It has been eye opening to offer self-compassion practices to clients and recognize the wide-spread awe with which people recognize how this simple mindset has been lacking in their lives.
Negative Self Talk
Our relationship with ourselves is so private, it is so personal. It is truly intimate - the way that we talk to ourselves. As a therapist, I have the privilege to have people share with me about their relationship with themselves. I ask clients to identify automatic thoughts that come up frequently in their minds. You might find negative self talk is more common than you realized. These thoughts sound like:
"I suck at this."
"I'm no good."
"Nobody cares about me."
When you are not kind to yourself, you may be treating yourself in a way that you would never treat another human being. You are injuring yourself. This is perhaps the most subtle and subversive form of self harm. It is usually self-inflicted because you are continuing a pattern that was consciously or unconsciously begun by a caregiver or other family members.
It is understandable that we form the same kind of habits, internal as well as external, that have been modeled for us. We haven’t been introduced to any other possibilities. Many times, this kind of negative internal dialogue is the source of toxic shame. Toxic shame is defined as “a feeling that you're worthless. It happens when other people treat you poorly and you turn that treatment into a belief about yourself.” (Here is an article that expands on toxic shame.)
When people open up with me and are honest about how they treat themselves, they find out that there are other choices. Initially this might increase the sense of shame. The "Toxic Shame Part" continues the cycle by saying things like
“You’re bad for treating yourself so badly!”
“You’re ignorant and stupid for not realizing this sooner.”
“You’ve wasted so much time beating yourself up, you’ll never get that time back.”
STOP! START KINDNESS NOW!
When you notice yourself doing this, or hear these kinds of phrases in your mind, STOP! Take a deep breath and commit to shifting gears. You have the power to reclaim your self-worth. You have the authority to choose how to treat yourself. The neuropasticity of our brains allow us to form new thought patterns and retrain the mind to be kind. This may take some time and practice - just like training muscle groups when you lift weights. But if you dedicate yourself to practice and consistency, you will become stronger. You will form new neural pathways in your brain that improve your sense of self. Here are some self-compassionate statements to use as a replacement:
"I'm doing the best I can."
"I can learn and let myself grow."
"I don't have to do this perfectly."
This is a fabulous website dedicated to the practice of Self Compassion. You will find exercises and guided audio meditations to cultivate your own healing.
Every step you take in healing your mind, brain and body - is a step toward Self Compassion. Navigating to this web page, reading this article, getting to a class or a therapy session, taking a walk - it is all in service of your highest potential.
I welcome you to share your journey with me as well as your community so that we can lift each other up and recognize we are not alone.
I have been practicing Somatic Psychotherapy for over 15 years and have experienced dozens of modalities that range from talk therapy to rituals, ceremonies, movement, wilderness, and beyond. I find that Brainspotting is a perfect crossroads for all of what I have learned over the years but adds something I had not accessed before. This modality bridges into the often hard to treat aspect of neurology. Brain science is still in it’s infancy so we don’t have full explanation of HOW it works but only THAT it works. We use the field of vision along with somatic tracking and therapist attunement to process trauma, emotion as well as access creative growth
What is Brainspotting?
As written on the Brainspotting International website:
"Brainspotting is a powerful, focused treatment that reduces and can eliminate emotional and physical pain and tension. It harnesses the mind and body's natural self-scanning, self-healing ability to dismantle the trauma, distress and beliefs at the subconscious core to free the mind and body.
Brainspotting treats stress, anxiety, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), sport and creative performance, Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), dyslexia, emotional blocks and more."
Dr. David Grand, the founder of this method wrote a book (Brainspotting) for anyone to read about the method but it is truly an experiential method that is different in each session. I am here to answer any questions and share this powerful modality whenever you are ready!
A 34 year old married woman we will call Marie, came to therapy to process grief over her father's death 1 year ago. She works in a high stress corporate environment. She reported that she had not been sleeping well for months. She attributed it to the work stress and shared that she started her career working in her father's company and he was emotionally abusive in the work environment.
After doing a formal intake and spending time getting to know her, I suggested we try Brainspotting. She said she was willing to try even though she has never meditated or practiced yoga so she wasn't sure "if it will work".
