Self-compassion

How Self-Compassion Transforms Queer Shame into Pride

We can turn shame into pride, but we cannot do so once and for all:
shame lives on in pride, and pride can easily turn back into shame.
– Heather Love

 

We queer folks are supposed to feel proud of who we are at the annual PRIDE events that traditionally kick off in North America in the month of June. And proud we feel as the world begins to look at us, see us, celebrate with us, and let us be who we are. We dance unashamedly and fervently at open air events, march at PRIDE parades, attend Drag brunches, and publicly and physically show our affection with newly found loves.

Yet, how long does this feeling of pride last? What do we feel once the festivities have ended? Is the lonely walk home from these events one of shame? Are we celebrating something ephemeral that fails to have a more lasting imprint? Does shame win? 

My exploration of self-compassion as a person who identifies as gay and who has taught mindfulness and self-compassion to the LGBTQ+ community for many years has shown me that it’s not a game of win/lose between shame and pride—it’s a “both/and” process of self-transformation that self-compassion illuminates and supports. 

I wish to claim that we need self-compassion to help us arrive at a genuine feeling of pride for who we are and a steady sense of self-worth and self-celebration. Self-compassion allows us to cultivate a place of strength and stability within ourselves where pride’s collapse into shame is not feared but held with love that we give to ourselves.

From an early age, queer children are made to feel like misfits with no place to be or grow, as they are shamed into nonbelonging. Traditional parenting styles alongside socio-cultural and regional messages of queer hostility have made shame an intimate companion to queer children that follows them into adulthood. Shame often becomes too painful for many queer folks to feel so they numb the feeling through excessive alcohol, partying, sex, and drugs, escaping from their physical body into their intellectual faculties, art, fashion, or anything that makes their lives beautiful when they are otherwise barely livable.

PRIDE season offers space, a sense of belonging, a sense of presence, a sense of being seen, a sense of pride as we engage in PRIDE activities and bust out our moves on the dance floor … before pride collapses back into shame in private moments.

It is these moments of collapse when self-compassion has our back. Self-compassion invites us to acknowledge and validate that this collapse of pride with emerging shame is hard for us (the mindfulness component of self-compassion). We are invited to offer ourselves kindness, friendliness, warmth because we feel shame, because it’s here (the self-kindness component of self-compassion). We are invited to remind ourselves that there is at least one other being out there, another “misfit” in our community, who must feel the same as we do (the common humanity component of self-compassion). We are able to meet ourselves with self-compassion when we are just not able to participate in PRIDE events because we feel too shy, too ashamed of who we are – when we feel too insecure to physically express our feelings with another person even though our body and heart long for this connection, when we feel ashamed of our bodies, our age, our ways of loving and our loves – when we we simply want to disappear and vanish into the earth.

Self-compassion is a practical tool to be with shame, with feeling inadequate, deficient, unworthy, not enough. And it is in being excessively kind and gentle with ourselves in those difficult moments that love begins to show up for us like a balm – soft and sweet – when our tenderness in being with shame kisses an emerging feeling of worthiness and appreciation for who we are, who we have been, and who we are becoming. It’s in those tender and vulnerable moments when fierce self-compassion arises, makes itself known alongside tenderness, and we begin to feel proud, genuinely proud, of who we are and how we live in the world. Our capacity to be with shame expands and no longer defines who we are.

I, for one, have discovered a sense of pride through my personal practice of MSC. My experience of being an MSC student and subsequently becoming a certified MSC teacher and teaching LOMSC courses has given me opportunities to be with shame and turn towards childhood wounds to discover a strength within myself that I didn’t know existed.

I can now be found dancing at PRIDE events and beyond, carrying the momentum of PRIDE celebrations into my everyday life and teaching. There has emerged within me a steady sense of self-worth independent of what others think or say or do. And I get to share my pride with a community of fellow MSC practitioners that reminds me that I am not alone in my moments of shame or in my moments of pride. They have my back, and I have theirs. There is a new sense of community that has emerged for me, a new feeling of being in community that is one of genuine belonging.

Wishing you all a “HAPPY PRIDE!”

With love,
Markus

Acknowledgment:
To my fellow dancers, in particular Mary, Sydney and Mel, who have inspired this piece.

Markus Bohlmann (he|him) MA, MSc, PhD, is a certified MSC teacher, certified in MBCT, and a faculty member at the Center for Mindfulness Studies and Mindfulness Everyday in Toronto, Canada. He is the coordinator of CMSC’s worldwide translations of the MSC programs, member of CMSC’s DEIB (Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging) committee and team leader of CMSC’s Circles of Practice LGBTQIAP2S+ Affinity Group.

Learn more or register here for the LOMSC for LGBTQ+ course that Markus is co-teaching with Mel Wraight that begins October 13, 2022.


Bibliography

Bohlmann, Markus P.J., ed. Misfit Children: An Enquiry into Childhood Belonging. Lexington, 2017.

Germer, Christopher, and Kristin Neff. The Mindful Self-Compassion Teacher Guide. CMSC, 2020.

Lassen, Christian. Camp Comforts: Reparative Gay Literature in Times of Aids. Transcript, 2011.

