On Self-Compassion

Zoe & Max
Thanks to Craig

I wore my therapist’s hat all day yesterday. My brain is still percolating with the ramifications of the seminar’s subject, Self-Compassion: An Antidote to Shame, and its relevance. How do we manage the day-to-day shaming behaviors of our president and our elected officials? I see and feel shame every day.

According to the psychological research on mindfulness and well-being, the best antidote to shame is self-compassion. But how does one attend to self-compassion if we are feeling angry, disgusted, anxious, overwhelmed, worried, scared, and incredulous? How often have I responded to a news alert or a banner on my i-phone with an out loud shout: “Unbelievable!”

As a therapist, during the decade of the eighties, my most challenging work involved clients with repressed memories of early childhood sexual abuse. Shame infused every session. Empathy and compassion for the client’s struggle, developing trust and a sense of safety, were key. The goal: to enable clients to face their story and to cultivate empathy and self-compassion.

Several of my most challenging clients uncovered events, came to an intellectual understanding, but continued to struggle with esteem and lifestyle choices that might ease their suffering. Shame and self-blame, often in the remembered voice of a stern and blaming parent, held a strong grip.

I don’t think it’s too big a stretch to say that our democracy is in the grip of a blaming, self-absorbed leader who puts family and friends first. Many pundits have likened his bullying to mob style leadership with all the innuendoes of secrecy, switch and bait, “what I can get away with” behaviors. For 483 days, we have been in the throes of a man decimating President Obama’s legacy and attempting to deconstruct our institutions. Abuse, in word and deed, are rampant.

Considering how Trumpian leadership triggers fear and undermines our sense of safety, I share the essence of yesterday’s 6-hour seminar on how self-compassion can be a significant resource in managing the stress of daily events. According to the seminar instructor, Chris Germer, PhD, a member of the Harvard Medical School and Cambridge Health Alliance, self-compassion consists of three main components—

  1. Self kindness: entails being warm and caring towards ourselves when things go wrong in our lives.

  2.   Common humanity: recognizes the shared nature of suffering when difficult situations occur.    

  3.    Mindfulness: involves turning inward toward our painful thoughts and emotions and seeing them as they are without suppression or avoidance.

Ask yourself, What do I need now? Is it a cup of soothing, hot tea, a walk in nature, a good book, talking with a friend, listening to music or working in the garden before the rain comes as I did earlier today? After planting the Zahara flame zinnias and deep purple stock plants, I felt relaxed and ready to tackle this post.

In this Trump era, we need to approach information mindfully and adopt a self-compassionate attitude. In so doing, we can sustain our empathy and compassion for others like the #Never Again and #Me Too Movements, the Dreamers, the refugees at the border, the women in danger of losing their healthcare under Title 10, and the many more who are vulnerable to every day threats to their safety and well-being.











21 thoughts on “On Self-Compassion

  1. Beverly Ruth Bader

    I read your carefully written essay, and said to myself, ‘“Yes! Compassion toward the self is exaactly what’s needed to successfully be able to emotionally deal with our political leadership!” I then quickly emailed your written piece to my loved ones. I know that they will appreciate receiving it! I wonder if you might consider editing this essay so that it will be accepted for print in a newspaper in your area or outside. It will be wonderful to have a larger audience reading it at these most stressful times!
    It can make a big difference.

    1. fayewriter Post author

      Bev, I so appreciate your affirming comments and the fact of relevance for your loved ones and a wider audience.

  2. Carol Steinman

    Very thoughtful piece that is also thought provoking. Thanks for re -framing possible responses we feel when facing our reaction to Trump’s latest message or act. It is especially calming to look at and enjoy the wonderful photo you provided.

    1. fayewriter Post author

      Carol, this is one of my favorite pictures of Zoe and Max. He grew up with her and they are very close and loving, as you can see. I’m so pleased you find it calming. It does that for me, also (Big sigh!). The seminar was so enriching. I was/am happy to move some of what I learned forward,

  3. Rosemary

    I appreciate the movement in this piece–from the writer’s specific therapeutic learnings, to her own history of experience, to her immersion in nature (gardening), and then to tending the “garden” of so many others equally affected, needing care.

    1. fayewriter Post author

      Rosemary, your sense of movement is apt. The challenge in writing this blog was to distill 6 hours of learning into an everyday process. I so appreciate your affirming comment!

  4. Patricia Rogers

    Faye, this is such a good reminder, during these difficult and challenging times, but realistically, life is generally challenging! My therapist part is often encouraging folks to find these places of comfort, rest and solace, but it seems when we need them the most they can be the most difficult to take on. Glad you enjoyed the workshop, sounds like it was just what the doctored ordered!
    Love to you,

    1. fayewriter Post author

      Pat,one of my takeaways from the workshop was the benefit of a daily ritual or practice. For me, the simple, yet salient question, “What do I need?’ or “What do I need now?” helps re-set my perspective. In the first grounding exercise, Germer showed how voice articulation (sighing out loud, etc.) or focusing on feeling the ground, can make a difference. All stuff you know, I am sure!

  5. Melinda

    Love it, Faye! Well said – and well founded in a strong research base. Big hugs and kisses.

    1. fayewriter Post author

      Melinda, Wonderful to hear from you. Thanks for your affirming words.The research is so salient and specific!

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