Hello everyone, and welcome back to the Therapy Spot. This week, to continue #theYearofSelfCompassion, I’d like to talk about something called the “inner care circuit.” Every single one of you has this circuit, even though we may not know how to use it. Our inner care circuit can eliminate emotional pain at its roots — and help us to feel better now.
“The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is an attribute of the strong.”
As Tim Desmond describes in his Self-Compassion Skills Workbook, emotional pain comes from a lack of Self Compassion. On this podcast, I’ll explore what happens when we add Self Compassion to emotional pain.
This is Your Brain On Self Compassion
When we meet our painful emotions with acceptance — rather than avoidance — we don’t just change our brains. We change our lives. At the same time, we activate a neurological network that kick starts feelings of Self Compassion. Neuroscientists call this “memory reconsolidation.”
How does memory consolidation occur? When you experience emotional pain followed by care and Self Compassion, you create a new association. That gives you emotional healing.
Painful Emotions + Care and Self Compassion = emotional healing
In one health and disease study of 1,400 adults, researchers examined the interaction of mental health and the act of forgiveness. They studied three types of forgiveness:
- Forgiving others
- Forgiving oneself
- Feeling forgiven by God
The researchers found that forgiving oneself predicted lower odds of depression among men. Also, in all cases, the act of forgiveness predicted lower odds of developing major depression among women. (Loren Toussant et al. 2015)
If you’re struggling with emotional pain and you want to feel better now, forgiveness is key.
Emotional Pain and the Great Cover Up
We’ve all been there: eventually, the anger, or the sadness, or the helplessness hits too hard. It’s too much. That’s when we look for something to take the feelings away, or at the very least, cover them up.
We all have our favorite go-to cover ups. Some of them are positive, others are negative. Note: by “positive,” I mean socially acceptable ways not to know how bad you feel. Both positive and negative cover ups lead to the same place for you.
What are some common cover ups?
Negative cover ups:
- Drinking or using other mind altering substances
- Compulsively shopping
- Gaming or internet surfing
“Positive” cover ups:
- Note: this can be positive or negative. On the positive side, more sleep can tip you to a better place, mentally and physically. On the negative side, however, we often sleep to avoid our feelings and situation.
I used denial as a cover up for most of my life, only I didn’t think of it as denial. To put it more positively, I was an extreme optimist. I reframed difficult situations in such a way that I didn’t have to confront my emotional pain.
While these behaviors aren’t necessarily bad on their own, it’s the intention behind them that makes them cover ups. All of these actions serve the same function. You abandon yourself by deadening your emotional pain to feel better.
Feel Better Now: 3 Steps to Activating Self Compassion
These 3 steps will activate your compassionate response. Consider them your antidote to your negative emotions.
Step 1: Notice. (As I always say!) Stop. Pause. Notice. Be mindful of your situation, and how you’re reacting to it. What parts are feeling? What parts are reacting?
Your might feel the urge to cover up. Ask that part of you, the cover up part, to step back. Ask it to slow down, and wait. Tell it: “I want to see. I can bear it. I can be with it.”
Kristen Neff’s research demonstrated that putting your hand over your heart will activate your care system neurologically.
Put your hand over your heart. Stop and be with yourself. Breathe to anchor yourself, and meet your sad emotions.
Step 2: Mindful acceptance. With your hand still over your heart, make this your inner dialogue. “I see you in your pain. It’s so hard for you right now. I am with you. Your pain makes sense. I am so sorry.”
When you witness yourself in this pain, you connect on the inside with your caring Self. You show that you accept yourself, all of you, even when you show up sad or scared. This care and these words are accepting you,
Step 3: Reframe. Use encouragement and positively reframe the situation. Hold in your mind an image of a loving parent who nurtures a scared, sad child.
Note: reframing immediately, like I used to do, is denial. Reframing after you have activated your inner care circuit allows you to acknowledge the negative feelings, rather than cover them up.
Find It. Activate It. Strengthen It.
As human beings, we are more alike than different. The research on compassion shows us that we were all born with an inner care circuit. This circuit is neurological. We can find it, activate it, and strengthen it. When we do that, we can regulate our emotions — even the negative ones.
You’ve heard on my podcast before, from myself as well as Martha Sweezy, that Self Compassion is the antidote to shame. It is also the antidote to the emotional pain that comes along with negative events in our lives.
This antidote is inside of you now. You already have it, and you have always had it. You simply need to include yourself in the circle of compassion that you already extend to other people.
Thank you so much for joining me today.