some sort while she is gone for more than a long weekend. That idea didn’t quite seem right, but was the best hypothesis that I could come up with.

Interacting with my husband and daughter helped me to orient better to my life with them, so I could temporarily push aside the self loathing, but it was tiring to do so, and eventually the feelings would come back full force. I knew that I needed to find some self compassion, but I seemed to be incapable of locating it. All I that I could connect with was a desire to destroy myself, even though the rational corner of my mind could see that this urge was not normal for me and I just needed to hold on and eventually I would be able to untangle myself from it.

Late last night, after everyone else went to bed, I curled up on the couch just trying to breathe. I kept on feeling drawn into round after round of especially intense self hatred and eventually I realized that the urge to split myself open was connected to a need to let something emerge from me. There was something more going on here than just a desire to punish myself.

I went outside into the last of the drizzle and started to pace, so at least I didn’t literally feel trapped in place. I wondered whether I should send a message the next day to contact Mama Bear for support, but I am determined that I am going to make it through this vacation without bothering her, so I didn’t want to do that. Besides, it didn’t really feel like my difficulties were about her. And then I remembered something she said to me the last time I talked to her: she had suggested to me that the reason that I felt so much better after I allowed myself to recognize and fully feel some intense anger at my mother was because I had accepted and been able to sit with myself in the feelings, rather than trying to keep them at a distance. Over the previous 2 or 3 days, I had done anything but accept my feelings.

So, I sat down on a step outside, and tried to accept the feelings of hatred for myself. I quickly realized that I was wobbling back and forth between the desire to destroy myself and intense pain that felt like it would destroy me. And then I remembered the pain that I had started to feel a few days earlier and I realized that the self hatred was a cover to keep me away from the feelings of pain; I would remain trapped in the self loathing until I allowed myself to feel how much I hurt. I thought about my conversations with Mama Bear that even though the emotions can be so intense that they feel like they will obliterate me, they are just emotions and I am strong enough to survive them, if I just have confidence in my strength.

So I imagined wrapping myself in a blanket and I allowed myself to feel a pain that felt like it was ripped from the center of my being. I sobbed while I rocked myself and each time I felt myself starting to flee, I stopped and reminded myself that even though I hurt a lot, I am in a place and time where I am safe. When I began to distract myself by trying to figure out what the “source” of the pain was, I realized that what actually mattered right then and there was that I honor and allow myself to experience the pain. Eventually, I felt cried out and for the first time in days there was no self hatred, only compassion.

I know that it’s a good sign that I am able to feel more fully, but I can’t help but wish that my increased feelings of safety had simply left me feeling better for awhile longer, rather than already pushing me on to the next painful step in healing. I don’t mean to be ungrateful, but I’m tired. However, I am where I am. And thankfully right now I am able to feel compassion for myself, rather than hatred.

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“I feel ridiculous! A normal person wouldn’t have such an extreme reaction to the request to call her father for his birthday!”

“You do not have a normal father. You do not have a normal family. Why would you expect to have a normal reaction?”

Mama Bear made a good point there.

This was a part of the phone conversation that I wrote about in Working Through Fears, but I know that I do this all of the time. Too often, I make critical judgments of myself because I am not able to do things in a ‘normal’ manner (whatever that really means.) However, I am dealing with experiences that are out of the ‘normal’ range and that is why I am having ‘abnormal’ responses. It isn’t because I am weak or there is something inherently wrong with me; it is because my brain learned how to respond in certain ways when I was young so I could get through experiences that I should never have been exposed to. I survived, so my brain thinks that I should keep on using the same responses. Fortunately, I am now living in a very different situation, which means that the responses aren’t needed any longer; unfortunately my brain doesn’t fully understand that yet.

We continued on to talk about whether I would respond to my mother’s request…

“I know that you are very frightened and I know that your amygdala is convinced that you are under threat, but are you really in danger right now, if you send what we talked about?”

Pause… “No, not really. But it certainly feels like it.”

“Yes, it does. But you aren’t in danger. In some ways, I am asking you to ignore everything that your instincts are telling you and just go with what your reason is telling you. Right now, your instincts just aren’t going to be right about this, because your amygdala is so caught up in responding to the threat that you were under as a child, but you aren’t under that threat now. You need to decide to do whatever is most right for you, but I want for you to also know that whatever you do, it won’t put you in danger.”

I sat there and thought about this hard and it made a lot of sense. It gave me a way to think about what was going on that was compassionate and understanding, rather than judging. My brain was stuck in having an ‘abnormal’ response and it really did feel like every instinct was screaming, “Danger! Danger!” at me, but I could also see that while my mother’s reaction might be difficult and unpleasant for me to deal with, there was no life and death danger there. Every bit of me was convinced that there was, but there really wasn’t.

Judging myself for having such an extreme reaction to the idea of having an honest dialogue with my mom wasn’t useful or fair. I was dealing with an abnormal situation, and as Mama Bear so often points out, self compassion and understanding generally are more useful than self criticism. Self criticism helps to reinforce my feeling under threat, while compassion and understand can help to dissolve that sense of threat. And so I eased myself into taking a step back, accepting that my intuition told me that communication with my mother was dangerous, but also holding in my mind that the sense of danger was false. Slowly the fear eased and I became able to think about what I wanted to do, rather than just reacting out of fear.

The first step to this process was to accept that I can’t expect to have a normal reaction to a situation that has little to nothing that is normal about it. I don’t think that I am the only one here who tends to become angry with herself because her reactions tend toward the extreme, even when she can see that that extreme isn’t really warranted. So I thought that I would share with you that bit of Mama Bear wisdom… Is what you are dealing with ‘normal’? If not, why would you expect to have a ‘normal’ reaction? Rather than judging your reaction, can you look at it with self compassion?

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