Does this sound familiar?
You berate and criticize your actions, expressions, emotions, and desires. Think you feel too much, not enough, too fat, too thin, too busy, too lazy. If only you had not said that or done this then things would be different. You feel responsibility for other people’s happiness and anticipate conflict as a place to be accused and blamed. When you make a mistake it feels unbearable.
It can seem as if you never can get things right. You feel defensive most of the time because you expect to be blamed and attacked.
There is often an uneasy feeling in your body. Makes you want to not be in you own skin. Feeling numb can seem preferable to the revved up, tense and anxious feeling. Your sense of worthiness is dependent on being better, best or special. An unattainable state of being.
It would be so nice to just rest from this barrage of self-persecution. To rest in the belief that you are ok just as you are. It seems that no matter how many people tell you this you seem to have some automatic response that mistrusts, resists and points out how it is not true.
I am particularly fond of a quote by Victor Frankl, a psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor who wrote a number of great books. He said, between stimulus and response is a space, and in that space is the choice to respond, and in our choice to respond is our growth and freedom. Our response is not only to others in our life but also to ourselves.
So what this means is that when we create this space we can work on changing our responses and perhaps we can begin to change that automatic dismissal and demand for perfection. This is often what I work on in therapy with my clients.
Creating the Space.
1) Slow down. This is so important and foundational to bringing our attention to what is happening. To pause, to reflect, to bring a mindful attention to our responses.
2) Include a body awareness to self-acceptance. We know from brain science that creating new neural pathways are strongest when we integrate sensations, emotions, movement, images and meaning together. By learning to notice all these aspects of our experience we have more input into the new experience.
3) Be Persistent. Let’s use some of that negative persistent energy (in other words we know you can be persistent!) to keep at it. Many clients I work with will often say they can’t keep focused. That after a few seconds their thoughts take over. What often happens at this point is that they stop doing the practice !! We develop new skills by practicing, so if this happens to you, just bring your attention back to it. Those seconds will turn into more seconds and turn into minutes, and so on. Every moment you can give to taking in an experience of self-acceptance is a break from the watchful tension you feel. Every moment counts in creating new neural networks of self-acceptance.
4). Below is an exercise you can do every day to provide yourself with an experience of acceptance and compassion.
Exercise in Cultivating Self-acceptance.
Begin by taking a moment and make yourself comfortable, bringing your attention to an awareness of being in your body. You may want to close your eyes so that you can reduce distractions.
Begin by placing your hand on your chest – we can call this your gesture of self-acceptance. You may feel that putting both hands on your chest, or one hand on your chest and one on your stomach whichever feels right for you. Notice how your body responds to this touch. Notice the sensations and effect on your body from this gesture. You are beginning a dialogue with yourself. In your own way communicate acceptance of yourself right now in this moment through the touch of your hand. You may notice you naturally want to apply a little more pressure , or make a slight caress or just rest with gentle stillness.
As you express this gesture of acceptance, notice the response in your body. Do you tighten or relax ? Become curious about the sensations in your body perhaps there is tingling, warmth, cold, tension, relaxation, energized, churning, or agitation – just notice. In particular, notice how much self-acceptance you can take in. If it is difficult to find one cell of your body that can feel this acceptance, you don’t have to take it all in. Just notice what happens with one cell at a time.
Accepting what is right now. It is not about changing anything but noticing the changes, even minute changes, that occur as you accept what is. Keep going back and forth between your gesture of acceptance and your body’s response. Notice what happens each time you send acceptance through the touch of your hand.
You may notice thoughts come up – some may be resistant or critical, bored, distracted – just notice and again go back to the gesture of acceptance. Accepting these thoughts and notice what happens. Some thoughts may be symbolic of what you are experiencing and you begin to analyze your experience – give acceptance to where you are at this moment.
You may find emotion comes up – notice what it is like to send acceptance to these feelings. If the feeling begins to get uncomfortable you may want to bring your attention to your feet on the ground to help stay with what is happening.
To extend this further you may want to bring to mind something that is difficult to accept right now and notice the sensations as you think about this. In the same way, continue to communicate acceptance to yourself.
Keep this dialogue going back and forth for as long as you like.