I’ve gotten really good at saturating my conversations with positive talk. Loving terminology has become an essential piece of my mother tongue. I find myself actively trying to replace self-criticism with loving mantras, steering clear of limiting words/phrases so to fill my communication with powerful affirmations, and becoming apt at spotting judgments, be them my own or others’, so to recognize the opportunity for growth and healing.
A daily practice of positivity, gratitude and self-love has the power to connect me to the underlying blessings in the suffering, the beauty in the foul, and the light in the darkness. Sometimes it feels like second nature; I can find stillness within the most torrential storm and maintain that knowing that the calm will inevitability come.
I can’t vent for the sake of it anymore; I can’t gossip without immediately realizing what I am doing and being left with an awful taste in my mouth; I can’t wallow without being aware of my own victimization. Negativity isn’t as appealing as it used to be. It gets old really quickly. And I just don’t have any space for it.
In fact, I despise it.
And herein lies the issue and where, many of us, dupe ourselves into believing that self-compassion is surging through our veins when, really, our bloodstream thirsts for it.
While it takes great strength and commitment to connect to the greater awareness that all is well, in moments, I hold this mentality as a way to bypass my own breaking heart.
This being human isn’t always easy; the space between becoming lost to the chaos and completely barricading the heart from feeling the impact of fragmentation is difficult to find and master. However, it is that space where deep healing happens.
My entire practice is built upon the notion that the only way out is through and the only way through is to feel, as I recognize that when we avoid facing our pain and disconnect from experiencing our emotions we perpetuate our own suffering. Similarly, I know firsthand that when we become victim to our pain and succumb to the stories we create, suffering persists. The in-between is the place we want to get to.
I have mastered the ability to hold loving space for my clients to become undone and feel safe in giving voice to all the feelings they don’t want to look at. And yet, I only allow myself so much space to go to those dark places before I demand that I get it together and find that blessing… And fast.
Kristen Neff, a researcher and professor at the University of Texas studies self-compassion and has distinguished three key elements that are integral in mastering this concept: Self-Kindness, Common Humanity, and Mindfulness.
Self-kindness relates to the importance of being loving towards oneself, especially in moments of disarray, failure, and disappointment; Common Humanity is all about recognizing that pain, suffering and feelings of unworthiness are a part of the shared human experience; Mindfulness speaks to finding balance when it comes to experiencing one’s emotions, so to experience them fully without over-identifying with them.
When I think about these three key factors that make up self-compassion, I see where I have been deceiving myself.
The field of self-development and the conscious community has heavily influenced me and, at some point, I became overly fixated on experiencing my divinity while forgetting my humanness.
When I fall into a hole, I make sure to feel the impact, but I refuse to stay down in that darkness for long; I criticize that victim part of me that used to run my life and now I see that is where my compassion is most needed.
Neff speaks to the research that shows that self-criticism causes the body to release cortisol, the stress hormone, and is known to be an important predictor for anxiety and depression. When we are being self-critical, we are activating our internal threat system, causing the body to go into fight or flight mode; because we are the both the attacker (attacking our self-concept) and the one being attacked, the amount of cortisol released increases exponentially. And so, when we are critical of ourselves for being critical in the first place, we are over-flooding our system with this stress hormone, causing the body to break down.
Self-compassion is the antidote, as it reduces cortisol levels by releasing oxytocin and opiates, allowing people to feel more secure, safe and loved. When we are compassionate with ourselves, especially during those moments of self-criticism, we nourish and replenish our systems and heal our pain.
Thus, we must learn to love the aspects of ourselves that make us cringe. We must bring self-kindness to those qualities that we normally shame. We must remind ourselves that we are human and we are not alone in our experiences of hardship. We must be mindful of the fact that we can fully experience the texture of an emotion without needing to overindulge.
And in those moments when we falter, when we are overly negative, when we are cruel to ourselves, when we feel completely alone, when we become the victim to our circumstances, and the cortisol levels rise…we love ourselves even harder and call forward the power of our compassion.
Here’s to wholeheartedly embracing our humanness in all its imperfection.
Jessica has a B.Sc. in Applied Psychology from New York University, M.Ed., in Human Development and Psychology from Harvard, and a M.A., (in progress) in Spiritual Psychology from University of Santa Monica. Jessica is also a columnist at Elephant Journal and has been featured with Huffington Post.