Self-Compassion – Luxury or Necessity?

Sarah comes in through the door, I pour her a water and I ask, “How are you?” She replies, “Aww, not that great. I have been feeling really down for the last two weeks. So much has been going on with my family, and at work, too. It all feels futile. I have failed in so many ways. I just can’t handle all these conflicts and problems anymore.”

I don’t usually see clients when they feel good or are at the top of the world. Instead, they normally come back when something has happened and they need to work through a conflict, often both an outer one as well as an inner conflict.

Life throws us these curve balls and the Inner Critic voice we all have loves nothing more than to beat us up in the face of adversity. It pipes up especially loudly when we feel we have made a “mistake” or “failed” in some way. We didn’t get the grade we were aiming for, we are being laid off from a job or are not being hired for a position we have applied to, the person we would like to date rejects us or our marriage is struggling, we are experiencing fertility issues or our teenager is acting out, we have received worrisome health news or are trying to lose weight with little success, and the list goes on and on.

self-compassion 1

The “I’m not good enough in some way” story is almost universal. We all struggle with it at some point in some way. How much we struggle is largely based on the experience we had with our caregivers during childhood. Were they compassionate, empathetic and able to love us unconditionally? Or did we have the experience that we were loved when we were “performing according to certain standards and ideals, and that love was withdrawn or guilt was applied” (Dr. Kelly McGonigal), if we didn’t meet the expectations.

The sad news is that most parents did not know how to raise their children with unconditional love. And we cannot even blame them because what we have not experienced ourselves is hard to pass on to the next generation. Sarah, for example, had an emotionally absent father and a harsh mother, who preferred her younger children and had unrealistic expectations of Sarah as the oldest. No matter how hard Sarah tried to please, she could never win her parent’s attention and full love. When she was 18, she married to get out of this cold home. Unfortunately, that marriage didn’t last, as Sarah naturally brought her childhood issues around love with her into that relationship. She tried to be perfect and to please, but never felt that she was good enough. The failure of the marriage, however, added to her list of regrets and mistakes, which all seemed to prove her unworthiness.

Receiving conditional love as a child is the breeding ground for pathological perfectionism and the feeling that we are never quite enough. The good news is that we can still heal those wounds with self-compassion and the compassion of others.

self-compassion 2

Our feeling of lacking in some way is very old. When we go back and remember moments of self-esteem deflation, we realize how early this started. The qualities and criteria, however, which allow the Inner Critic to collapse our self-esteem, have changed through the different developmental stages and can be quite arbitrary. The Inner Critic will always find something to criticize. Ultimately, that critical voice is the internalized parental or societal voice. It has the power to completely deflate us and affect our mental, emotional and physical state.

Smaller or bigger Inner Critic attacks are not only very common but brain research has shown that self-criticism and self-judgment are the default setting of our brain. When we are not focused on doing something specific, the Inner Critic is running its programs of comparison and categorizing into good and bad. Sadly, most of the time that voice is not all too friendly with us, which has direct effects on our health. “We know that people who are highly self-critical, who are never good enough, are obviously at increased risk for depression. And depression reinforces those feelings.” (Dr. Kelly McGonigal)

Nicola Hermanto, a PhD candidate in Clinical Psychology at McGill University, published a study in 2016 that looked at adults in Canada, England and Portugal and the relationship between self-criticism—so in other words a lack of self-compassion—and depression. This study did not just find a high correlation between those two factors, but they also found that the fear and inability to receive compassion from others contributes to depression. Feeling unworthy of receiving compassion, or being suspicious of other people being kind and caring, increases the link between self-criticism and depression.

Dala Lama

Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries.
Without them humanity cannot survive.
– Dalai Lama

If we all have a default tendency to be self-critical, the one thing that becomes a necessity to counteract that Inner Critic voice is a loving, compassionate Inner Parental voice. Part of that process is the ability and willingness to receive kindness, empathy and loving support from others.

Subconscious belief changes therefore need to address the issue of deserving and receiving, as well as beliefs around making mistakes and embracing failures as part of life, instead of a sign that there is something deeply unworthy and shameful about us.

Once we have changed some subconscious beliefs about our own worthiness, it becomes easier to practice self-compassion or inner compassion. True self-compassion means feeling a “sense of love or self-acceptance or inner acceptance even in the moment of self-esteem collapse” (Dr. Ron Siegel). When we have this sense of okay-ness, or sense of value and worth in the world, we can lovingly re-parent ourselves. With love for ourselves in moments of crisis, we can ask, “What’s good for me in this situation? What is the self-loving thing to do or think right now?”

self-compassion 4a)

Another very powerful piece of work in practicing kindness and gentleness towards ourselves is self-forgiveness. Often the most important work is to forgive ourselves for our past choices and decisions. We don’t need the forgiveness of others nearly as much as we need our own. We can alter our relationship with ourselves by releasing those harsh judgments and self-critical thoughts that keep us imprisoned within that sense of not being valuable, not being good enough. Moment by moment of inner compassion, we are healing our sorrows and wounds and ultimately changing our entire life.

