I thought I would do something completely different for the blog during the month of July. Instead of answering a reader’s question, I wanted to ask a few questions of my own.
I have asked a few different individuals to guest blog their experience in a destructive marriage on how they stayed well, how they left well, and how they decided to work on reconciling their marriage and what it took to rebuild in a healthy way. You will read their own words in the weeks to follow.
This week I asked Kim Fredrickson, counselor and author of the new book, Give Yourself A Break: Turning Your Inner Critic into a Compassionate Friend a few questions about how to develop greater compassion towards our own selves.
My questions are in bold, Kim’s answers are in italics.
Kim, what prompted you to write a book about self-compassion?
As I was looking for books on this theme for my clients, I couldn’t find any written from a Biblical perspective. I thought, how could there be nothing written about self-compassion from a faith perspective? If anyone should write about this it is believers.
God is an overflowing source of love, compassion and grace to those who are suffering…which is everyone created to some extent. He wants us to spread that love, grace and kindness to ourselves, and out of that flows to others. For some reason, in the Christian world, little is taught how to show the same type of compassion to ourselves that we readily show to others.
What is self-compassion and why is it important?
Self-compassion is having the same concern for our own pain and welfare as we would have for someone else’s. Out of self-compassion flow self-care and protection from harm.
However, self-compassion is not self-pity, where we wallow in the shame of what we have done. It is not self-complacency, where we just accept where we are. Instead, 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.
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.
It is tough enough to go through a difficult situation, especially when we think we had a part in creating it. It is another kind of torture to never be able to let go of self-criticism and blame.
Self-compassion increases resilience and self-worth, aids in stress reduction, and helps us recover from painful experiences.
Lack of self-compassion is linked to depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, lack of resilience, inability to forgive one’s self and problems in relationships.
Self-compassion gives you a friend to go through life with, rather than an internal critic or bully.
Some people fear self-compassion because they equate it with self-pity, as looking at oneself as a pathetic and sorry excuse for a person. That isn’t self-compassion; it is self-disdain.
Self-compassion is looking at our humanness and our situation with empathy, concern, and kindness. Self-compassion is also pausing to look back and feel compassion for the difficult times you’ve been through.
Life is hard even in the best of families or situations. No one can stop sin; hardships; the effects of mental illness, abuse, or neglect; or the effects of living in a busy, mixed-up world.
Sometimes I think people fear if we’re too easy on ourselves when we mess up, then we’ll just go down the tubes and sin more. Is that true?
While I can understand that concern, the opposite is actually true. When we don’t have self-compassion (and instead carry a lot of self-contempt and self-criticism), we feel a lot of deep hurt and shame.
These feelings are so painful that we can rarely tolerate them for long. We push them down, but eventually they come up—and usually with a fury. When we are in this state of emotional pain without a way to process these feelings, we will do anything to not feel them. This is when we are most likely to sin or act out our pain through negative behaviors and addictions.
Self-compassion doesn’t take away the sin, the mistake, or the need to change. It soothes the hurt and self-contempt. This soothing makes us less likely to act out our pain through our behaviors. (tweet that)
You write that if we don’t have a loving, compassionate relationship with ourselves, we fall into two camps regarding handling the mistakes we make in life. Please explain.
The two camps are Narcissism or Self-Contempt.
If our mistakes as children were not met in a healthy way with both grace and truth, we will experience great pain when we see a mistake we’ve made, or when someone else points out a mistake we’ve made.
This is because we have not developed a way to internally to accept our humanness and resolve the incident. We tend to either say we did nothing wrong at all and it was all the other person’s fault (narcissism), or say we are the worst person in the world and we don’t deserve to be forgiven (shame and self-contempt).
This happens because we never learned how to forgive ourselves for our part in the situation. This lack of self-compassion causes significant problems in our relationships.
This often leads to difficulty resolving the normal problems that happen in every relationship. In an attempt to not experience pain, we come up with every reason possible to not see or own up to the mistake we made.
I know my readers experience a lot of pain from their destructive marriage, but I also know that they can be pretty hard on themselves. What would be some first steps someone can take to build more self-compassion?
There are lots of ways I share in my book…but here’s a few:
Realize it is a process. Just considering the possibility of treating yourself with compassion is a great first step.
Second, 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. When you see yourself doing that, stop. Instead start to talk to yourself in a new, more compassionate way.
Say simple things to yourself that empathize with what a hard time you’re having. For example, “This is a really hard relationship for me to be in”.
Or, “I feel pain in this relationship, I feel worn down, It is hard to deal with put downs day in and day out, It is hard to try so hard to please him, and never succeed, in his eyes.”
Can you give us a few more examples? Women beat themselves for not being able to stand up for themself, for not having the godly response that they wished they did, or for not being able to earn enough money to be financially independent. What could a woman say to herself that would build self-compassion?
OK here are a few thoughts:
For not standing up for herself a woman could say-
I feel bad for not standing up for myself when I know I should.
On the one hand I beat myself up for this…on the other hand it is amazing that I’m even able to hang in here at all. There is so much I’m doing right (list what you are doing right).
Most people would never be able to keep going. Raising kids, working some, taking care of the home, making meals sometimes, all while handling the emotional strain and devastation that comes from living in an emotionally abusive environment.
For not being able to earn enough money-
I really regret not being able to earn enough money so that I have more choices. That is a really hard place to be. I never chose my job thinking I would have to be self-supporting. The job I pursued was meant to be a supplement to the life my husband and I were building. I had no way of knowing I would be in the position to have to be 100% self-sufficient.
But since that is the way it is now, I’m going to think about what steps I could take to start to earn more money? Go back to school, apply for a different job? Take some on-line training?
For not feeling like she is doing enough-
Yes, it feels really bad walking around every day feeling I’m not good enough, no matter what I do but it’s never enough. That is a really painful place to be.
Sometimes I don’t think I realize how hard that is on me. On the other hand there is so much I am doing and doing right. I feel good about the way I parent my kids, how I take care of our home, the relationships I have with my friends. These are the things I do well even if he doesn’t appreciate them.
No one does everything right. I’m going to think about one area that I would like to do better in. I would feel better if I was putting more effort into this area of my marriage (home).
For dealing with a moral failure or not handling things in a godly way-
I’m embarrassed that I lost my temper, had an affair (however your failed), it only made things worse. It’s hard to feel like even though I am a committed Christian, even though I love God, I still don’t always do the right thing.
I’m not proud of myself but I can still be compassionate towards myself. The reality it is incredibly hard to do things just right when you are under enormous pressure. It is very hard to keep your wits about you when you have to fend off so much negativity and I have to realize I am human and have limitations.
I’m in the position where I have to deal with so many painful and difficult things all at the same time, I don’t always do it all very well. But I can learn from this mistake so I don’t repeat it.
Kim is there anything else a woman in a destructive relationship can do to build more self-compassion?
Here are two more things:
Make time to do things that are calming and soothing to you…stretching, exercise, reading, walking in nature, doing your favorite hobby, time with affirming friends…whatever you have noticed brings you encouragement and comfort.
Consider the possibility that what he thinks is different than what you think.
Start thinking inside and say to yourself,
I know this is what he thinks, but what do I think?
I know he says that _______________, but I think ______________.
By doing this you might start to realize that you are smarter and stronger than you thought you were.
Friends, what was your biggest ah-ha moment from reading Kim’s words? What can you start to do differently today to give yourself a break?