I am excited to do something a little different this week. Kim Fredrickson, counselor and author of the book, Give Yourself a Break: Turning Your Inner Critic into a Compassionate Friend, graciously contributed a guest post as part of the conversation going on in the Kindness Community, A Word Imagined. Her message is both inspirational and healing for me personally and to many throughout the world. Thank you, Kim, for blessing us with your generous contribution:
Healing Power of Kindness
I’m so blessed to offer words of compassion and kindness today. Our world desperately needs the healing power of kindness. We need kindness when we are hurt, and we need kindness when we are the ones doing the hurting.
But how do we muster kindness for others from within? How do we speak words of compassion to others when our own inner critic speaks so loudly about our own mistakes and faults? That is the question…
The well of kindness we want to give others starts with a more compassionate relationship with ourselves.
A Compassionate Friend
Being a compassionate friend to ourselves helps us become better friends, spouses, parents, bosses and co-workers. We have more love and energy to give others when we are in a more settled place inside and aren’t wasting time and energy fighting with our inner critic.
But wait! Isn’t this just being selfish and self-centered? The answer is a resounding “No.” Jesus knew we’d have trouble figuring this out, so He explained it here:
Mark 12:28–31 says: One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”
“The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’
The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”
Jesus was asked which commandment was the greatest and He gave them two commandments encompassed by one principle: Love.
Love God with everything in you. Love your neighbor, and use your model for loving them as the way you love yourself.
Wait! What? Our model for loving others is how we love ourselves? Uh oh! Wait…I’m judgmental toward myself for lots of things! Exactly.
Wanting to be kind toward others is good, very good. We can even sustain this effort for a while if we try really hard.
A Changed Heart
We need God’s love to permeate our heart, mind and soul. We need His love and kindness to fill us in order to share with others. But, His love for us alone isn’t enough. That is what He’s talking about in Mark 12 – Love is a three-part deal…love God, love yourself and love others. Unless we also learn to love ourselves and be compassionate with ourselves, our inner critic will sabotage our heartfelt efforts to be kind to others. The ways we are critical of ourselves will spill onto others. Without meaning to, we will judge others harshly for the things we’ve never forgiven ourselves for.
We cannot live a life of kindness, if we do not have kindness and compassion for ourselves. Until we face our own brokenness with compassion and forgiveness, we cannot truly love others in the ways we want for the long haul.
We want to be changed people, instruments of healing and love to this very broken world. We want to do this as a lifestyle, and pass it on to our children, friends, family and community for generations to come.
To live a life of kindness requires a changed heart.
Practicing self-compassion changes our heart. As I treat myself with the care and compassion I would give a good friend who is struggling, I have more love to give others.
Improve Well-being and Relationships
Many studies link the practice of self-compassion to an increase in emotional resiliency, self-worth and contentment; reduced stress and healthier relationships. We become better friends, spouses, parents, bosses, co-workers, etc. We handle disappointments more smoothly and understand our own humanness, which helps us handle the humanness of those around us.
Just as I am an imperfect person, with great worth and value, so are those around me. The internal transformation of accepting God’s love for us and then extending it to ourselves, sets the stage for the sharing of that love and kindness with others.
Don’t worry if you haven’t got a clue how to turn your inner critic into a compassionate friend. You can learn, and your heart, family, community and world will never be the same.
We can all share great ideas on how to build more positivity into our society. Join the conversation on our public Facebook group, A Word Imagined, to share ideas.
by Jennifer Christian, LPC and Dr. Jeff M. Christian
Words of hate tear at the fabric of our society; words of kindness mend.
Imagine life without unkind words. Imagine comments sections on your favorite website that only allow constructive criticism, words meant to further the conversation rather than out-shout those who disagree.
Today, online words of hate, abuse, fear, and violence are rampant. The intensity of negativity overwhelms us, a tsunami of words altering our lives without us realizing their enormous power. This new world often feels devoid of kindness. Few of us would choose to pass on this world to the next generations, so we begin this project in the hopes that we can change the future by changing the present.
