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.
With Thanksgiving around the corner, I thought it would be a nice time to focus on the healing benefits of a gratitude practice. I experienced an impact when my husband and I decided to start an active gratitude practice about five years ago. Over time we noticed subtle changes in our home, stress levels, and marriage. Recently, I spoke to a group about the benefits of gratitude in a marriage relationship. My teenage son happened to be in attendance. During the comments time he told the group about the positive difference he noticed in our family. He said he could tell a difference in the way my husband and I related to one another. It was incredible to hear our son share his own experience of our decision to practice gratitude as a couple.
Gratitude Nourishes the Brain
An active gratitude practice has the power to change the way we think and feel. According to neuropsychologist, Rick Hanson, where we choose to place our focus has the power to shape our brains.
“If you rest your mind on self-criticism, worries, grumbling about others, hurts, and stress, then your brain will be shaped into greater reactivity, vulnerability to anxiety and depressed mood, a narrow focus on threats and losses, and inclinations toward anger, sadness and guilt. On the other hand, if you rest your mind on good events and conditions (someone was nice to you, or there’s a roof over your head), pleasant feelings, the things you do get done, physical pleasures, and your good intentions and qualities, then over time your brain will take on a different shape, one with strength and resilience hardwired into it, as well as a realistically optimistic outlook, a positive mood, and a sense of worth.” (Hanson, 2013)
Gratitude Builds Resilience to Stress
Over the past few months I paired my gratitude practice with an app called the Heartmath Inner Balance Trainer. The Inner Balance Trainer has a heart rate monitor that works with a smart phone or tablet to guides your breath while it monitors your heart rate. As you breathe, you bring to mind gratitude and thoughts of compassion. The science of Heartmath has shown a powerful correlation to our heart rhythm pattern and our emotions:
“When we experience uplifting emotions such as gratitude, joy, compassion, and love; our heart rhythm pattern becomes highly ordered, looking like a smooth, harmonious wave. It’s no wonder that positive emotions feel so good – they actually help our body’s systems synchronize and work better.
During stress and negative emotions, when the heart rhythm pattern is erratic and disordered, the corresponding pattern of neural signals traveling from the heart to the brain inhibits higher cognitive functions. This limits our ability to think clearly, remember, learn, reason, and make effective decisions. The heart’s input to the brain during stressful or negative emotions also has a profound effect on the brain’s emotional processes – actually serving to reinforce the emotional experience of stress.” (www.heartmath.com/innerbalance/)
Gratitude Over the Holidays
The holidays add stress to our normal daily routines. In my last blog post, I discussed how “turning down the thermometer” on stress can create balance, especially since practicing gratitude has proven to reduce stress. The article “Seven Powerful Ways Gratitude Can Change Your Life” shows multiple ways this practice can enhance your health and your relationships.
I wish you and your families a grateful Thanksgiving. Thank you for your continued encouragement and support of Jennifer Christian Counseling. I am deeply thankful.
Hanson, Rick, Ph.D. (2013). Hardwiring Happiness: The New Brain Science of Contentment, Calm, and Confidence.
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.
What are my choices?
Over the next few weeks, I will continue to explore tools that have proven helpful to rebalance stress. If this topic resonates with you, please let me know via Facebook or Twitter. I want to offer tools and resources that really connect with where you are right now. Also, see my website for a number of helpful tools:
Emotional Freedom Tapping, or EFT, is very easy to learn, and will help you:
- Alleviate Negative Emotions
- Reduce Food Cravings
- Reduce or Eliminate Pain
- And Implement Positive Goals
Emotional Freedom Tapping, or EFT, is a form of psychological acupressure, based on the same energy meridians used in traditional acupuncture.
Simply tapping with the fingertips on the head and chest inputs kinetic energy onto specific points while you think about your specific problem – whether it is a traumatic event, an addiction, pain, or anxiety. Tapping is paired with voicing positive affirmations. This combination of tapping the energy meridians and voicing positive affirmations works to clear emotional blocks and restore your mind and body’s balance.
A friend of mine recently recommended visiting labyrinths throughout Houston as part of my “healing space” journey. Houston has a number unique labyrinths, located all over the city and surrounding area. I visited the Labyrinth at St. Thomas University, a replica of the labyrinth in Chartres, France. I was deeply moved by the beauty and the serenity of the space. Gentle water fountains line the side the labyrinth closest to Alabama Street, quietly subduing the sound of the traffic. Children’s laughter from a nearby elementary school mixed with the sounds of the birds and trees.