self-compassion 5

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Angelika
Life Coaching, Belief Changes & Forgiveness Work
905-286-9466, greendoorrelaxation@yahoo.ca

Childhood Messages

Most childhoods are full of mixed messages about love. Most parents and care-givers did not and still do not know how to truly love themselves unconditionally. How can they teach the next generation about unconditional love? Instead we learn “I am loved if/when…”

It is an elemental need for everybody to be loved. Therefore, it becomes our task as children to “crack the code” to this love which is conditional, to figure out who we need to be for others to like and love us. The rules of conditional love vary from person to person. Maybe our mother loves us when we are helpful, our grandmother give us attention when we smile a lot, our father loves us when we excel in school, our friends like us best when we agree with them and our teacher rewards us for neatness. So we become little actors, take on different roles. Those roles are not a conscious choice. We step into them to have our most basic need to be loved met.

Different authors, like John Gray and Carolyn Myss, have come up with different groups of childhood roles. None of these lists are complete, they are examples of how we respond to conditional love. Instead of being our authentic selves, we create a persona which we hope will be accepted and result in attention and love. Sometimes we feel we cannot get positive attention. In those cases—as every teacher knows—negative attention is better than none.

Robert Holden describes the following seven roles in his book “Loveability”: The good child, the helper, the star, the happy child, the melancholy child, the independent child, the rebel, the genius, and the peaceful child.


THE GOOD CHILD

childhood messages - good child

He or she believes “I am lovable when I am good”. This child behaves like a good little adult, neat and tidy, is never a bother. As an adult, this person shows up as the “good friend/partner/parent/employee”. Having a free choice to be “good” is one thing. Feeling you need outside approval and you always have to behave in a way which is deemed as “good” by others is extremely limiting.


THE HELPING CHILD

childhood messages - helping child (angel)

The helping child believes they will be loved when they are a little nurse, angel or therapist. This child might grow up to be an adult who always feels the need to help others but never be helped. He or she might have a hard time receiving and might end up with partners and friends who constantly need to be rescued or helped.


THE STAR CHILD

childhood messages - star child

Life for the star child is all about winning the “Oscar” for being outstanding, for being the best. Excellence is a virtue to strive for but the star child feels he or she is only lovable when they are the best version of themselves in any given moment and not for being the authentic self. As adults, star children feel they have to be the model partner, best parent, or most outstanding in their career.


THE HAPPY CHILD

childhood messages - happy child

The happy child is convinced they are more lovable when they are happy. He or she is always cheerful and positive, always “A-OK”, never angry, never sad, never worried. As an adult, the happy child is still worried that her emotions—other than happiness—will drive others away.


THE MELANCHOLY CHILD

childhood messages - melancholy child

This child is exactly the opposite of the happy child. He or she believes they are loved more when they are unhappy. Melancholy, crying, and withdrawing gets him or her the attention we all need. As an adult, the melancholic person is still afraid to be happy, fearing they won’t get any attention.


THE INDEPENDENT CHILD

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The independent child puts on an act of strength and bravery. He or she believes “If I am independent, I don’t need anybody else and cannot be hurt or disappointed”. Being fiercely independent as an adult prevents us from true intimacy and closeness. Only if we open up to the fact that we all depend on others, can we experience letting ourselves be loved and cared for.


THE REBEL CHILD

childhood messages - rebel child

The rebel or difficult child believes they are unlovable anyways and cannot win. They are a typical example that negative attention still feels better than no attention. At least we don’t feel invisible. That attitude causes life-long problems in all areas. In relationships, the rebel attracts drama, fights, tragedy as that is how they see themselves.

The rebel might in some cases become the black sheep of the family who carries everybody’s shadow.


THE GENIUS CHILD

childhood messages - genius child

Being competent and brilliant at something is the genius child’s way to love and attention. Similar to the star child, only the highest achievement, often of academic nature, will do. The genius believes they are loved for their brilliance not for who they truly are.


THE PEACEFUL CHILD

Peaceful place

This child does whatever he or she can to keep the peace and to not rock the boat. Striving for harmony and oneness in relationships is great but the peaceful child will grow up to be an adult who leaves their own needs completely out of the equation just to preserve a resemblance of union.


Have you recognized yourself in one or more of these roles?

What about your own children?

As we are learning to love ourselves more and more and to love our children truly unconditional, we all need to be less and less of an actor and can become more whole, more authentic, more true to our essential nature.

Relationship Coaching and Conscious Parenting

Angelika

905-286-9466

greendoorrelaxation@yahoo.ca

If you are enjoying my posts you can follow Greendoor to receive an e-mail notification whenever I post a new blog. All you need to do is to click the follow button in the right hand corner of your screen.