Is Your Inner Narrator Behaving?
In my April Blog (When You Can’t Go Out, Go Within) I explored the importance of being mindful of where we direct our mental energy, during these very challenging times. Given that we have somewhere around 50 thousand thoughts a day, being mindful of how we direct our mental energy is an important choice. After all, the only person in charge of how you think, and act is you! Which brings me to the topic of mindful self-compassion.
Our thoughts and actions have a lot to do with how our “Inner Narrator” (let’s call her “Inna”) operates. Inna is that voice inside your head whose job is to interpret the events taking place in the world around us. Sometimes Inna can be a source of calm and poise. But other times she can be a bit of a nag and fill our mind with negative self-talk that saps our energy and darkens our mood.
If your Inna tends to be more the nag, know that this is a perfectly normal aspect of life because our brains are hardwired to be on the lookout for threats. And oh, my, have we ever been subjected to threats over the last few months. As a result, our nervous system has been working overtime trying to cope with more disruption than many of us have faced in our lifetime, releasing elevated amounts of the stress hormone cortisol that can take a real toll on our wellbeing.
So, what do we need to do to make sure that our Inna is working for us – not against us – to maintain a healthy perspective while also making sure we stay out of harm’s way? Well, the good news is that our Inna can also be programmed to pay attention to the opposite of threats – acts of kindness, soothing words, a smile, maybe even a warm embrace – which triggers our mammalian caregiving system to release the ‘feel good’ hormone oxytocin’ leaving us feeling of safe and secure. What’s more, we don’t necessarily need to rely on others to achieve this feeling. Which brings me to the topic of Mindful Self-Compassion which, simply put, is adopting a mindset where we choose to treat ourselves just as we would treat a dear friend.
There are three core components to Self-Compassion based on the model developed by Dr. Kristen Neff:
- Self-Kindness. Think of a good friend who, in a time of crisis, comes to you for help. They are feeling despondent and need comfort and encouragement. How would you respond? My guess is that you would drop everything to be there for them, to suspend judgment and listen with empathy. So why treat yourself any differently when you are suffering? Yet very often we let Inna beat us up for our own inadequacies, which only feeds our self-doubt. So, step one is letting go of critical self judgment to tap into our feelings and to acknowledge them for what they are. So, in a moment of struggle you might say to yourself: ‘Well, things are not going my way right now. And yes, this is a really difficult time. But…It is OK not to be OK! What can I learn from this to come out stronger?’
- Common Humanity. When we get frustrated or angry it can lead us to feel isolated, as though we are the only person who makes mistakes or who is suffering. When we accept that suffering is a shared human experience it makes things more bearable. One thing I have found during the pandemic is the sense that it has unified us in our fight against a common foe. I have had many conversations I may not otherwise have had with people I have encountered where we take a moment to share a story or ask “How are you doing?” that offers me comfort in acknowledging our shared suffering and that we are all in this together.
- Mindful Emotion. We can tap into how we are feeling and acknowledge the emotion for what it is. And what an emotional rollercoaster it has been. From frustration and anxiety to anger and loneliness… we have seen many primary emotions emerge. Primary emotions are true and real. Secondary emotion is when we get into our heads and judge ourselves for how we feel. But instead of suppressing or denying those emotions, we can allow them to pass like they are cars going by and let go of the judgement. Mindful emotion offers us a balanced approach to dealing with negative experiences by being with what is in the moment.
Mindful self-compassion leads us to be our own best source of support. We do not have to wait for a kind word from others. We can just give one to OURSELVES! Mindful self-compassion is another tool that we can use to bolster our resilience so we are better able to rise to the challenges we face by giving ourselves the support we need especially in life’s challenging moments.