Love, Heather. Feeling Backward: Loss and the Politics of Queer History. Harvard UP, 2007.

Stockton, Kathryn Bond. The Queer Child, or Growing Sideways in the Twentieth Century. Duke UP, 2009.

Self-Compassion Research on LGBTQIA+ Wellbeing

As we celebrate Pride with friends and loved ones in the month of June, we show support for people of all sexual orientations in our community and we come together as a society that rejects all forms of hate.

During this celebration it is important to acknowledge that LGBTQIA+ individuals still run a higher risk of experiencing mental health challenges (McDonald, 2018; Fulginiti, et al. 2021). Research shows that self-compassion can support the general wellbeing of  LGBTQIA+ individuals.

One study found self-compassion to support wellbeing in self-identifying gay men and another study showed that self-compassion buffers the negative psychological impact of stigma stress on sexual minorities. A third study found self-compassion to buffer against depressive symptoms for transgender and nonbinary individuals.


Self-Compassion is Positively Related to Well-Being in Self-Identifying Gay Men (Beard, Eames & Withers, 2017)

This study shows self-compassion to be a strength and a resource. The authors highlight self-compassion to be particularly meaningful for sexual minorities that sometimes face a paradox of simultaneous personal fulfillment and societal oppression for their sexual expression.This study found that of the six components of self-compassion, it was particularly the component of self-kindness that contributed to the wellbeing of self-identifying gay men. Here wellbeing is seen to include psychological, physical and relational wellbeing. The authors reflect that when gay men treat themselves kindly, it buffers them against stress and thus leads to wellbeing, and/or when they treat themselves kindly they handle stressors differently than someone who is prone to self-criticism. 


Self-Compassion Buffers the Negative Psychological Impact of Stigma Stress on Sexual Minorities (Chan, Yung, & Nie, 2020)

This study found self-compassion to function as a buffer against the negative psychological impact of stigma. Public stigma refers to prejudicial attitudes and stereotypical beliefs held by the general public toward individuals with socially discredited characteristics or behaviors (Mak et al. 2007) and stigma is known to adversely affect sexual minorities.

The authors of this study explain that the protective effects of self-compassion support LGB individuals to be less affected by the societal stigma and to be less likely to endorse their own self-stigmatizing thoughts. They highlight that the attitude of non-judgment and self-kindness in self-compassion may allow LGB individuals to reflect on their stigmatizing experiences without experiencing self-criticism and shame. Furthermore, self-compassion can remind them that challenging experiences are part of the common human condition and create a feeling of not being alone. Lastly, the inner attitude of self-kindness can support LGB individuals to give themselves genuine concern and care when stigma stress occurs.


Self-Compassion Buffers Against Depressive Symptoms for Transgender and Nonbinary Individuals (Samrock, S., Kline, K., & Randall, A. K., 2021)

This study shows self-compassion to buffer against depressive symptoms for transgender and nonbinary individuals. The authors of this study highlight that transgender and gender nonbinary individuals often report higher levels of depression compared to cisgender individuals. They encourage health clinicians to take a strength-based approach to fostering mental wellbeing in their transgender and nonbinary clients. A strengths-based approach supports the identification of individual and relational factors that may mitigate symptoms of depression and they specifically underline the importance of self-compassion. The study further found that for younger participants with low perceived family support, self-compassion was particularly important in buffering against depressive symptoms.

All three studies highlight the potential and the power self-compassion holds for supporting the wellbeing of the LGBTQIA+ population. In celebrating Pride, let us also celebrate and support wellbeing in the LGBTQIA+ community!

LGBTQI2S+ Affinity Practice Circle
Mondays 6PM Pacific Time

CMSC is pleased to offer a free weekly “Affinity Practice Sessions” for LGBTQI2S+ people. Please note that these sessions are only for those who claim these identities themselves and not for those who identify as “allies” of those with the identities.

Acknowledging Our Many Names: My Experience of Bearing Witness in Auschwitz

“Beyond right and wrong, there is a place. Here we can meet each other.”
Rumi

This November morning in 2017 was colder than I had expected it to be. It was our group’s first walk through the streets of Auschwitz 1. We were participants in a “Bearing Witness Retreat” with Roshi Bernie Glassman, who had been creating and leading these unique and meaningful retreats that take place in (former) places of war, hate, suppression and expulsion since 1994.  We were not yet aware, but it also became his last Bearing Witness Retreat in Auschwitz…

Feeling the soles of my feet touching the cobblestones, my fists clenched deep in my pockets, I stayed a little behind our group to avoid speaking. I wondered what self-compassion tools I could use to calm myself as my heart was racing and my mind tried to comprehend the cruelty that once was present here. I brought my awareness to feeling the rhythm of my breath, consciously placing one foot in front of the other, accompanying every step with my breath. For comfort and support I found myself resting one hand on my heart and once in a while also bringing my other hand to the heart for additional support and protection. 