We have power to create a better world.
Imagine a world that offers encouragement. Imagine a world where people matter. Too often, though, we feel helpless in even thinking about making a change. Where should we begin?
Well, we have some ideas.
Start with some simple things. Appreciation and gratitude, for instance, are powerful tools that can help rebuild this world. Every word of kindness heals, builds resilience, and draws people together.
John Gottman found that it takes five positive interactions to overcome one negative interaction. Relationships find balance when positive interactions outweigh the negative ones. At times we will misunderstand each other and say the wrong things. We are human, after all. However, for the health of all our relationships, we have the power to create better worlds for ourselves, as well as all of those around us. Our hope that we can do this together is reminiscent of John Lennon’s line, “You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one.”
So let’s imagine a better world. One word of kindness can create ripples of healing across our society. If we come together to dedicate building reserves of gratitude in our families, places of work, and all other communities, we can change the tide of negativity.
Here are some other practical suggestions to get us started:
- Get creative. We can share great ideas on how to build more positivity into our society. Join our public Facebook group, A Word Imagined, to share ideas.
- Remember the magic ratio of 5-to-1. Each week send five notes of encouragement, whether online or handwritten.
- Practice gratitude at home as a family. “Researchers found that a nourishing cycle of encouragement and appreciation provides extra incentive to maintain our relationships. In other words, when we appreciate our partners, we develop trust and respect. When we feel appreciated, we feel needed and encouraged.” (Susan Heitler)
- Notice the words you say to yourself. Learn how to offer yourself words of kindness and compassion: “Life can be rough without the comfort, balance and guidance of a self-compassionate friend on the inside. Lack of self-compassion affects our relationships and our well being in profoundly negative ways. What a difference it makes to go through life with a kind friend on the inside rather than an internal critic or bully!” (Kim Fredrickson)
Please take a moment to share this article and this project with friends and family. Together, we can create the world we imagine.
For Further Reading:
On appreciation and gratitude:
On John Gottman’s five interactions:
On practicing gratitude at home as a family:
On Susan Heitler’s work on gratitude in marriage:
On Kim Fredrickson’s work on self-compassion:
In Kelly McGonigal’s latest book,”The Upside of Stress,” she explores how things that create meaning and happiness in our lives also create stress. When we learn to change our relationship with stress, we build in possibilities for meaning and happiness. In the following video, McGonigal recommends practical ways to shift our perspective on stress:
Take some time to journal, visit with a friend, or ponder following prompts:
- Discover what matters to you in life. Write about the roles, relationships, activities, and goals that are most important to you, and how you would feel if they did not exist.
- Discover your values. Spend 10 minutes writing about each of your top three values. Values are the things that are important to you and give meaning to the way you live and work (examples: adventure, compassion, humor, courage, and loyalty). How do your values play into your life? How can your values create some new meaning around a problem you are currently facing?
- Understand the drawbacks of avoiding stress. In order to avoid stress, we may turn down meaningful opportunities or give up on something important to us.
I hear more and more people talking about stress. Increased feelings of stress. I hear it on Facebook, emails from friends and family, even in everyday conversations. I spoke recently on the topic of self-compassion and stress-management at a major corporation in Houston. After I finished, I was amazed at the number of women that came to talk with me about their own struggle with stress and anxiety. The number of personal stories validated the stress in our society and the feeling of being overwhelmed as we attempt to manage too many expectations.
Most people experience an abundance of stress. The election and approaching holidays add an extra layer of stress and worry. The stressors are not going away, but we can use helpful tools to take extra care of our relationships and ourselves.
3 Types of Stress
Before we talk about balancing stress, it is helpful to understand how stress functions in our daily life. In simple terms, we face three types of stress: balanced, acute, and chronic. Whenever I talk about types of stress, I like to use the example of a zebra.
