Embodied Self-Compassion

The Resources

The second guidepost in The Gifts of Imperfection is self-compassion, a concept that requires some unlearning (for most of us). There are some pretty deep rooted weeds in the landscape of my inner self – weeds whose spectacular growth has been aided and supported by a practice of shaming self talk. That was definitely a feature of my mental processes before I joined a modestly conservative evangelical Christian community in my late teens, however the understanding of human beings in relation to the Divine operating in that community definitely served as well rotted manure for the inner practice of devaluing and shaming. The weed growth was fast and furious, while coming awake to kindness and recognising the poison plants was a slow, slow rising into awareness.

It’s hard to switch mental gears like that, it’s hard to ferret out every little piece of root – and it seems that the small fragments of those concepts can sneakily grow back while I’m not looking and then pipe up in a moment of frustration or despair or anxiety.

We have visited with self-compassion before (most notably here) and you may want to revisit that post and reflect on the practices that you engaged with last time, or to consider what draws you now.

Brene’s approach to self-compassion is to understand it as an antidote to perfectionism. Perfectionism is sneaky, though. It’s not (just) about lining up the silverware so it could pass your personal version of the Downton Abbey ruler test. It’s more about having high standards that you are rarely, if ever, able to meet, and it’s also the fearful, compulsive belief that you can never, ever, stop trying harder. Perfectionism is absolutely serious about almost everything – you can have fun when you’ve got everything right (which is never).

BB defines perfectionism as a self-destructive and addictive belief system that promises to deliver you from ever having to experience shame, judgement and blame – a promise that it can’t make good on no matter how hard you push or how deep you dig.

The good news is this: shame, judgement and blame are universal experiences!

Take a moment to receive this idea as good news and to let it sink in….this is part of the unlearning. If you really want to avoid these experiences, the shield of perfectionism is not going to work for you, but I think there is a way…and the path lies, of course, through and not around.

BB advocates developing shame resilience AND practicing self-compassion as ways to begin to embrace imperfection. Shame resilience is the practice of recognising when you are feeling shame and naming it to yourself, reaching out to someone you trust and asking them to listen while you tell them what happened and how you are feeling. Your trusted someone empathises with you and validates how you are feeling, and you receive their affirmation deep into your bones, where it resonates with the fullness of your own truth about yourself as beloved. And that courageous connection restores a temporarily interrupted flow of compassion. You breathe deeply, exhale slowly, relax your shoulders, unclench your jaw and feel your feet firmly on the earth.

I’m not sure, being a beginner in this practice, if it gets easier the more you do it. I hope so.

The Practices

Write and draw

What’s your experience been with shaming/blaming self-talk? You might want to take some time to reflect and journal about messages you received regarding your worth (what you were praised for, what you were scolded, shamed or blamed for). Some of those messages are spoken directly to us, some of them are implied or taken as self-evident…what did you pick up and how did it affect the way you saw yourself? How has that changed, and how do you want it to change?

Art might help you here – wax crayons and a blank sheet of paper is all you need to draw something to represent what happens when you live with the poison weed of worthlessness, and something to represent what happens when you live with kindness and compassion for yourself.

The Square Squad

This is from Dare to Lead, (BB), in case you were wondering. Take a small square of paper and write upon it the names of four people who you can call on to be your Trusted Someone when you are in the midst of a shame shit storm (this is a technical term, Brene uses it all the time).

Call them and tell them (or ask, maybe) that they are your Trusted Someone so when you find yourself flailing, wailing and overwhelmed they will know what is happening and understand what is needed. You may want to talk together first about what empathy feels like for you (for example, “I know it seems cheesy to say ‘you feel isolated’ when I’ve told you I am lonely, but that is all I need to feel heard”) – what DO you need to feel heard? AND, you may want to pause to consider how you can open to receive the affirmation when it is offered.

Put the square sqad piece of paper in your wallet/ phone case so you can call someone straight away when you need them.

FINALLY, practice the last part of shame resilience every day – connect with the flow of compassion, breathe deeply, exhale slowly, relax your shoulders, unclench your jaw (and anything else you have clenched) and feel your feet planted on the earth.

Just a quick note: this image has more than four names…it’s supposed to be a small piece of paper that limits you to only those people you really can trust to hear, empathise, reflect your goodness back to you and reconnect you with your beautiful truth. It’s hard to do this as the listener and not move into asking pointless questions, fixing the problem, explaining, exploring possible contextual meanings, adding blame, judging etc. etc. If you have more than four people in your life who can do this for you, then I’d say that you are rich indeed.

Roots and triggers

Hillary McBride explains how memories are stored in the body like cookies – they are a mix of different ingredients which can no longer be separated from each other any more than you could take the salt out of the cookie dough once you have blended it with the butter, eggs, flour and sugar.

One part of a memory might be a sound, another a thought, another a body sensation, and any one of those being experienced in the present can bring up a memory from the past. This is a trigger. Experiences of shame from the past can be triggered by something quite benign happening in the present – it looks like an over-reaction…maybe a remark that is simply an observation or even a question feels like stinging criticism….maybe wearing a certain coloured piece of clothing feels like painting a target on your heart….maybe a song evokes inexplicable discomfort/anger/fear/sadness, or a particular smell makes your stomach clench. Maybe a single thought sends you spinning into self hatred.

Take some time to re-visit an experience of shame to see if you can spot any trigger aspects – and then follow that thread to see if it reveals a hidden root that you can carefully, compassionately and kindly excavate by bringing it into the light of your presence. Shame can’t bear that – love and light are all that is needed, and you have those in abundance.

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