From this first silent immersion on the streets and around the buildings of Auschwitz 1, we continued to the desolate landscape of the ruins of Birkenau, which presented such an unexpected vast space. Being asked to avoid drinking and eating was surprising and became more and more unpleasant with each step. Beech and oak trees surrounded us and created a soft forest floor covered with autumn leaves. It stood in such contrast to the emptiness and grayness of this land in early winter. My mind wandered to how our children would love to play tag or hide and seek under the trees on the soft, mossy forest floor. I reflected on how often we are unaware of the history of the ground we place our steps on, unaware of the  injustices that might have taken place there. Our daily meetings in Council Practice became a pillar of relief for all of us. There we could voice feelings of anger, resentment, shame, confusion, numbness, grief and sadness, and listen to others share similar feelings. In these meetings I experienced a deep sense of common humanity, as we all experienced extremes and contradictions so close together. 

With each day that passed, less rational answers were available. The boundaries between “victim” and “perpetrator” started to dissolve; they didn’t seem to fit the size of the cloth anymore. Something new, unexpected, and intangible started emerging; the felt-sense of not knowing. It felt confusing and uncomfortable at first, but as my inner container grew it started feeling like the most natural way of being with each other and with oneself. At the closing circle on a meadow Roshi Glassman, sitting in a wheelchair, asked us what we had learned after a week of Bearing Witness practice. Our voices, one after the other, named the darkness of the human experience—the shadow, the horror, the incomprehensible… Roshi Glassman simply replied, “This is not what I meant for you to take away from this experience. Instead, I hope you experienced the preciousness of life.”

Bearing Witness in These Times  

I began the retreat, asking, “Where is the good?” I left the retreat learning that finding the good requires a conscious effort of seeing clearly and trying to understand deeply. Brother David Steindl-Rast, a Benedictine monk of almost 96 years and a pioneer in interreligious dialogue, has sometimes described the incomprehensible that we humans are capable of doing to each other and that is embedded in the collective field as “something not yet good.” When we bear witness to Auschwitz, we become all the elements of Auschwitz—the good, the “not-yet good,” the known, the unknown. Then, with this awareness what we choose is no longer an act of will, but an act of letting go. When we are able to let go of the concept of who we think we are, we can enter into the space of not knowing. And not knowing is a place where change can begin.

Having grown up in Germany as “a grandchild of war,” I feel that our generation is called to look more deeply at and collectively start healing the trauma caused by war(s). Now, with  the war between Russia and Ukraine and other almost-forgotten zones of ongoing conflict where human beings are living their lives just like us who are reading this article, hopefully, we may wake up more and more to the preciousness of life that Roshi Bernie Glassman had referred to.

Practicing inner peace as a core value and a collective task and practicing self-compassion is not just for ourselves but for future generations who will once more have to live with the visible and hidden traces of war trauma. Learning to listen deeply and bear witness to ourselves, to each other, and to our planet Earth seems to be more important now than ever before, enacting what we yearn for—trust in life.

When we learn to hold the experience of both the victim and the perpetrator in our inner space, we may become more fully alive as human beings. Only then can we become “all the voices of the universe” – of those who suffer, those who cause suffering, and those who stand idly by. Because we are all those people as Thich Nhat Hanh expressed in his poem, “Please Call Me by My True Names.”

Please Call Me by My True Names – Thich Nhat Hanh

Don’t say that I will depart tomorrow —
even today I am still arriving.
Look deeply: every second I am arriving
to be a bud on a Spring branch,
to be a tiny bird, with still-fragile wings,
learning to sing in my new nest,
to be a caterpillar in the heart of a flower,
to be a jewel hiding itself in a stone.
I still arrive, in order to laugh and to cry,
to fear and to hope.
The rhythm of my heart is the birth and death
of all that is alive.
I am the mayfly metamorphosing
on the surface of the river.
And I am the bird
that swoops down to swallow the mayfly.
I am the frog swimming happily
in the clear water of a pond.
And I am the grass-snake
that silently feeds itself on the frog.
I am the child in Uganda, all skin and bones,
my legs as thin as bamboo sticks.
And I am the arms merchant,
selling deadly weapons to Uganda.
I am the twelve-year-old girl,
refugee on a small boat,
who throws herself into the ocean
after being raped by a sea pirate.
And I am the pirate,
my heart not yet capable
of seeing and loving.
I am a member of the politburo,
with plenty of power in my hands.
And I am the man who has to pay
his “debt of blood” to my people
dying slowly in a forced-labor camp.
My joy is like Spring, so warm
it makes flowers bloom all over the Earth.
My pain is like a river of tears,
so vast it fills the four oceans.
Please call me by my true names,
so I can hear all my cries and my laughter at once,
so I can see that my joy and pain are one.
Please call me by my true names,
so I can wake up,
and so the door of my heart
can be left open,
the door of compassion.

If you would like to learn more about bringing self-compassion into your life or go deeper with your self-compassion practice, explore our different programs, workshops, courses and events at https://centerformsc.org/all-cmsc-offerings

“May all beings be safe. May all beings be happy. May all beings be healthy. May all beings be free of suffering. May all beings live with ease.”