- Balanced Stress: When a zebra is lion-free, he is in a balanced state. A balanced state is the ability to relax and also be ready for threat when stress is present. The zebra can relax, eat juicy nutrient grass, enjoy his zebra companions, and play with his zebra kids and wife. Balanced stress is like getting the temperature just right on a thermostat.
- Acute Stress: When a zebra senses a nearby lion, everything centers on the threat of the lion. Stress chemicals and hormones release to focus all energy toward reacting to the lion. All internal systems shut down to focus energy on escape. The zebra will not sleep, digest, enjoy intimacy, or relax until the threat has been averted. When the lion leaves, the zebra’s body readjusts to a normal, balanced state. Eating, intimacy, relaxation, and play resume.
- Chronic Stress: In the zebra world, chronic stress does not exist. Chronic stress would be similar to the experience of a lion stalking the zebra 24-7. This chronic stress negatively impacts the zebra’s digestive system, sleep, intimacy, and leads to chronic fatigue. Imagine driving a car continuously even when the temperature gauge shows the car overheating. Keep driving, and the car will break down.
What does a zebra have to do with me?
The human body’s threat system is much like a zebra’s threat system, except for some important factors that maintain chronic stress and make it difficult to rebalance:
- The stressors at work, home, and in our society do not go away.
- We have the ability to replay past mistakes or rehearse worry about future threats.
- We can be harsh with ourselves in our own minds. Some of us talk to ourselves in a way that we would never talk to a loved one. Negative self-talk is like having a lion in our heads 24-7.
How does chronic stress impact our bodies?
When we are in a state of constant stress, our bodies continually stay in threat mode. Like the zebra, all of our internal systems are diverted to face the threat. We keep driving our bodies even though the temperature gauge is redlining. Unaddressed chronic stress impacts our digestive system, our ability to sleep, intimacy, our ability to think clearly, as well as our joy in daily life.
Adjust the thermostat
The first step in compassionate stress management is to take a moment to notice. Where is my internal temperature gauge right now?
- Issues with digestion
- Relationship difficulties
- Sleep difficulties
We can feel so rushed that we may not notice what is happening in our own bodies. Can we give ourselves permission to pause at least a couple of times during the day and check in? Allowing ourselves to notice may be challenging. The stressors can seem too big. For instance, what if I feel torn between my work and my responsibilities at home? What if my marriage is struggling? These issues take time to explore. Reaching out to a counselor can offer much needed support to take a close look at some tough areas. The counseling process organically creates options for moving forward and reducing stress.
The second step is to respond with care. What do I need? Explore different tools and see what brings some needed stress relief.
Resources for Stress Relief:
- 4-7-8 breathing – calms the nervous system and improved breathing
- Emotional Freedom Tapping – clears emotional blocks and calms the nervous system
- Compassionate Self-Talk – compassionately addresses the habit of negative self-criticism
- Compassion and Anger – Calm the threat system physio-biologically with compassion toward self
- The Benefits of Cultivating Gratitude for Stress Relief
In his recent article, “The Difference Between Passive, Aggressive, and Assertive Communication,” Guy Harris discusses the impact communication has on the health of relationships. He offers helpful insights into the difference between passive, aggressive, and assertive styles of communication and to create healthier conversations.
“Communication breakdowns are a common cause for conflict, and poor communication strategies can lead to rapid escalation. Likewise, effective communication strategies can help you correct these miscommunications to move conflicts quickly towards resolution.
One idea that can help you choose the best communication strategy for the situation comes from what I call the communication continuum.” (Guy Harris, The Difference Between Passive, Aggressive, and Assertive Communication) Read more….
EMDR and Depression or Bipolar
EMDR was first developed as a treatment for trauma in the 1990’s. Since then, EMDR has also become an excellent treatment for depression. The Comprehensive Therapy Approach website has an excellent article about the use of EMDR to ameliorate depression.
