Have you ever struggled with difficult emotions? I certainly did.
Earlier this year I had a period where lots of anger and anxiety came to surface. My first reaction was to resist it: “I meditated for so many years, why do I still need to deal with this sh*t? Why can’t I seem to get a handle on it? Other people seem to have their life together.”
In those moments, you start questioning if you made any real progress in healing and if the mindfulness practices are working.
Then I calmed down. I remembered that acceptance is the only way forward and I started to work with the emotion.
In the process, I read the book Self-compassion by Kristin Neff, where she teaches you how to be more compassionate to yourself through a framework based on three elements:
How does it work?
Whenever you're challenged by an emotion, the first thing to do is to validate it as it is. Instead of thinking “Why am I feeling like this?” you can say "This is hard. This is difficult." You are merely stating the truth here. Simply acknowledging what is.
Then you remind yourself that you are not alone in your struggle. Instead of saying “Why am I feeling like this while everyone else is fine?” (which is not true) you can say: "Surely someone else in the world is dealing with the same emotions right now". You connect with the shared human experience. The fact that we’re in this together.
Finally, you express a wish to get better. Instead of thinking “I want this emotion to stop” you could say: "May I be strong. May I be patient. May I get through this.” It’s an honest wish, as opposed to an entitled demand.
That’s it, the exercise takes only a minute to do and it’s incredibly helpful. Try it for yourself.
An important lesson from Kristin Neff’s work for me was that when you practice self-compassion, pain actually increases at first. She writes “when we give ourselves love, we discover the conditions under which we were unloved”. Or in other words “Love reveals everything unlike itself.”
When you introduce more love in your life (e.g. through a healthy relationship), the negative thoughts and emotions stored within you are triggered to surface. They come up to “scare you” and remind you why you store them there in the first place (to keep you safe).
When this happens, you get scared. You feel more anger, more anxiety. You start doubting if you’re healing or not. Afterall, things seem to be getting worse for you. But an increase in pain means you are on the path of healing. You can now acknowledge these emotions that are shrinking your life experience, and kindly let them go.
This is where the self-compassion framework comes in handy.
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