Every time I walk, I have a unique experience. On this occasion, I felt myself calm and become centered throughout my walking meditation. Throughout the rest of the day, I continued to reflect on the experience and carry the peace of the walk with me. The labyrinth at St. Thomas University has definitely been added to my “Houston Healing Spaces” list.
Benefits of Labyrinth Walking:
“Labyrinth walking is said to benefit participants by allowing a temporary suspension of so-called left-brain activity—logical thought, analysis, and fact-based planning—and encourage the emergence of the intuition and imaginative creativity associated with the right brain. labyrinth walking puts them in touch with simple body rhythms. Because labyrinth walking involves physical movement, participants may find themselves becoming more mindful of their breathing patterns, the repetition of their footfalls, and the reorientation of the entire body that occurs as they move through the circular turns within the labyrinth. More particularly, the overall pattern of movement in labyrinth walking—first inward toward the center of the labyrinth and then outward on the return path—holds deep symbolic meaning for many people.” (Encyclopedia.com)
The light stream is a relaxation meditation used to calm distressing sensations in the body. It is also a body scan that allows you to be compassionate and mindful of what you are experiencing and feeling in this present moment. This is an adaptation of Francine Shapiro’s original Light Stream.
On Thursday, April 28th, we hope you will consider joining Jennifer Christian and Shannon McLain at The Healing Space, as they facilitate a class on the healing practice of Gratitude.
Practicing gratitude increases positive emotions, reduces risk of depression, heightens relationship satisfaction, and increases resilience in the face of stressful life events. But, gratitude doesn’t always come naturally.
Explore the benefits of a gratitude practice and learn ways to implement practice into your daily routine.
Space is limited, so be sure R.S.V.P. at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (713) 520-6800
At some point you have probably made a New Year’s resolution and then broken it. But instead of a resolution, what would it be like this year to create a meaningful habit?
Last year I wrote a series about self-control and how to achieve your goals. While researching the topic I was surprised to find that using willpower and self-determination alone sets us up for failure. I am not sure why this is such a surprise. How many times have I broken my resolutions when life got too busy? Sliding back into old habits can be a familiar pattern for many of us:
- Let’s say you decide to go on a diet and a coworker brings a box of gourmet donuts to the office? You work hard to resist the donuts throughout the entire day. However, your willpower is so taxed trying to avoid the donuts all day that you later give in to a large combo plate at your favorite Mexican restaurant that night. What a frustrating experience.
- Or suppose you decide to control your anger. You make a commitment to be kinder to your spouse at the end of each day when you get home from work. Unfortunately, the next workday is full of stressors: your boss yells at you, you miss lunch, and traffic is unbelievably frustrating. Then you get home, and what happens? The commitment you made to yourself goes out the window and you end up angry with your spouse.
This is a common experience because willpower is limited. We create our goal, shore up our determination, eventually run out of steam, and end up falling short.
“Willpower, for all its merits, is full of holes. Maintaining it requires not only a good deal of effort but also a conducive environment… Seemingly irrelevant factors like being at home versus being at work, or even the need to make simple decisions unrelated to resisting temptation—(‘Should I wear a white shirt or a blue one?’)—can diminish self-control. The result? People whose willpower is taxed fail to resist about one out of every six temptations they face, even when they try using cognitive strategies to manage their ‘hot’ responses. Willpower appears to be quite finite in supply.” (David Desteno, September 15, 2014, Pacific Standard, The Science of Society).
How Can I Achieve My Goals?
If willpower does not work, what can I do?
According to a recent review of lab experiments on self-control, four emotional characteristics were shown to boost our self-control and increase staying power (Desteno, 2014).
- Authentic pride
“These emotions— gratitude, compassion, authentic pride, and even guilt—work from the bottom up to shape decisions that favor the long-term. If we focus on instilling the capacity to experience these emotional states regularly, we’ll build resources that will automatically spring forth in reflexive and productive ways. In essence, we’ll give ourselves inoculations against temptation that, like antibodies in our bloodstream, will be ready and waiting to combat possible threats to our well-being.” (David Desteno, September 15, 2014, Pacific Standard, The Science of Society).
Breaking It Down
For the month of January, I will focus each week on a virtue that boosts staying power. This week will focus on compassion, and how a compassion practice can have a positive impact our ability to reach our goals.
How Can We Build Compassion?
Compassion is an emotion that involves noticing our surroundings, and then feeling moved to care. When we allow ourselves to notice another person, we are naturally moved to respond to a fellow human being with care and concern.