10 Self-Compassion Practices for the Crisis in Ukraine

By Chris Germer, PhD and Kristin Neff, PhD

Center for Mindful Self-Compassion Co-Founders

 

The world is in shock as Ukraine is mercilessly bombarded by its neighbor and thousands of innocent people are being senselessly killed or injured. No one knows how or when this crisis will end. The war is taking a toll on everyone, especially following in the wake of the global pandemic. Fortunately, nations are also pulling together to help Ukraine protect itself and individual citizens are opening their homes to refugees pouring out of Ukraine. 

Most of the world’s population is witnessing these tragic events through the news media, physically distant from the war. Questions naturally arise: “What can I do?” and “How can I take care of my heart and mind as this horrific humanitarian crisis unfolds before my eyes?”

Below are 10 self-compassion practices from the Mindful Self-Compassion program that can help you bear this terrible tragedy, along with brief explanations. Most of the practices can be found in The Mindful Self-Compassion Workbook and for those practices marked with an asterisk (*), free guided recordings are available on the CMSC website page, “Guided Meditations and Exercises.”

  • Giving and Receiving Compassion* – When we are exposed to disturbing news from Ukraine, we experience real, personal pain. That’s because the human brain is designed to feel what others are feeling. Of course, the people in harm’s way suffer much more than those who witness it. How do we access the resource of compassion in a way that excludes no one, including ourselves? The practice of breathing compassion in for ourselves and out for others can help us remain open to suffering on all sides, and emotionally connected despite the intense and disturbing emotions that may arise.  Please remember to breathe in for yourself as often as you need before breathing out for others. Also, if an impulse arises to follow your exhalation into some form of action on behalf of others, go ahead and do so. 
  • Self-Compassion Break* – This practice helps us to validate our pain (including vicarious pain), connect with common humanity, and bring kindness to ourselves—comprising all three aspects of self-compassion. First, we need to be able to say, “This is a moment of suffering” and to allow the experience to be as it is, at least for a moment. Then we remember, “I am not alone” and that everyone suffers, although not in the same way and to the same extent. After that, kindness is the most natural thing in the world. 
  • Fierce Self-Compassion* – When there is injustice in the world, there can be no lasting inner or outer peace.  Therefore, sometimes the most compassionate thing we can do is to take a stand against oppression. That’s fierce self-compassion—protecting against the occurrence of suffering as best we can. The three components of self-compassion – mindfulness, common humanity and kindness – manifest as “brave, empowered clarity” when aimed at protection. When thinking about the injustice happening in Ukraine, we can use mindfulness to see clearly and be present with what’s occurring.  Common humanity allows us to become empowered as we stand together as nations in the free world.  And kindness manifests as bravery and courage, as exemplified by Ukrainians defending their homeland but also by those outside of the conflict being willing to make sacrifices to help those in need of protection. You can practice a Fierce Self-Compassion Break to cultivate this energy, if you like.
  • Compassionate U-Turn – To bring compassion to yourself, ask yourself, “How would I treat a friend or loved one right now who was feeling like I am?” and then do the same for yourself.  You can also offer yourself kindness in the form of soothing touch—gently touching or massaging the part of your body that is holding the most stress. Or you can offer yourself encouraging words—asking yourself the question, “What do I need to hear right now?” and then repeating those same words, over and over, for yourself.  
  • Soles of the Feet – When we feel emotionally overwhelmed, we need to anchor ourselves in the present moment. We suffer unnecessarily when we ruminate over the past or fret about the future. To come into the present moment, you can take a walk, feeling the changing sensations in the soles of your feet, and if you like, imagine that you are leaving a compassionate footprint on the earth with each step. You can also anchor yourself in the present moment with any of your senses—sight, hearing, smell, taste and touch. 
  • Affectionate Breathing* – Another way of staying present, and also receiving comfort when we need it the most, is by feeling the rhythm of our own breathing. Affectionate Breathing is less about developing concentration and more about allowing ourselves to be internally rocked and caressed by the rhythm of the breath.  If you notice yourself observing your breath, at a slight remove from the breath, see if you can just feel the physical sensation of the body rhythmically breathing in and out. This practice helps create a sense of inner safety and trust in the midst of an emotional storm.
  • Loving-Kindness Meditation* – Loving-kindness meditation taps into the power of language, but also connection and caring. When you feel the suffering of the Ukrainian people, take a moment and see if you can find words that capture your deepest wishes.  For example, “May you be safe and free from harm” “May you be free from suffering.” Then, whenever you experience empathic distress, quietly repeat your phrases. To sustain your compassion, please don’t forget to include yourself in the circle of your compassion. And if you feel inspired to take action on behalf of the Ukrainian people, that will also benefit yourself.  When compassion is in full bloom, it is omnidirectional.  
  • Being with Difficult Emotions* – If you find that your compassion is becoming overshadowed by difficult emotions related to the war, such as anxiety or despair, or if you start demonizing a whole group of people because of the behavior of their leaders, you might try working with the emotion directly to prevent unnecessary suffering. Toward that end, try labeling the emotion in a kind and validating way, “Oh, I’m anxious!” Then see if you can bring your attention into your body and find where the emotion resides in your body. Finally, “soften—soothe—allow.”  Let the affected part of your body soften and relax, and then offer that part of your body soothing touch or kind appreciation: “There is so much pain here. Thank you for holding it for me.” You can also bring kindness to yourself, perhaps with a hand over your heart or supportive words (“You are feeling a lot of pain right now. Have courage.”).  Then see if you can allow the experience to be just as it is and allow yourself to be just as you are.
  • Core Values – No matter how disturbing events may be on the world stage, we do not have to abandon our core values.  For example, if compassion is a core value for you, you can continue to see compassion all around, even during a war, such as in acts of kindness by Ukraine’s neighbors toward the refugees. You can also help others to see what you see, sharing stories of compassion. Finally, you can do small acts of compassion in your daily life to keep the flame of compassion alive.  In other words, no matter what’s happening in the external world, you can remain true to your innermost promptings.
  • Savoring and Gratitude – When it is obvious that the suffering of others is much greater than your own, we must still give ourselves permission to enjoy our lives. Practicing joy is essential for anyone who wants to be of service to others. We have to charge our own batteries. We can savor simple things like a piece of fruit, stretching our legs on a walk, talking with a friend, or petting the dog. Gratitude is another way of enjoying our lives—noticing and giving thanks for the little things that enrich our lives that we tend to overlook, such as running water, morning sunlight, or chopping vegetables. The list is endless.

