Befriending Ourselves – how to be more compassionate with ourselves

Our inner critic is loud and bossy. Have you ever stopped to listen to it?

“What did I do that for? I’m such an idiot!”

“I’m so fat!”

“I’ll never make anything of my life!”

“Why does this always happen to me?”

“I’ll never get this right!”

This inner critical voice has been with us since very early in our lives. It’s our most consistent companion. Maybe you’ve tried to change it with positive affirmation statements or to silence it through meditation, but it’s very hard to fool yourself or to shut this voice down and despite all your efforts, the inner critic is loud and clear and bossy as ever: “Yeah right! As if!” So you check to see if it’s 5pm yet: “Surely it’s time for my evening glass of wine!” or you reach for some chocolate or cake or some other comfort food and get lost in Facebook for a while. It’s much easier to numb.

What if you really started listening to this voice and what it has to say? What if you put on a different set of ears and listen through the negativity and criticism to what is really being expressed?

When your child says “He’s being mean to me!”, they’re really telling you that they are feeling sad and angry and would perhaps like your support to help them to feel safe or included with their friends. Our inner critic is the same – it’s using habitual language learnt in childhood. It just doesn’t know how else to express itself to you. And, like a child, we can turn towards this inner critic and really listen with compassion, love and curiosity.

So what can we do when we become aware of the loud ranting voice in our heads? Here are three quick tips to help you listen with compassion to your inner critic:

  1. BREATHE
    Pause and take a few deep breaths. This helps to calm your nervous system and slow things down.

  2. LISTEN TO YOUR BODY
    The body talks and if we can slow down enough and start to notice the sensations, we can learn a lot about our inner world. We don’t have to do anything or analyse it, just to notice with gentle curiosity. Perhaps there is a contracting feeling in your stomach or your scalp is prickling. Try to stay with the sensation. A way to help you stay focused on the sensation is to describe it: Does it have a colour, shape, texture, thickness, etc? Just be with it.
  3. LISTEN WITH LOVE – Focus on Feelings & Needs
    This inner critic is a part of you that wants to be heard and loved, to be noticed and to matter. When your child comes crying to you saying that someone was mean to them at school, what do you do? You probably take them on your knee, give them a cuddle and make some soft, loving, compassionate sounds that let them know they are loved and that they matter and that you are here for them. This is what your inner critic needs too. Can you guess what feelings are underneath the harsh, negative language? Sadness? Frustration? Disappointment? What really matters here? What is the longing? What is important? What is needed? Love? Inclusion? Understanding?

The more we identify with the inner critic, the more we stay in a state of helplessness and disempowerment. Through slowing down, allowing, tuning into our bodies and really starting to listen, we can get more in touch with what really matters to us in our lives and then we start to make different choices and have more clarity when things aren’t going the way we hoped. The path to empowerment and really creating the life we want is through self compassion.

When we can be better friends to ourselves, we can be better parents, lovers, children, friends, neighbours, colleagues and citizens. A compassionate world is created by compassionate people and it starts with our relationship to ourselves.

Want to learn how to be more compassionate with yourself?

I regularly facilitate workshops on Self Compassion and Compassionate Communication. Check my Facebook page for the upcoming workshops.

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Turning towards

turning towards

Saturday night. Both kids went on a sleepover. We had the night to ourselves. This is good practice for when we become empty nesters, I thought. We decided to have a bath and started to talk about a novel that we’d both been listening to. Somehow the conversation turned to the kids and his concern about the kids having a life of too much play and not enough structure.  

Many times I heard criticism. Many times, I heard messages of “You’re not …. enough” “You’re too….”. That isn’t what he said, but with a strong inner critic who is quick to hear blame and criticism that is what I heard. This time, I took a breath and I remembered.

Turn towards the discomfort, lean in, stay open, be curious. Tell me more, I said. What do you mean when you say that?, I asked. Are you saying …? Are you worried because …? Are you concerned about..? Are you wanting them to grow up with …?

There were times it got tense. We both got defensive. I can do this, I reminded myself. Keep trying. Stay open. Inquire. It ebbed and flowed. We reminded each other to lower our voices when we started to get loud and tense. And we navigated our way through. And at the end, the bath water was luke-warm and we both had new perspectives.