Self-compassion is the same thing. The only difference is allowing ourselves to see our own struggle, and respond to ourselves with care in the same way we would another human being.
One way we can build compassion is to practice on ourselves. We can be our worst critic and beat up on ourselves when we fall short on hopes and goals. When we talk to ourselves with criticism and self-judgment, we fuel anger and anxiety. We can even increase the odds that we will get frustrated and want to quit.
Kristin Neff has found that “people who can first give themselves emotional support and validation will be in a better position to be giving, accepting and generous to their partners.” She also found that “people who nurture self-compassion have better overall psychological and emotional health, experience less anxiety and depression, and are more motivated to achieve their goals.” (Randall, 2013)
What Gets In The Way?
In a recent TED talk, Daniel Goleman explored the things that keep us from compassion. One of the main obstacles is being in a hurry.
“A group of divinity students at the Princeton Theological Seminary were told that they were going to give a practice sermon and they were each given a sermon topic. Half of those students were given, as a topic, the parable of the Good Samaritan: the man who stopped to help the stranger in need by the side of the road. Half were given random Bible topics. Then one by one, they were told they had to go to another building and give their sermon. As they went from the first building to the second, each of them passed a man who was bent over and moaning, clearly in need. The question is: Did they stop to help? The more interesting question is: Did it matter they were contemplating the parable of the Good Samaritan? Answer: No, not at all. What turned out to determine whether someone would stop and help a stranger in need was how much of a hurry they thought they were in. And this is, I think, the predicament of our lives: that we don’t take every opportunity to help because our focus is in the wrong direction.” (Goleman, 2007)
The conclusion of the experiment was that the student’s compassion was not significantly influenced by studying the passage on compassion, but more by the student’s belief that they were in too much of a hurry. When we get overwhelmed or in a rush, this impacts our ability to be compassionate with ourselves, as well as others we care about. One way to build compassion is to slow the pace of life.
When we begin each year, we are full of hope and excitement about the possibility of making positive changes. But over time, the fast pace of life gets in the way and pulls us off track. How we respond to ourselves when we make mistakes is essential to reaching our goals. If I beat up myself with self-criticism, I lose heart and momentum. “I failed again just like last year; I will never get this right.” This approach increases frustration and makes it difficult to keep going. Kim Fredrickson suggests another approach: Acknowledge my mistake and realize that even when I mess up, I deserve to be treated with dignity as a fellow human being.
“Self-compassion is a balance of truth (Yes, I made a mistake) with grace (I have worth and value, and I will address this mistake directly)… Self-compassion is absolutely essential for healthy, balanced living. It provides huge benefits including emotional resiliency, stress reduction, contentment, and healthier relationships. Without it we are vulnerable to the opinions of others and find it difficult to deal with and let go of our mistakes.” Kim Fredrickson
When we learn to respond to ourselves with kindness and compassion, we calm the body and create space to respond courageously with our best selves. This is not the same as self-pity.
“Self-compassion isn’t poor me. Self-compassion is: ‘It’s hard for all of us… the human experience is hard for me, for you, this is the way life is.’ It’s a much more connected way of relating to yourself. And this is why mindfulness is so important. When we are mindful of our suffering, we see it as it is, we don’t ignore it, but we also don’t over exaggerate.” Kristin Neff
A compassionate approach allows us to respond to ourselves with kindness and get a fresh start every day. Our mistakes do not define us. We are able to decrease the heavy burden of our missteps and move forward compassionately with our hopes and dreams.
Ready to Boost Your Compassion?
Here are some tools to get started:
- A quiz to assess your current level of self-compassion.
- A self-compassion exercise to get a small hint of what this looks like in practice: Self-Compassion Exercise
- Compassion Meditations designed to increase experience of compassion for self and others.
Resources on Building Compassion
Desteno, D. (2014) A Feeling of Control: How America Can Finally Learn to Deal With Its Impulses. Pacific Standard, The Science of Society. (http://www.psmag.com/navigation/health-and-behavior/feeling-control-america-can-finally-learn-deal-impulses-self-regulation-89456/)
Goleman, D. (2007). TED. (http://www.ted.com/talks/daniel_goleman_on_compassion?language=en)
Jennifer Christian, M.A., LPC
A loving kindness prayer uses words and images to evoke feelings of loving kindness toward oneself and others. According to the article, “18 Science-Based Reasons to Try Loving Kindness Meditation Today,” a consistent practice of a Loving Kindness meditation can decrease symptoms of PTSD, improve wellbeing, and bolster the immune system.