Any of these practices can help you to bear the emotional distress of a world in turmoil. They work by shifting our attitude and physiology from a state of threat to a state of care and connection. The most important thing is to remember to practice. When the distress of the Ukraine crisis reaches a point where you’re aware of how much you’re suffering, that’s the time to practice self-compassion. Self-compassion practice will also help you take the most useful course of action, if such is called for, based on the conditions of your life.

Thank you for embodying the healing power of compassion during these difficult times.

With Care,
Chris and Kristin

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

If you would like to attend an online or in-person event with Chris and Kristin, the next available program where they are teaching together is the Mindful Self-Compassion Core Skills Workshop starting Wednesday, April 13, 2022. Learn more or register here.

Igniting Self-Compassion in Africa

Vulnerable populations in developing countries have little or no access to mindfulness and self-compassion practices, which limits their ability to support their mental health and wellbeing in dire circumstances. So it is with great joy and gratitude that I share with you that among 30 applications for a Compassion Corp Grant, mine selected along with a few others in late 2021. The award of $1,500 US will be applied to teaching a full 8-week MSC class with a minimum of 15 participants to a group that would not otherwise be able to afford the course. 

To understand the significance of this grant, as well as the opportunities that may also be available to MSC Teachers, I’d like to first share some background on the Compassion Corps Grant and then share an overview of the MSC project I will be implementing in 2022 in Africa.

Compassion in Action Through Compassion Corps

Compassion Corps (CC) is an initiative to bring evidence-based compassion trainings to communities of need at no cost to participants and provide a platform where compassion trainers can unite for the greater good through compassion in action, committed to relieving the systemic suffering of vulnerable populations. 

Any certified compassion teacher can apply for a modest grant (generally ranging from $1,000-$2,000) to pay for their teaching time and expertise to support the community in which they’re working. Certified teachers offer the full 8-week program of either Mindful Self-Compassion (MSC), Compassion Cultivation Training (CCT), or Compassion-Based Cognitive Training (CBCT) to approximately 20 people. ​ 

In addition to a license to teach, CC grantees must demonstrate a degree of cultural sensitivity towards, and understanding of, the communities they wish to serve. The stories of each grant are meant to inspire prosociality and compassion among not only the participants, but also the trainers. 

The vision is that each program has the potential to not only influence those who are directly affected, but an ever-expanding network of compassion and generosity. CC was initiated in 2016 by Margaret Cullen (Compassion Corps), certified MBSR teacher and founder of MBEB. 

Global Partners

My idea for the grant was designed based on the existing pre-pandemic CMSC connections to our partner Global Engagement Institute for our Kenya and Vietnam “Globally Engaged MSC Intensives” (and hopefully a future one in India) and a more recent local partner Mental Health Hub (mHub) in South Africa. My intention for the grant was to 1) strengthen these relationships and 2) share the grant with another MSC Teacher in one of these countries..

I am honored to teach together with Dr. Susan Gitau, who is a Lecturer & Chair of the Counseling Department at Africa Nazarene University, Kenya, as well as an Accredited Senior Counselor Supervisor and Counseling Psychologist Consultant, Trauma Counseling Expert, Certified Mediator, MSC Teacher, and currently a participant in CMSC’s Self-Compassion in Psychotherapy (SCIP) Professional Training Program.

Target Groups

The target groups for our course throughout the first trimester of 2022 will include counselors in the Kenya Counseling & Psychological Association (KCPA) Kiambu County and the Ministry of Education, the Kenyan National Police Service, and Faith Based Institutions working with vulnerable communities and counselors drawn from Kenya Defense Forces and Kenya Prisons Department. The counselors who have supported vulnerable individuals and communities during the COVID-19 pandemic in different sectors will be given priority for the scholarship. Most helpers suffer from burnout and performance anxiety in therapy. This has increased with the COVID-19 pandemic leading to many helpers withdrawing from practice and frustrating clients in return. Therefore, self-compassion is very relevant in helping them cope with the subsequent helplessness and possible client harm that comes from it.” 

