Befriending Ourselves – how to be more compassionate with ourselves

Our inner critic is loud and bossy. Have you ever stopped to listen to it?

“What did I do that for? I’m such an idiot!”

“I’m so fat!”

“I’ll never make anything of my life!”

“Why does this always happen to me?”

“I’ll never get this right!”

This inner critical voice has been with us since very early in our lives. It’s our most consistent companion. Maybe you’ve tried to change it with positive affirmation statements or to silence it through meditation, but it’s very hard to fool yourself or to shut this voice down and despite all your efforts, the inner critic is loud and clear and bossy as ever: “Yeah right! As if!” So you check to see if it’s 5pm yet: “Surely it’s time for my evening glass of wine!” or you reach for some chocolate or cake or some other comfort food and get lost in Facebook for a while. It’s much easier to numb.

What if you really started listening to this voice and what it has to say? What if you put on a different set of ears and listen through the negativity and criticism to what is really being expressed?
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Turning towards

turning towards

Saturday night. Both kids went on a sleepover. We had the night to ourselves. This is good practice for when we become empty nesters, I thought. We decided to have a bath and started to talk about a novel that we’d both been listening to. Somehow the conversation turned to the kids and his concern about the kids having a life of too much play and not enough structure.  

Many times I heard criticism. Many times, I heard messages of “You’re not …. enough” “You’re too….”. That isn’t what he said, but with a strong inner critic who is quick to hear blame and criticism that is what I heard. This time, I took a breath and I remembered.

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Peanut brain

Copyright: nailiaschwarz / 123RF Stock Photo
Copyright: nailiaschwarz / 123RF Stock Photo

This week, listening to a wonderful interview with brain scientist Dr Jill Bolte-Taylor,  I learnt that our thoughts all originate from a cluster of cells in our left hemisphere which are the size of a peanut. It is our thoughts that trigger our feelings and make us unhappy.

“She ignored me!”, “He’s being selfish!”, “I’m not good enough”, etc.  Our peanut brain has a thought and this triggers a feeling. At this point we have a choice…. to feed the feeling (fan the fire) with further thoughts or recognise, allow, accept and empathise. Continue reading

Hearing is healing

Copyright: mnsanthoshkumar / 123RF Stock Photo
Copyright: mnsanthoshkumar / 123RF Stock Photo

I’m realising more and more just how powerful listening is. Last night, I was doing reflective listening with my son, i.e. I was repeating back in my own words what I understood he was saying with a particular focus on his feelings and needs. It was satisfying to do because it helped me to be present with him and not go off into my own thoughts. Some time into the conversation, there was a lull and he suddenly said “I love you so much. I’m just feeling so full of love at the moment. It’s strange but lately I’ve been feeling this kind of overflowing love feeling a lot”. I think it’s because he felt so heard and because I was so present with him. My pattern is to be very busy and distracted and wanting to do my own thing and I think I haven’t been present enough with him over the years (particularly when he was little). This year, I’m really focused on trying to be present with him and I’ve noticed lately how he frequently expresses this “overflowing with love” feeling to me.

I watched a very powerful documentary this week on how listening can help people to heal from major conflict and trauma and how it can facilitate truth and reconciliation processes. This 55-minute documentary (below), Raamro Aakha Ma (In the Eyes of the Good), shows parts of a 7-day workshop “Healing and Reconciliation through Nonviolent Communication” that was held in Nepal in December 2014. The workshop was held to help people heal their trauma from the 10-year civil war in Nepal and to facilitate peace and reconciliation between victims and former combatants.
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What do you think about when you listen?

mother-son

I’ve been trying to do more reflective listening recently. When I first heard about it, it sounded like you just repeat back to the other person what they have said.

E.g.
Friend: I’m ashamed to tell her the truth.
You:  You’re ashamed to tell her the truth …

But since I’ve been exploring empathy, I now understand that it’s about really trying to deeply understand the other person’s thoughts and feelings without judgement or analysis and reflect back to them what you are hearing that is almost beneath their words. I tried this out with my son on the weekend when he’d had a fight with his friend. Continue reading

When do we really listen?

cropped-unnamed-1.jpg

Today, my son broke his arm for the 3rd time (skateboarding). I had just heard the news from my husband (phoning from the hospital) when someone came to talk to me. After she told me what she had come to say, I told her my son had just broken his arm. She sympathised briefly then launched into a long story about when her son had broken his arm many years ago. She again briefly expressed sympathy and walked away.

This is a very typical way we “listen” to others. What we’ve told the person triggers their memories of when something similar happened to them. We don’t intend to “one-up” (e.g. that’s nothing, you should hear what happened to me!), but it’s habitual to go into our own experiences rather than staying present with the person who has shared something with us. Continue reading