The following Loving-Kindness meditation is inspired by the virtues celebrated during the weeks of Advent: Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love. This form of a prayer focuses on God’s loving kindness toward us and how we then become a vessel of His love toward others.
Today during my routine morning walk I began to ponder the many self-care skills that I use regularly. Over the years, I have learned that I feel better when I make time to:
- Eat right
- Practice gratitude
- Practice prayerful meditation
- Practice yoga
- Have fun
- Plan enjoyable activities
- Spend time with friends
This may seem like a no brainer to some people, but personally it has been an evolution of self-acceptance and self-compassion. Healthy habits that are so natural for me today were nonexistent several years ago.
I remember the first time I received a self-care list. It was about 10 years ago. I was fatigued, stressed out, and pushing myself harder and harder to be perfect. I could not go on this way much longer. I was at a breaking point. I found Nancy, a therapist who began to help me process how I found myself at this point and how to move forward. During one session, she gave me a self-care handout that addressed physical, emotional, and spiritual health. I had never seen anything like it. What a radical concept!
As a child, I received a version of a “Christian” message that I should always sacrifice my own needs on behalf of others. Somewhere along the way I learned that my needs were not only unimportant, but that it was selfish for me to express my needs. I was told that whenever I felt empty and exhausted I should pray harder and God would provide. But years and years of emptying myself for others wore away at my physical and emotional health. Moreover, there was not enough of me to go around, and my children and husband sometimes got the short end of the stick. This approach was not sustainable.
When Nancy handed me the self-care list, I began a journey of learning self-care and boundaries. In the beginning, I carried the list with me wherever I went, especially when I found myself around difficult people who suck the life out of me, treat me like I do not matter, or that they should always come first. I needed a reminder that it is okay to respond to myself with care. At one point I even carried my self-care list to a challenging family gathering in another state. I referred to the list several times as a support to say “no” when needed, or to allow myself rest when I was tired. I began to experience a positive difference.
“When you doubt your own importance, you’re allowing the manipulations of difficult people to gain a foothold. 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.” (Margarita Tartakovsky, 5 Ways to Maintain Boundaries with Difficult People)
Now I practice responding to myself in the same way that I want to respond to others: with love, compassion, kindness, gratitude, acceptance, and gentleness. I continue to learn what it is to be a compassionate and loving person every time I practice compassion and love with myself. I am a recovering perfectionist, so I often have to start my compassionate practice over again daily.
“Rest and self-care are so important. When you take time to replenish your spirit, it allows you to serve others from the overflow. You cannot serve from an empty vessel.” (Eleanor Brownn, Self-Care is Not Selfish)
I write about my own personal journey because I know many who find self-care challenging. You may have received the message that your needs are unimportant, or that you are selfish when you take care and nourish yourself. If self-care is a radical concept, or if you feel like there is not enough of you to go around, you are not alone. You can start with baby steps, adding one or two things and noticing differences in how you feel. If you feel overwhelmed, Jennifer Louden’s article, “Minimum Self-Care Requirements” is a great place to start. Be gentle with yourself. There is no hurry and no right way to do this.
For me, it has been almost ten years, and I am still experimenting and learning, even adapting Nancy’s original list. I feel excited just thinking about the adaptations you will make as you begin to explore and create your own list:
Nancy’s Adapted Self-Care List
- Eat (mostly) healthy foods in moderation
- Exercise regularly
- Drink plenty of water
- Get adequate sleep
- Practice good hygiene (bathe, brush teeth, etc.)
- Obtain medical care, as needed
- Nurture yourself regularly
- Use compassionate self-talk
- Learn and use relaxation techniques
- Use healthy boundaries
- Express your feelings appropriately
- Identify your feelings
- Share them directly with someone who will treat you with care
- Talk to a friend
- Use ventilation techniques (punch a pillow, throw ice, etc.)
- Allow yourself (& others) to make mistakes
- Respond to your negative self-talk with self-compassion
- Ask for what you want
- Say “no” when you need to
- Use “I feel …” statements to express your emotions
- Avoid being passive, aggressive, or passive-aggressive. Be Assertive.
- Spend time with people who make you feel good about yourself
- Accept compliments without discounting (just say “thank you”)
- Make time to laugh & play!
- Make a daily gratitude list
- Open yourself to the beauty of nature
- Continue to learn something new
- Be open to different points of view
- Engage in activities that connect you with God and others