Urgh, does this sound icky or self indulgent? Bear with me, let’s question our internal chatter for just one moment!
Question ~ Are you kind to your loved ones, children or even your pets ~ probably yes! Then why is it so ridiculous to offer this same level of love and attention to yourselves?
Answer ~ Because, in our culture we aren’t taught this and even worse a huge number of us receive the message that self love is indulgent, self-absorbed or egocentric.
I have many flashbacks from childhood when I was ridiculed or put down when I spoke up or wanted to share something excitedly as a little one. I became small and insignificant as a coping mechanism. I think it’s really important to identify some of those those early memories and start to understand them a little bit more. Seeing so many clients, self-esteem is at the root of almost everything, if not everything. Self-love and self-esteem are the root of so much suffering.
Becoming aware of body language and how traumatic experiences are stored within our bodies is key to healing.
I personally experienced this with the birth of my daughter, Ella suffered a lack of oxygen during labour and acquired a brain injury. Navigating this new world of disability was a wake up call like to other! I had to find new ways through dark times and could no longer run away or use the plethora of distractions available to us in the modern world such as substances, over working, seeking relationship or material validation. It was now time to turn up for myself if I was to be of any use to my daughter.
Fostering self love
Delving into the myriad of self help techniques I settled on returning to a short daily practice of yoga. I realised that I was actually rewiring an inner sense of worthiness with my version of self-love through the simple act of turning up for myself everyday. If you do something over and over again, it begins to grow neural patterns in the brain.
I also started to repetitively adjust my posture on and off the mat to experience a sense of worthiness, again feeding into a sense of self care and create new neural pathways. For me, it was life-changing and within a few months I began to sense a feeling that I didn’t know existed. Previously, I hadn’t actually felt an inner sense of worthiness or value. This concept was completely alien. I started to feel a softening within and all from doing nothing else other than relentlessly coming to my mat and correcting my posture throughout the day ~ standing tall, opening my heart and starting to receive the love I was offering myself in these simple acts of kindness.
Through postural issues and pain my body had been trying to communicate with me for so long and I was at last opening to the fact that I had to listen. I realised I had to teach myself to become aware of my body language, especially in a fearful or stressful situations. I trained myself to stand up, shoulders back, lengthen my spine and breathe. Doing it so often, it literally re-wired into the circuits of the brain because anything we do repetitively wires into the brain through neuroplasticity.
The old patterns, the old pathways in the brain also begin to shrink if you don’t feed them. I was feeding myself with the ‘I’ve got this, I am worth’ messages, a by product of this is shrinking down the patterns of feeling afraid or worried. I was building up positive stuff and shrinking negative stuff simultaneously, after a few months it led to a tipping point.
I followed a lot of research and spent time at Plum Village, the Buddhist monastery in the South of France where I soon realised that feelings of compassion and kindness towards ourselves and others is key to healing. If we want to get scientific this process activates the parasympathetic nervous system called the vagus nerve, and that controls immediate anti-inflammatory pathways in the body called the inflammatory reflex. During my time at Plum Village I practiced a meditation called ‘loving kindness meditation’ in which we would repeat a set of phrases starting with sending love to self, then sending love to all beings to be happy, peaceful, and healthy. This meditation has been scientifically proven to produce anti-inflammatory effects in the body, aid mental ‘dis-ease’ and processing, reduce self-criticism, enter a calm and relaxed state and aid a feeling of connection ~ what’s not to love!
Most folks say the opposite of stress is something like feeling peaceful or relaxed but those things are the absence of stress, they’re not the opposite.
Physiologically speaking, the opposite of stress is kindness. Basically, anything you know that stress does, you can rest assured that kindness has the opposite effect.
Self-compassion also requires taking a balanced approach to our negative emotions so that feelings are neither suppressed nor exaggerated. This balanced state stems from the willingness to observe our negative thoughts and emotions with a beginners mind and new clarity, so that they are held in mindful awareness. Mindfulness is a non-judgmental, receptive mind state in which one observes thoughts and feelings as they are, without trying to suppress or deny them. We cannot ignore our pain and feel compassion for it at the same time. At the same time, mindfulness requires that we don’t become ‘over-identified’ with thoughts and feelings, so that we get caught up and swept away by negative reactions.
Where self-criticism leaves us powerless and distraught, self-compassion is at the root of empowerment, learning, and inner strength. Self-compassion means treating ourselves as you would a friend. Rather than berating, judging, or adding to a friend's despair, we listen with empathy and understanding.
Being kind and understanding toward myself rather than listening to the harsh self-critical chatter and starting to perceive my experiences as part of the larger human experience rather than viewing myself as the problem has been instrumental in guiding myself and assisting others in remembering their light.