MSC Co-Teaching and Building a Local MSC Community

In addition to the counselor participants, four seats will be reserved for the Susan Gitau Counseling Foundation Volunteers who contributed to the translation of the MSC Teacher’s Guide (TG) into the Swahili language but had never done an MSC course. A few spots will also be reserved for mHub staff (mental health professionals) in Kigali, Rwanda, who are working with different sections of the Rwandan community in local mental health centers that work directly with different low-income communities. Most of the mental health professionals in Rwanda don’t have access to services through which they can learn new skills to develop their professional capacity to serve the most vulnerable populations in their country so these scholarships are very meaningful to the long term health of their communities.

Walk Mindfully, Listen Deeply, Grow Globally

From experience many of us are aware that it doesn’t work to “parachute” into a community to teach compassion. Before learning to teach MBSR, MSC and other mindfulness-based formats, my professional work had focused for 15 years as a consultant working globally in international development cooperation, most often in Central and South America and Africa. I am grateful for having been able to see so much of this world and immerse myself into an array of diverse communities and cultures, and I have been blessed with receiving amazing hospitality even in dire conditions. My vision is to combine these previous professional experiences in development cooperation projects with teaching compassion-based formats to vulnerable populations that have no or little access to these practices as a form of capacity building leading to ownership within the local communities. Ideally, this project will provide a mutual learning path in all directions, with participants eager to learn from one another and nourish our felt experience of common humanity. Co-teaching with Susan will allow us to build synergies that may fertilize additional MSC teaching opportunities in Africa and involve more local MSC teachers.

More about this exciting experience will be shared with you as we implement the project. We hope it will encourage, inspire and ignite you. Please feel free to reach out to me with any questions at [email protected]

Mirjam Luthe, M.A. is the International Affairs Manager for the Center for Mindful Self-Compassion, a certified MSC Teacher, a certified MBSR teacher, trained in the Mindful Schools Curriculum, Council Practice, and contemplative dialog. She has worked in many developing countries and stands for a socially engaged practice.

What CMSC Needs. . .Is You

“… to alleviate human suffering and improve the collective well-being of the planet through the practice of self-compassion.”

As a reader of this blog, I imagine that our mission statement above aligns with your own aspirations. For that, I am grateful to you.

Human suffering was a painful reality for so many before the pandemic, but Covid-19 added its own kind of devastation. Whether it is family, work, social change, where we live or our health, the pandemic has led us to consider the fundamental question of self-compassion: “What do I truly need?”

These changes have impacted CMSC, as we reach out to help a growing number of people and communities to help answer this question through the practice of self-compassion.

Here is where you come in: we need your support today
to truly use this unique situation to make our world
a more compassionate (and self-compassionate) place.

While the pandemic hurt so many organizations, we have been inundated with increasing requests for self-compassion training. In fact, moving online has brought a huge influx of people from marginalized and underserved communities to seek out our services. As a small non-profit organization, we were able to pivot in response to the pandemic. But we need more resources to continue to meet the unprecedented need and urgent demands we face today.​


I am asking you today for your financial support to help us meet the global demand for self-compassion training. Compassion may seem to you (as it does to me) to be a vanishing commodity in society. But we can make a difference together if we focus on achievable, meaningful goals.

A few key groups that CMSC is focused on reaching more effectively are:

  • Teens: Teens in our society today are struggling, and our Mindful Self-Compassion for Teens (MSC-T) program is a powerful offering that promises to make a difference.
  • Diverse and Underserved People: CMSC is deeply committed to social justice and to overcoming barriers of all kinds. Teaching online has touched some in these communities, but this effort has only scratched the surface.
  • Healthcare Professionals: The pandemic has taken a heartbreaking toll on the medical profession. Self-compassion has proven to reduce burnout and build resilience, and we are actively bringing the practice to healthcare communities.

Please take a moment to consider how your gift of any amount could help make a difference in the lives of so many.

Thank you in advance for your consideration and care. If you are able to donate, you can donate here.

With much appreciation for your interest in CMSC,

Steven D. Hickman, Psy.D.
Executive Director
Center for Mindful Self-Compassion

The Center for Mindful Self-Compassion is classified as a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization by the standards of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). Therefore, your donation may be tax-deductible to the extent allowed by law. Donate here.

The Promise of Self-Compassion for Attorneys

Co-authored by: Christy Cassisa and Kristin Neff

This article was originally published in the May/June 2019 Issue of the American Bar Association’s GPSolo magazine, highlighting solo practitioners. However, clearly self-compassion can make a huge difference for all attorneys.

 

Justin Ortiz (a fictional solo-attorney) felt heavy and immobilized. He was sitting at his desk early Monday morning, beginning to review his to-do list for the day. With equal parts shame, panic, and dread, he re-read the notice from the court that he’d lost his motion for summary judgment in the Smith case. His stomach sank into his shoes, a feeling of despondence settled into his bones. He couldn’t believe he’d lost. He thought to himself, “I am such an incompetent lawyer- I never should have gone to law school!”