Excerpt from “Depression or Bipolar: EMDR Therapy Brings Hope:”
“If stress seems to be an instigator or contributor to your depression, EMDR Therapy has been proven helpful for stressful or traumatic events and the depression that goes along with them. It is well-established that though bipolar disorder may have genetic contributors, the condition is originally activated by stress. By “processing” these experiences through the EMDR therapy protocol, the negative memories, self-beliefs, emotions and physical sensations are desensitized. They gradually become less upsetting and feel less significant. Positive conclusions about yourself become stronger, spontaneously, through the EMDR processing.”
Last week, I had a dream that I was caught in a blizzard. A blanket of swirling white surrounded me. My mind raced to discover some sense of direction. I was disoriented and frightened. Paralyzed. Where was I? Where was the path home?
And, then it was as if everything went into slow motion. Time slowed down. Way down. I began to notice individual snowflakes. Unique details of one snowflake. Its beauty. As my awareness shifted toward the structure of the snowflakes, I noticed my body beginning to relax. My mind settled. Gently. Slowly. I began to see areas of empty space open between each of the flakes. The spaces grew wider. The snowflakes began to lessen. I saw more clearly. The intensity of the blizzard that had seemed so overwhelming now calmed. Though still surrounded by the snow, I no longer felt afraid.
Since this dream, I have thought how much everyday life can at times feels like a blizzard. Time speeds up without warning. Daily tasks swirl around me: work tasks, family expectations, holiday chores, friendships, household duties, volunteering, etc. But then other things compound what might already be a blinding blizzard of activity. Thoughts, feelings, regrets from the past and “what ifs” of the future can surface to cloud my vision even more. My mind begins to race.
Where am I? Where is the path home?
Then I notice. Awareness. Gratitude.
- The smell of the crisp autumn morning air
- Listening to the laughter of my children as they watch silly videos
- Seeing my husband’s eyes gently crinkle as he pushes the plate in my direction to let me have the last bite
- Gently holding the hand of a dear friend who is grieving
- Tasting a hot, gooey chocolate chip cookie
- Feeling the sensation of a long hot shower after a satisfying day
Take a deep breath. This is your life. Notice. Search. Find the moments of beauty sprinkled like beautiful snowflakes in the midst of the flurry of tasks and worries.
Time slows. Mind gently settles. I am still surrounded, but I am not afraid.
The power of gratitude.
In the recent podcast, “How Trauma Lodges in the Body,” Krista Tippet interviews Bessel van der Kolk about how the body restores and heals from trauma.
Excerpt from interview, “How Trauma Lodges in the Body:”
“The psychiatrist Bessel van der Kolk is an innovator in treating the effects of overwhelming experiences on people and society. We call this trauma when we encounter it in life and news, and we tend to leap to address it by talking. But Bessel van der Kolk knows how some experiences imprint themselves beyond where language can reach. He explores state-of-the-art therapeutic treatments, including body work like yoga and eye movement therapy. He’s been a leading researcher of traumatic stress since it first became a diagnosis in the wake of the Vietnam War and from there was applied to other populations. A conversation with this psychiatrist is a surprisingly joyful thing. He shares what he and others are learning on this edge of humanity about the complexity of memory, our need for others and how our brains take care of our bodies.” (Krista Tippet, How Trauma Lodges in the Body)
Click here to listen to Krista Tippet’s interview with Bessel van der Kolk.
I recently wrote a blog post, “Wonder Woman Learns Healthy Boundaries,” about how to create healthy relational boundaries and why it is an essential practice. I planned to write an article on ways to maintain boundaries with difficult people… and then I came across “5 Ways to Maintain Boundaries with Difficult People” By Margarita Tartakovsky, M.S.
She shares several guidelines that provide guidance and support for anyone struggling with a difficult relationship.