During the session I helped Marie get in touch with the sensations in her body that came along with the work tension. She found a spot in her visual field that corresponded to that as well. While holding her gaze on that spot for a while, she noticed the sensations intensify and tears began to well up in her eyes.
After about 30 minutes, we debriefed and Marie shared that she had memories of her dad's verbal abuse at work and also periods of emotional stillness within. Beyond that she did not share in depth the content of the memories nor did she name every feeling that arose.
The following week when we met again Marie reported that she had slept better this past week than she had in 6 months and she was amazed!
This was the beginning of utilizing the tool of Brainspotting to help clear more of her brain/body of the emotion and stuckness that was hindering her from feeling free in her work and life.
Foundations to Begin
I recommend clients who are interested in Brainspotting, as well as any depth psychotherapy begin to practice body scan meditation. This skill will help create a foundation of cultivating an openness and curiosity in your mind that will help the process along. Any powerful method of therapy is going to challenge you in some way so having a skill to lean back into which allows you to trust the process is very beneficial.
The Uncertainty Principle
People come to therapeutic settings with very specific symptoms and sometimes clear goals of how they want to change but inevitably the process is more important than the outcome. The truth is that we don't know how to heal or how healing works because it is an innate capacity of the body-brain. Allowing ourselves to be in the uncertainty and unknown is a central part of the healing. There are many different therapy modalities and experiences that can support us to be in that uncertainty. I think that those are the most powerful paths to healing. In essence we are bringing our brokenness and our fractured selves, to meet our vulnerability, and make space for it. This space allow the body-brain to rewire because we give cues that we can feel secure enough and compassionate enough to care for that pain.
I'd like to share one modality which is very close to my heart. It is the practice of authentic movement.
Impulses to Move
Authentic Movement is a form developed by a woman named Mary Starks Whitehouse and her student Janet Adler. The practice can happen in an individual session or a group. Each participant pays attention to the innate impulses that are housed within her body in silence with her eyes closed. The mover tracks her internal urges to move and makes choices about how to engage with those. The witness simply observe the mover.
With time a process unfolds within each individual mover which is mysterious and unknown. Here is where the principle of uncertainty comes in and offers an opportunity for true healing. Sometimes people have physical sensations that they're following and sometimes the mind is more active and they can play with active imagination. This is almost like dreaming in a wakeful state. These concepts are linked closely with the Jungian psychology of allowing the unconscious to unfold in the moment.
The reasons to join an authentic movement group are varied. You might be exploring any number of themes in your life. The beauty of this practice is that you can bring the exploration into the body and into the movement. This is especially a potent opportunity to explore your personal boundaries within yourself or in your relationships. It is a perfectly fertile ground for developing skills as a Somatic Psychotherapist or healer of any modality such as holding space, witnessing, reflecting, and mirroring.
Preparing to Join
Preparing to join an authentic movement session is much like preparing for a journey. If you've never been a participant before it might feel a little bit mysterious or daunting. you might wonder what is going to happen and so I want to share with you what it looks like from the outside. This of course is only from the logistical standpoint and your internal experience is going to be a lot more colorful and vibrant than I can put down into words.
1 - Opening and intention sharing
2 - Time for movement, anywhere from 5 - 45 minutes depending on the size of the group
3 - Integration - time for personal reflection in writing, drawing or meditation
4 - Offering circle - each mover shares something from her reflection and witnesses can then reflect as well
Through the steps above the movers experience their movement in multiple ways and from many different angles. The first is having prepared themselves and thinking about their state of mind and body and sharing what they’d like to work on. Next they find themselves following those impulses and experiencing their unconscious process from within. After the movement time they have an integration period where they will spend more time in reflection so that another part of their brain can participate in observing what happened. Using poetry and color is especially helpful here to open up the channels of creativity alongside the movement. Finally in the offering Circle when we share verbally, we're integrating the body experience with the rational, analytical brain. This is where we also find connection with the witness and the other participants and so we return to our human family and draw conclusions and make meaning.
Trusting the Outcome
The outcome of the sessions are best understood through experience. After I leave a group, I have a deep sense of connection and support as well as a deeper awareness of my own needs. A deeper sense of my soul. For me this is the best way to orient to what is unfolding in my psyche and in my life. It feels like I can more deeply trust each moment