Returning to his list, he realized that there was no human way he could check through it and reluctantly began to prioritize. Which tasks were least likely to get him disciplined or disbarred if they went undone? Maybe he could beg opposing counsel to agree to a continuance in the Meyer hearing so he could work on the Luca brief today. After only two weeks researching and writing, the gnawing feeling in his stomach left him fearful that he’d missed something. I actually might be getting sick, he thought as he washed down two cold tablets with a cup of lukewarm coffee, followed by a jelly-filled donut.

His heart sank when he realized that he would also have to miss yet another of his son, Joey’s, little league games, despite his pinkie swear to the contrary, because he’d also signed up for that happy hour networking event. “I am the worst parent ever,” he thought.

He groaned inwardly, then realized that it had actually been audible when his Yorkie, Mitzy, picked up her head to look balefully at him. As she regarded him with reproach for another missed walk, he informed her, “Well, Mitzy, your human is a worthless idiot, and you’re responsible for fixing the printer today.”

Solo attorneys are unique in the legal profession. Rainmaker, researcher, IT specialist, janitor, business owner, litigator.  And maybe also parent, partner, volunteer, or one of any number of additional roles acquired in life. The pressure of trying to be and do it all can lead to exhaustion, overwhelm, and burnout.  The very nature of solo lawyering can be isolating. There is no firm full of associates to back you up, no partner to take over if you have a sick day.

One exhausted solo practitioner explains this experience as it appears to her in a recurring dream: it’s like riding an incredibly tall, very unstable bicycle while juggling a hundred balls. If you slow down, or even worse, if you stop, the bike will fall over, you’ll drop all the balls, and you will break into a million jagged pieces. And there is no rest in sight.

Self-compassion may hold the key to keeping that bicycle upright and keeping those balls moving. It will also help when some balls are inevitably dropped, when failure happens, and when feelings of isolation set in. And it may even help with the decision to put down some balls, or say “no” to taking them on in the first place.

What is self-compassion?

Self-compassion is like having your own personal motivational coach with you 24/7. A kind, comforting, and yet demanding coach, who holds you accountable and protects your long-term goals, while also acknowledging the pain of failure and suffering. Below we’ll elaborate on what self-compassion is and how it can be of great benefit to you in your life, personally and professionally.

The three core components of self-compassion are self-kindness, common humanity, and mindfulness.  So, what does this actually look like in real life?

Self-kindness means we soothe and comfort ourselves when in pain. It is internally offering ourselves the same support and kindness that we would offer to a dear friend who was suffering. Offering a kind ear and a hug instead of a criticism and a smack. It also means taking care of ourselves for our long-term benefit, putting ourselves on the priority list.

Common humanity involves recognizing that suffering is part of the shared human condition. None of us is unique in suffering. To be human is to accept that pain, challenge, failure, and misfortune happen to everyone. Every lawyer feels fear and doubt sometimes and encounters major obstacles. It goes with the territory of practicing law—and being human.

Mindfulness allows us to be with and validate our pain in an open and accepting manner. We have to notice that we’re suffering in order to be able to do anything about it. We learn to clearly see and accept the things that we can’t change so that we can respond wisely to our challenges instead of reacting on autopilot without thinking. Recognize the self-judgment when it happens and acknowledge that the situation stinks. But we don’t have to get lost in the feelings or the story.

Compassion is aimed at the alleviation of suffering – that of others or ourselves. Self-compassion activates the mammalian “care system,” helping us to feel safe by being cared for and connected.  This sense of safety helps gives us the emotional support we need to deal with the stress of life.  Research finds that we can activate these care systems with simple actions like supportive touch (e.g., putting your hand on your own shoulder), and with a warm and gentle tone of voice.

But self-compassion can be ferocious as well as tender. These two poles are represented by the dialectic of yin and yang. Yin compassion is like a mother tenderly comforting her crying child. In this case, kindness, common humanity and mindfulness manifest as loving, connected presence. Yang compassion is like a mother bear ferociously protecting her cubs from harm. In this case the three components show up as fierce, empowered truth. Self-kindness means we fiercely protect ourselves. We stand up and say “NO! I need to do what is best for me and protect myself if necessary.” Common humanity helps us to recognize that we are not alone in this struggle. For the solo practitioner, it means connecting with your community and feeling supported. And mindfulness manifests as clearly seeing the truth of our situations so that we can choose wise, intentional, and sometimes fierce action.

When we accept our own pain with a fiercely loving and connected presence, we can transform and heal.

“Pain is just weakness leaving the body”

To many lawyers, however, the idea of self-compassion is anathema to being a tough, successful lawyer. Schooled in the Socratic Method, lawyers are trained to expect that shame and ridicule are the natural and justified byproducts of an incorrect response. The practice of law requires intense attention to detail and a mistake may result in millions of dollars in fines or multiple years in prison, so perfection seems a professional necessity, and shame a small price to pay in comparison.

The concept of actually being kind to ourselves when we make a mistake may also feel downright alien to many lawyers who tend to be pessimistic, skeptical, and perfectionistic. Predicting and planning for the worst may often protect clients from negative outcomes, so these traits are often reinforced by positive results. But pessimists and skeptics tend to carry this negative thinking with them everywhere- into the home, relationships, volunteer activities, recreational pursuits, and other arenas where it may not be valued or appreciated. This can lead to difficult and unfulfilling relationships and feelings of unhappiness.