Excerpt from 5 Ways to Maintain Boundaries with Difficult People:
“When you doubt your own importance, you’re allowing the manipulations of difficult people to gain a foothold,” said Ryan Howes, Ph.D, a clinical psychologist in Pasadena, Calif. “However, when you understand that your time, money, dignity and needs are vital to your well-being, it’s easier to tune out people who want to break your boundaries.” Read more…»
I am excited to do something a little different this week. Kim Fredrickson, counselor and author of the book, Give Yourself a Break: Turning Your Inner Critic into a Compassionate Friend, has graciously contributed a guest post about the how to develop greater compassion with our own selves. Her message has been both inspirational and healing for me personally and to many throughout the world. Thank you, Kim, for blessing us with your generous contribution:
Self-Compassion is Vital for a Healthy Life
Life can be rough without the comfort, balance and guidance of a self-compassionate friend on the inside. Lack of self-compassion affects our relationships and our well being in profoundly negative ways. What a difference it makes to go through life with a kind friend on the inside rather than an internal critic or bully!
So What Exactly is Self-Compassion?
It is the idea that we can be kind to ourselves when we fail and treat ourselves with the caring support we would give another who is struggling. Out of self-compassion flow self-care and protection from harm.
Self-compassion is a balance of truth (Yes, I made a mistake) with grace (I have worth and value, and I will address mistakes directly).
Grace and truth together mean you acknowledge what happened without either minimizing it or making it more than it was, and at the same time apply compassion to yourself. Self-compassion helps us handle our humanness and the situations we are in with empathy, concern, understanding and kindness.
Self-compassion is a gentle way we relate to ourselves both when we’re struggling and when things are going well. It’s like treating yourself as you would a friend who is struggling, learning something new, scared or confused.
Many Positives Result from Self-Compassion
Treating ourselves with compassion produces benefits to ourselves as well as our relationships. Many experience an increase in emotional resiliency, self-worth and contentment; reduced stress and healthier relationships
When we come into relationships being our own compassionate friend, we become better friends, spouses, parents, bosses, co-workers, etc. We handle disappointments more smoothly and we won’t require the other person to have the perfect response in order for us to be ok.
Lack of Self-Compassion Costs Us
Lack of self-compassion is linked to depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, lack of resilience, inability to forgive oneself, problems in relationships, vulnerability to the opinions of others, difficulty letting go of mistakes, and problems recovering from painful experiences.
As you can imagine, walking around with an inner critic who is negatively evaluating you for the mistakes you’ve made in the past, how you are goofing up in the present, and how you’ll likely mess up in the future is quite depressing, and produces a lot of anxiety.
Not only is having a bully in your head depressing, it can also feel hopeless…like there’s nothing you can do to change this negative self-talk. Most likely you’ve already tried positive thinking, trying to quiet your internal bully and telling yourself the truth…often without much success. Most people work very hard to combat this inner critic, but feel so defeated.
The missing link is not having a compassionate relationship with yourself. Self-compassion helps to soothe those dark places, brings truth and grace to the heart, and brings hope and a way to get better. We are with ourselves 100 percent of the time. The way you interact with yourself has a greater impact on you than any interactions you have with others.
Many people struggle with depression and anxiety for lots of reasons. Self-compassion helps prevent depression and anxiety, as well as reduce its effects. Imagine how you would feel if you had a compassionate friend on the inside who empathized with you, helped you take good care of yourself, and showed you how to be kind to yourself?
When our shortcomings and mistakes are met with compassion and understanding, we will have more energy and space inside to forgive ourselves, find solutions and repair relationships. When our shortcomings and mistakes are met with self-judgment and condemnation, we experience a lack of hope and begin to shut down emotionally.
Someone who practices self-compassion might say something to themselves when they make mistakes, goof up or regret their actions:
Yes, I wish I’d acted differently. I’m using this experience for good in order to grow and learn. I can grant myself grace while still doing what is necessary to right this situation. I’m not perfect, and I don’t need to be. I am loveable and acceptable even when I make mistakes. I will take a look at what made me vulnerable to act in this way, and take steps to learn from this experience and repair any damage I have done. I can be a good friend to myself while handling this situation.
