At my mindfulness group last night we discussed self compassion and loving-kindness. You know, that thing where you stop beating yourself up over everything you do “wrong” and “need to change” and start embracing the beautiful, unique creature you are? That thing that we, as infertile women who have such a love/hate/hate/hate-even-more relationship with our bodies just plain suck at? That thing that we as women who may struggle from eating disorders just plain flunk out of? That thing that we as professional women throw out the window daily as we are certain that self-criticism will help us climb the ranks faster and get the raise we deserve?
Yeah. That stuff. I suck at it.
I don’t often write about my revelations at the mindfulness group because they are often deeply personal and involve my relationship with the Professor. However, last nights’ discussion on loving-kindness and self-compassion, or lack there of, is a challenge I see facing the ALI community daily. We are angry at our bodies, our spouses, our “lack of self control” and more. It’s so sad to see a group of strong, passionate women who all excel in their own way beat themselves to hell and back for various reasons.
Because of this I thought I would share a bit of what I learned last night. Maybe it will help some of you guys, or maybe you’ll be all “Groan, hippie Belle is back… I’d rather watch the weather report!” Either way, I’m here and going to talk about it, no matter who is or is not listening 🙂
In our culture many regard themselves as inadequate. “If I would jog I’d be a much better person… If I could get a nicer house I’d be a happier person…. If I could conceive and carry a child to term I would be a better person…” We often find ourselves on quests for self improvement. “My new year resolution is to lose 20 pounds and stop being so dang disorganized!” Pema Chodron, an American Buddhist nun and director of Gampo Abbey in Nova Scotia, labels these “quests” as a form of self aggression.
In her book Awakening Loving-Kindness” she said, “…but loving kindness – maitri – towards ourselves doesn’t mean getting rid of [or changing] anything. Maitri means that we can still be crazy after all these years. We can still be angry after all these years. We can still be timid or jealous or full of feelings of unworthiness. The point is not to try and change ourselves … It’s about befriending who we already are right now, just as we are.”
In an interview with Kristin Neff, a pioneer in the study of “self-compassion,” she states that “[Self-compassion/loving-kindness] is treating yourself with the same type of kind, caring support and understanding that you would show anyone you cared about. In fact, most of us make incredibly harsh, cruel self-judgments that we would never make about a total stranger, let alone someone we cared about.”
This statement really struck a chord with me. Personally, I work very hard to treat everyone around me with compassion and respect. I would never say to my friend, “Well if you would just get off your ass and work HARDER at your job you would not be such a failure and underpaid.” I do, however, say this to myself. Regularly. And what has all this self-criticism gotten me in the past three years unfulfilling work? Nothing. I’m still here, still unfulfilled and still underpaid.
In fact, all of this self loathing towards my career, my infertility, my physical appearance, my personality really has just stalled my progress. I believe I would have had a easier journey through treatments had I been more compassionate towards myself. Would I have gotten my take home baby sooner? Eh, that is a debate for another post. However, having a kinder attitude towards myself sure would have made the ride a lot easier on both myself and my husband.
The same thoughts can be applied to my job. Would I have a better job with higher pay had I said nicer things to myself. Not sure. I do know I’d have gone home a happier woman and blasted my husband a lot less, making for more fulfilling meal time conversations and a deeper intimacy.
Later in her interview Neff says, “One of the big reasons [that we self-criticize] is that people feel that they need to be self-critical in order to motivate themselves. We think that we need to beat ourselves up if we make mistakes so that we won’t do it again. It’s a convoluted form of self-care: I criticize myself because I don’t want to keep engaging in this behavior that is problematic.
“But that is completely counterproductive. Self-criticism is linked to depression… It causes us to lose faith in ourselves, and that’s going to make us less likely to try to change and conditions us for failure. If every time you fail or make a mistake you beat yourself up, you’re going to very quickly try to avoid failure at all costs. It’s a natural survival instinct. Which means you may not take risks…”
And not taking risks means your may never change your course of action to one that will ultimately lead to success all because you are hiding from your own self flagellation.
GAH! Why did I not hear this months ago? How could this have helped me through another FET and now into pregnancy after infertility and loss? How could I be soooo stupid!
… Wait… I’m self-criticizing again.
See how quickly that happens? See how naturally? It’s shocking, really. I spent last night and this morning taking mental notes when I entered this kind of thinking and it was over. and over. and over again. In the past I would have scolded myself: “Bad Belle! Stop it! Shame on you!” This time, though, I tried to mindfully observe my thoughts. I took notice and then moved on. “Wow, that was unnecessarily cruel. I’m sorry, self. Let’s move on.”
I’m really fascinated by the little I’ve learned about loving-kindness and am terribly curious how it might help me shape the coming months of pregnancy and beyond. Will it ensure me a take home baby. I’m afraid now. Will it help me enjoy today? Absolutely. And is that not what I have been struggling to do?
My intention for this week is to take note of self-criticism and to remind myself, out loud if I must, that it is ok, that I’m doing my best and that I should just move forward. Maybe with a change in my mindset I’ll be able to enjoy 18 weeks, rather then hide from it and maybe I’ll get a little closer to appreciating the unique, crazy, dynamic person that I am.
How do you feel about self-compassion and loving-kindness? Do you think this is a bunch of rubbish or do you think there is real weight here that could help us through infertility treatments, pregnancy and, God forbid, loss? Or would you rather I keep my crunchy mindset off the blog and focus on more adorable cat photos like the following? 🙂