When I was a little girl I remember being devastated when an adult said that they were disappointed with me and I would feel so much shame about my behaviour or whatever mistake I had made. It was always so nice when my mom, a teacher or my older sister would give me a hug and a pep talk… “It’s not the end of the world Trish; this shall pass, you’ll do better next time, I know you didn’t mean for it to turn out this way”. In these nurturing moments of kindness I received that much needed validation that I was not a bad person no matter how spectacularly I had failed. It allowed me to pick myself up, dust myself off and get on with my life.
Fast forward a few decades. I make a decision at work that results in an outcome that is less than ideal. Then a couple weeks later I make a second decision that several people questioned as being ineffective. I like to present myself as someone whose sound judgement can be counted on so when these incidents occurred I found myself feeling insecure and I assumed others had lost confidence in me. I started down the path of self-destructive and distorted thinking. I became defensive about my decisions and blamed outside circumstances for the way things turned out. I complained inwardly about how it was easy for others to critique my decisions when they didn’t have to shoulder the responsibility. This led to my catastrophizing thoughts; that nothing was going right for me and 2017 was turning out to be a bust. There were a few restless nights where I tossed and turned in agitation. I was doing my regular self-compassion practice and it helped to keep me open to the feedback and take responsibility, but I still seemed to be struggling with letting it go.
My friend Cathy reminded me of something that Kristin Neff had said during our training - when you are dealing with a “sticky” negative emotion, it likely has a measure of shame attached. Shame can be a difficult emotion to work through, but self-compassion can help us here.
Once I labelled this emotion “shame”, I was able to do a particular practice that helps with dealing with difficult emotions. This self-compassion practice, called Soften, Soothe and Allow guided me to work with the emotion while being mindful of how shame is experienced in my body. The first step is to soften the area where I experience shame in the body and soothe myself while allowing the emotion to be just as it is. Trying to push shame away was not working, but being kind to myself while in the midst of experiencing shame helped to cool the heat of the emotion - just like those trusted adults from my childhood used to do when they offered their kind words.
I meet a lot of people who have never experienced that external validation and reassurance from others. This is the wonderful gift of self-compassion practice - we can learn to comfort and soothe our own pain. We don’t have to rely on other people. Like a medicinal balm, self-compassion speeds up healing so then you can pick yourself up, dust yourself off and get on with your life.
With Kindness, Patricia