I, like many of us have discussed, debated, disagreed and worried about the uncertainty of our collective ability as a country to come together to respectfully accept the diversities of race, gender religions and class rather than separate, vilify, shame, and generally undermine our common humanity, our bigger family, that we belong to. This seems almost overwhelming doesn’t it, too many words, too much work.
I have felt that hopelessness and despair too. Shadows of my childhood upbringing weaved into this hopelessness, inviting me to investigate these thoughts and emotions as a bigger collective history. I emerged with a grounded sense of hope as I realized that “we” not just “me” are slowly, often painfully, shifting from one way of evolving emotionally into another. Many of us were raised as children in a culture using shame and blame as an accepted method to make us “behave” “be socially acceptable” able “to fit in.” These methods, along with rigid gender roles, rigid ideas about sexual expression are slowly crumbling, due to many diverse influences. So as the shame/blame parenting/society style is changing, what is taking its place?
For awhile, it was the self esteem movement. I remember that from the 1990s. But self esteem does not have a solid core base that gives us a feeling of safety (my opinion) because it did not give us a grounded method to work with shame, judgment and criticism. In fact, shame, which is a scientifically proven method of survival, thrived. It’s okay to be told to have self esteem, but if you were compared negatively to Betty down the street, your self esteem goes out the window. Comparison exacerbates bullying, one up-manship, competition, “better thans.” If we don’t have any knowledge about our feelings or the skills to work with our painful emotions — then violence in its many forms is the painful, often explosive expression. Yes, it is all part of the “flight, fight freeze” reactions triggered by signals from the brain to keep us alive. It worked pretty well in pre-historic times, because the human species is still here. The danger has changed its form, and lives in us, through the internalized voice of the “judge” or “inner critic” that can make us our own worst enemy, lashing out at others or beating ourselves up internally.
We all have this voice, it is there to keep us “safe” but the voice is often harsh, critical and constant. However, we can work to accept and change this part of us. This is moving into the work that many are participating in today to create the shift that is needed. This work, also grounded in neuroscience, is related to our mammalian attachment system of caring and nurturing. I am talking about a conscious shift into self compassion and caring. These are inter-related skills, inherent in every one of us and with practice, we can develop them, as individuals and as communities. These relational practices have been around for a long time. Grounded research has proven that they work, and they are simple methods that you can use every day.
For the “I need to know’ people, like me, in easy scientific language, we can switch from the survival operating system in the brain to the mammalian nurturing system by using soft caring touch, like putting our hands on our hearts, holding our own hands (I do this in the dentist office) when you feel afraid. Of course, this is just a quick example; there are many more practices that work for your benefit and the benefit of others.
It is a practice, and changes you in heart-warming beneficial ways. Compassion is based in the three principles of paying attention, being aware that you are not alone, many other are hurting too, and practicing kindness for ourselves and others. I wanted this to be the overnight fix I’ve been constantly searching for, out there, only to find it is already nested in me, waiting for me to trust into and evolve with the process. Why not investigate this possibility for yourself?
Self compassion has changed many people in deeply connective ways, so why not go for it? The benefits are life changing and community changing. This is the change that we are all asking for, yes it takes commitment, practice and laughter and it starts right here with me, and you, and you and you.
“I long as does every human being to be at home wherever I find myself.” Maya Angelou
Check compassion.org and research the work of Tara Brach, Sharon Salzburg, Kristin Neff, Brene Brown and many other authors and teachers on compassion, self compassion and kindness.