Reasons Why You May Not Have Learned Self-Compassion
Most people struggle with negative self-talk and lack of self-compassion, so realize you are in good company. There are really good reasons why you did not learn how to be compassionate with yourself:
- History of Being Criticized
Repeated criticism creates a challenge because we may have internalized and accepted critical messages we heard growing up. This critical and harsh way of being dealt with then becomes our model for how to deal with ourselves when we make mistakes or struggle.
- A Bully on the Inside
A part of us has taken on a “bully” stance toward our mistakes, weaknesses, and areas of struggle. It is very important to realize that the “bully” inside is actually trying to help in the only way it knows how. These harsh good intentions attempt to keep us out of trouble, help us perform well, and not be lazy, to name a few. These harsh strategies developed when we were young and often carry into adulthood. How wonderful it is now, to learn new ways to motivate ourselves tin ways that are healthy, not harmful.
- Didn’t Learn Healthy Motivations for Change
We may not have been taught a different motivation to change besides being hard on ourselves. Believe it or not, there are other positive reasons that can motivate us to grow and change:
- Wanting to be the most honorable and caring person possible
- Not wanting to hurt others
- Wanting to be as spiritually, relationally, and emotionally healthy as possible
- Wanting to be a safe and trustworthy person in our relationships
- Wanting to grow in order to fulfill our potential
Note that these reasons are in direct contrast to trying to change because we see ourselves as bad, a loser, or a misfit.
- Didn’t Experience Compassion
If we weren’t treated with compassion or watched others treat themselves with compassion we won’t know how to treat ourselves that way instinctually. You’re not supposed to know how to do this if you haven’t been taught.
Don’t get down on yourself for not knowing how to respond to your humanness with compassion. It’s not too late to learn! Here’s a compassionate way to talk you to yourself right now:
Yes, I do tend to be really hard on myself. I say horrible things to myself to try to get myself to do the right thing. Sometimes, I even punish myself on purpose for being such a mess-up. I didn’t realize until now that I can relate to myself in a different way. I actually feel some compassion for that small bullying part of me that had to develop to keep me out of trouble. Although I can’t even imagine trying to motivate myself to change because of positive reasons, I am starting to believe maybe it’s possible. I guess it makes sense that if I never had a model of how to be both truthful and compassionate with myself at the same time, I wouldn’t know how to do it. I have some hope that I can learn a different way.
It’s Not Too Late To Learn!
- Realize it is a process
Considering treating yourself with compassion is a first great step.
- Notice the way you talk to yourself
We can’t change what we aren’t aware of. You may be surprised by how much time you spend saying negative things to yourself.
- Say STOP to negative self-talk
Say “No” when you begin to say something mean to yourself… “I’m not going to talk to myself like that anymore” is a great step, even if you don’t know a compassionate thing to say in its place.
- Ask yourself…what would the kindest person I know say to me about the mistake I made, or the thing I regret? Say this to yourself.
- Get help knowing what to say and do
Read about self-compassion and start to treat yourself differently a little bit at a time. My book, Give Yourself a Break: Turning Your Inner Critic into a Compassionate Friend is filled with stories about different scenarios we can all relate to. I share lots of examples of what it sounds like to use grace-filled compassionate language with yourself…kind of like having a self-compassion coach alongside you.
- Take care of yourself
Make time to do things that are calming and soothing for you…relaxation, reading, walking in nature, doing your favorite hobby, time with affirming friends…whatever you have noticed brings you encouragement and comfort.
Kim Fredrickson, MS, MFT is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (MFC 22635) Kim recently closed her 30-year counseling practice due to serious health issues. Despite this sudden change in her health, Kim remains optimistic, hopeful, and positive.
Kim is the author of Give Yourself a Break: Turning Your Inner Critic into a Compassionate Friend. She enjoys sharing about the transforming power of self-compassion integrated with faith. Connect with Kim on Facebook, Twitter, and her blog, Self-Compassion for Real Life http://www.kimfredrickson.com/blog/