This morning I was visited again by those dark feelings that lurk in some recess of my being: “I am worthless, I am nothing.”
This morning, instead of my usual response: to shut them down, to busily distract my mind, I stayed with them.
First, I acknowledged that, while I was having those feelings, I am not those things. The feelings are transient, they are not who I am. Then I reflected on other people I know who, at times, are troubled by similar feelings. And, finally, I offered myself love; figuratively holding myself tenderly, in the midst of the pain these feelings evoked.
And I came through. Tremors ran through my body as if releasing long-held energy. Deep breaths. Rocking movements. And slowly these sensations settled. I felt like me, four-square on the ground, ready, to take on whatever comes my way, both from outside and within. And, it seemed, with greater resilience.
And then I recognised that the steps I had taken to assimilate those feelings perfectly reflected the three components of self-compassion as described by psychologist and researcher, Kristen Neff (2003). (I teach this stuff. Rather gratifying that I may have actually assimilated some of it!)
The first component is mindfulness. Recognising the feelings and being present with them, while not identifying as them, this is mindfulness.
Next comes common humanity. So often when we are experiencing emotional pain, there is also a sense that this is wrong, abnormal; everyone but me is leading normal, happy lives. This can be very isolating. By thinking of others whom I know have had similar feelings, I was also normalising my experience, downplaying any potential isolation.
The third component of self-compassion is self-kindness. I could recognise I was suffering. Rather than judging myself for being imperfect, buying into the feelings I was having, I did the opposite, holding myself with tenderness rather like soothing a distress young child.
I know this isn’t the last time similar feelings will ambush me. I trust that I am becoming better equipped to assimilate the experience.
More information about Mindful Self-Compassion: https://www.restoringhealth.com.au/msc-course
Neff, K. D. (2003) Self-compassion: An alternative conceptualisation of a healthy attitude toward oneself. Self and Identity, 2, 85-97.