In a previous post I wrote about the practice of attending to one’s own physical cues as a starting place for cultivating a self-compassionate stance. This is often where we need to start if trying to tune in to and attend to our emotional life is too overwhelming.
If you tried the recommended exercise to notice and respond efficiently to cues for hunger, thirst, rest, and going to the bathroom, you might have noticed this is not a problem at all, or you might notice that you always delay all of your needs, or perhaps something in between those two extremes. Whatever you notice is good information about your relationship with yourself!
You might also have noticed internal resistance or certain thoughts that occur when you try to take care of those needs. Paying attention to the message in the resistance feeling, or noticing the thoughts can lead the way to a more self-compassionate life because once you are aware of the resistance to taking care of the body, you have an opportunity then to question it. How do you do that? Well, here are some suggestions for what you might get curious about:
- What objections does the mind have to me taking care of the body?
- In what way does it make sense to not take care of the body?
- What would happen if I just surrendered to the need to take care of the body?
Often what people discover is that they have an irrational resistance to taking care of themselves, and unconsciously run themselves ragged. Examined closely, what could we come up with that could be more important than first attending to our basic needs? The truth is, caring for ourselves is not optional, because it’s just not sustainable. If we don’t care for ourselves in really basic ways, we break down: we feel upset more easily, more anxious, more tired, less resilient. I heard a wonderful expression recently for being too hungry: “hangry”. Doesn’t that just say it all? The basic care we provide for ourselves creates the physical, mental and emotional foundation for everything we do and want to do in the world.
Sometimes people will also discover outright violence toward the self, which then might require some support to sort through. Sometimes this is a result of trauma, or misinterpretation of biblical text, or some other experience which created over-harshness toward the self. Sometimes this self-violence is referred to as “the critic”, and can be debilitating if allowed to run amok without being challenged. This protective mechanism works overtime and keeps us stuck in a no-win vortex of self-hate and pressure to achieve.
If you feel you’ve mastered caring for the body and you’re ready to move to the next step, then try to imagine what it might look like if you moved to the next step of caring for your emotions the same way, and for the same reason – because the cue is there. Or, you can try the process listed below. It takes some practice, but once you get the hang of it, it can be nothing short of life-changing:
- First notice what’s happening. Give it a short label if you can: sadness, rejection, disappointment, anger, fear…
- Shift away from thoughts about the feeling and into the physical sensation of it, using the feeling of your feet on the floor or of the chair beneath you to stay grounded. Do this for as long as you need to.
- Remember that others have felt this pain, and someone, somewhere is also feeling exactly what you feel right this moment. See if you can feel that connection with unknown others who know your pain. Do this for as long as you need to.
- When you feel ready, ask yourself, “what is the compassionate response to the situation?”. Maybe you need to stop and take care of physical needs that were delayed, or maybe you need to soothe yourself in a healthy way (cup of tea, play with the dog, go for a short walk, read inspirational material, sing a song, find something that makes you laugh).
I’m not going to ruin the surprise, but something magical happens when you do this. You’ll have to try it to find out :). If you need support to help make sense of what you’re finding when you do these exercises, please contact me.
Take good care!
- Compassion For Yourself Before Extending it Out to Others (lushnolonger.wordpress.com)
- Ten Science-Based Facts About Love (psychologytoday.com)
- The Rhythm of Life (mindbodyspiritacademy.org)
- Be Compassionate to Yourself (kindnessismyreligion.wordpress.com)
- Self Compassion (mkane391.wordpress.com)