Some days it feels really discouraging and difficult to focus on the positive way forward in life when the inner critic is loud, aggressive and harsh in tone and insinuations mimicking what we heard and ‘understood to be true’ as a child. Attempting to counteract the onslaught of negativity by directly engaging the ‘inner critic’ to soften can require more energy than we have in the moment. It’s also a long road and often mixed with feeling demoralized and devalued by one’s inner critic.
Neuroscience research is revealing that it is more effective is to strengthen the voice, the presence and the response of our ‘inner nurturer’. Indeed, nurturing is a face of loving acceptance and an act of self compassion. Ancient sages have long offered teachings of the necessity for compassion to transform our minds and open our hearts. The evidence of Compassion Focused Therapy is discovering that inner nurturing and building a compassionate mind is a powerful antidote to shame.
The soothing system, as Paul Gilbert PhD suggests, is an inner system that supports the slowing down, the rest and digest system. This system helps with emotional regulation and sets us up for safety, kindness and self care. Ironically, this soothing system is often the most underdeveloped in people. When developed alongside the threat and the drive systems, Paul Gilbert suggests we can more readily calm ourselves from angst, restore safeness and connection following a real or perceived threat. We can also find balance when the drive and threat systems are overwhelmed or overused.
So how do we go about cultivating self compassion and developing this inner nurturer that activates, stimulates and feeds the soothing system? How do we build it to be effective when we are deeply stressed, or our world just got turned upside down for some reason? And how do we access it when we are feeling wrong, not good enough or anxious and fearful of our future?
One approach is to learn about compassion, to understand what it is, what its function is and what it isn’t. This learning period can take time because compassion is by nature, a vast field of consciousness which spans the cosmos and is part of our hard-wiring. Actively seeking out spiritual and psychoeducation on the nature and function of compassion can be a lifelong pursuit. Imagine if all members of society would actively engage in this education at this time in history – what a new manner of living we would create!
Compassion involves at least 3 steps:
- First, we need to be aware of pain and suffering; that pain and suffering for ourselves or another is indeed occurring.
- We need to have empathy for ourselves and others who are suffering. Empathy involves the ability to emotionally understand what another person is experiencing and in compassion, be concerned for the well-being of ourselves and another. This tends to be a social behaviour.
- We need to take action to alleviate the pain and suffering from a place of awareness of what really alleviates the pain and suffering.
Self compassion thus requires that we have empathy, to be with ourselves in our pain and suffering. And it also requires us to offer nurturing to ourselves when pain and suffering overwhelm us or negates us. Learning to nurture ourselves creates an inner state where compassion transforms the state of our mind and leads us to better, more effective results in our decisions and in our relationships!
Try this very simple and yet very powerful exercise. Compassion Focused Therapy focuses on supporting people to create their ‘perfect nurturer’. For me, I prefer to call my inner nurturer, the ‘nurturer extraordinaire’.
Take a moment and list all the qualities this ‘nurturer extraordinaire’ would need for you to feel completely safe, open and trusting with this being. Psychologist, Deborah Lee, suggests that any ‘perfect nurturer’ has at least these basic qualities. Take these and build from here.
“A perfect nurturer is one who embodies the qualities of wisdom, strength, warmth and unconditional acceptance. Your perfect nurturer is your creation, your own personal ideal. They themselves have experienced great struggles and truly understand your suffering. They come from a place of great courage and wisdom. This being is completely committed to your welfare, to helping you cope with difficulties, and to taking joy in your happiness. The perfect nurturer has great wisdom and strength of mind that is not overwhelmed by your pain or distress. Your perfect nurturer sees when you are in pain and responds with warmth and unconditional kindness. They understand your struggles and accept you exactly as you are, never judging or criticizing.”
As you build this ideal, is there anyone who comes and fills that role and essence, real or imagined? This ideal may be a composite of several people or fictional characters embodying key qualities of the ‘nurturer extraordinaire.’
Find a safe place and take a moment and relax. Breathe gently.
Invite this real or imagined being to come and sit with you as a ‘nurturer extraordinaire’, in their compassion for your true well-being. Just sit with them and notice what happens.
Of course, this is just a starting place, but learning to have compassion for yourself and offering yourself this nurturer extraordinaire in any moment is good medicine. In both my personal and professional practices, this compassion practice can be a powerful antidote to the shame, loneliness and suffering that can blacken the mind and dampen the light in our hearts.
If you want to go deeper into cultivating self compassion, come join me in a NEW on-line circle and soul coaching program starting in winter of 2020. Stay tuned for more information!
Come and learn Reiki Ryoho (Komyo Reiki Do/Gendai Ho). Self Reiki practice is a daily experience of self nurturing extraordinaire, flowing Universal Love, Light and Compassion.