I realised that I would like to be more aware of their need for rest and downtime and not to always give in to their frequent requests for playmates and sleepovers every time they get bored. He had more of a sense of the importance of unstructured play for both children and adults. Also, that it’s ok for him to tell them what he needs and not just to prioritise to what they want in school holidays (he’s the daytime daddy).

He told me of beautiful memories from his childhood of making planes and boats from sticks, of cooking rice in the garden in a tin can and his longing for our kids to have experiences like this and not just a life of screens and technology ruling their free time.

And so we shared, we learned, we opened, we breathed, we grew and we came together in mutual understanding and wider perspectives. It was worth the discomfort and it was worth the risk.

Peanut brain

Copyright: nailiaschwarz / 123RF Stock Photo
Copyright: nailiaschwarz / 123RF Stock Photo

This week, listening to a wonderful interview with brain scientist Dr Jill Bolte-Taylor,  I learnt that our thoughts all originate from a cluster of cells in our left hemisphere which are the size of a peanut. It is our thoughts that trigger our feelings and make us unhappy.

“She ignored me!”, “He’s being selfish!”, “I’m not good enough”, etc.  Our peanut brain has a thought and this triggers a feeling. At this point we have a choice…. to feed the feeling (fan the fire) with further thoughts or recognise, allow, accept and empathise. Continue reading “Peanut brain”

Hearing is healing

Copyright: mnsanthoshkumar / 123RF Stock Photo
Copyright: mnsanthoshkumar / 123RF Stock Photo

I’m realising more and more just how powerful listening is. Last night, I was doing reflective listening with my son, i.e. I was repeating back in my own words what I understood he was saying with a particular focus on his feelings and needs. It was satisfying to do because it helped me to be present with him and not go off into my own thoughts. Some time into the conversation, there was a lull and he suddenly said “I love you so much. I’m just feeling so full of love at the moment. It’s strange but lately I’ve been feeling this kind of overflowing love feeling a lot”. I think it’s because he felt so heard and because I was so present with him. My pattern is to be very busy and distracted and wanting to do my own thing and I think I haven’t been present enough with him over the years (particularly when he was little). This year, I’m really focused on trying to be present with him and I’ve noticed lately how he frequently expresses this “overflowing with love” feeling to me.

I watched a very powerful documentary this week on how listening can help people to heal from major conflict and trauma and how it can facilitate truth and reconciliation processes. This 55-minute documentary (below), Raamro Aakha Ma (In the Eyes of the Good), shows parts of a 7-day workshop “Healing and Reconciliation through Nonviolent Communication” that was held in Nepal in December 2014. The workshop was held to help people heal their trauma from the 10-year civil war in Nepal and to facilitate peace and reconciliation between victims and former combatants.
Continue reading “Hearing is healing”

What do you think about when you listen?

mother-son

I’ve been trying to do more reflective listening recently. When I first heard about it, it sounded like you just repeat back to the other person what they have said.

E.g.
Friend: I’m ashamed to tell her the truth.
You:  You’re ashamed to tell her the truth …

But since I’ve been exploring empathy, I now understand that it’s about really trying to deeply understand the other person’s thoughts and feelings without judgement or analysis and reflect back to them what you are hearing that is almost beneath their words. I tried this out with my son on the weekend when he’d had a fight with his friend. Continue reading “What do you think about when you listen?”

When do we really listen?

cropped-unnamed-1.jpg

Today, my son broke his arm for the 3rd time (skateboarding). I had just heard the news from my husband (phoning from the hospital) when someone came to talk to me. After she told me what she had come to say, I told her my son had just broken his arm. She sympathised briefly then launched into a long story about when her son had broken his arm many years ago. She again briefly expressed sympathy and walked away.

This is a very typical way we “listen” to others. What we’ve told the person triggers their memories of when something similar happened to them. We don’t intend to “one-up” (e.g. that’s nothing, you should hear what happened to me!), but it’s habitual to go into our own experiences rather than staying present with the person who has shared something with us. Continue reading “When do we really listen?”