High-achieving and hard-driving types abound in the legal profession, but perfectionism, defined as the compulsive need to achieve and accomplish one’s goals, doesn’t allow for shortcomings. Unfortunately, the energy required to maintain the façade of perfection takes its toll and can lead to anxiety, depression, and burnout.

Even lawyers deserve kindness and care

Many lawyers may think that self-compassion is too touchy feely and that if they indulge in such feelings, they will lose their edge.  While skepticism is understandable, research findings debunk some of the common misconception about the construct.

  1. Self-compassion is not self-pity. Thinking about bringing kindness to yourself when you make a mistake or feel badly may trigger thoughts of “Oh, woe-is-me” or “I’m so pitiful” or “It’s all about me.” However, with self-compassion, the understanding of common humanity allows us to realize that we all suffer and the mindful recognition of our own suffering helps us to see it clearly for what it is. Research shows that self-compassionate people are better able to take a clear-eyed perspective of the reality of our situation and are less likely to spend time ruminating.
  2. Self-compassion is not self-indulgent. Self-kindness and offering ourselves what we need in the face of suffering may be misinterpreted as a form of self-indulgence that sanctions wallowing in our misery soothing ourselves with a pint of triple chocolate chunk ice cream and a bottle of merlot. However, self-compassionate people are more likely to engage in healthy behaviors like exercise, eating well, drinking less, and going to the doctor more regularly. Self-compassion helps us keep in mind that we want long-term health and success, not short-term pleasure.
  3. Self-compassion is not selfish. Sometimes we have to put our own needs first, and then meet others’, an approach to which many of us aren’t accustomed. Lawyers who take care of everything for everyone else, and who don’t take care of themselves, burn out faster, build up resentment, and compromise their ability to connect with clients (and often family and friends too). The analogy of “putting on your own oxygen mask first” when on an airplane is a clear example. There’s no helping anyone if you’re passed out!  Research shows that those who bring themselves into the circle of compassion and care through a sense of common humanity have the ability to be more supportive and compassionate towards others.
  4. Self-compassion is not weak. It takes strength to take care of yourself. Recall that concept of yang compassion- a fierce protectiveness and motivator. Studies show that self-compassionate people are more resilient in the face of difficulty and challenges. They are able to cope more effectively with tough situations like divorce, chronic pain, and trauma. For the solo attorney who may face many emotionally challenging situations, self-compassion offers an internal strength, a resource to handle and recover from setbacks.
  5. Self-compassion is not making excuses for yourself. Some of us look for someone else, anyone else, to blame for mistakes because we can’t stand the pain of admitting imperfection. Research shows self-compassionate people are actually more likely to take responsibility for their own actions, because they realize that everyone makes mistakes, and accepting the reality of a tough situation allows a more intentional and effective response.
  6. Self-compassion will not undermine motivation. This is a biggie for attorneys- especially solo attorneys who often have to rely on their own internal drive and determination to get things done, because there is no backup team ready to step in. Many of us grew up with the belief that mental self-flagellation was the only way to motivate ourselves. That inner critic has good intentions. It wants us to “do better,” “try harder,” “work smarter.”  Unfortunately, this internal criticism often proves counterproductive. When we make mistakes or fail, we learn that it’s not safe to try again and we become risk-averse. Research shows that self-compassionate people still have high standards, are less afraid of failure, and are more willing to try again if they do fail.

The self-compassionate solo.

So, what might this actually look like in the real life of a solo practitioner, when the proverbial rubber hits the road? Let’s take a look back at Justin Ortiz’s day.

Practicing mindfulness: Justin realized that he was feeling heavy and immobilized. Sitting at his desk early Monday morning, he paused for his daily 10-minute mindful check-in meditation practice to calm and focus his mind and body before diving into his email.

Practicing kindness: Once he opened his email, he began reading the notice from the court that he’d lost his motion for summary judgment in the Smith case. His stomach sank into his shoes, a feeling of despondence settled into his bones. He couldn’t believe he’d lost. He pressed his palm to his forehead, and felt the warmth of his hand. He closed his eyes, took a deep breath, and acknowledged the pain of the loss. Then he offered himself some kind words of support, “Wow this totally sucks. I feel so terrible for myself and for my client. I did a ton of research and I know I’m a good writer because I have lots of wins.

Practicing common humanity:  Then Justin was able to see the bigger picture.  “This happens to lots of lawyers, almost every case has a losing side. The facts just weren’t on our side this time. I will review it once more to make sure there wasn’t something we could have done better, but I’m pretty sure we did our best.”

Yin & yang self-compassion: He remembered that he’d not been feeling very well the last few weeks. He rubbed his temples gently as he thought to himself, “I have that doctor’s appointment today- I’ve already rescheduled twice and this is my only body. I’ll request a continuance in the Meyer case and I’ll submit the Luca brief today. I’ve worked on it for two weeks and I know it’s good stuff. I’ve got this.  After the doc, I’ll swing by the networking event for an hour, drop off some business cards and have a Perrier before heading over to catch the second half of Joey’s ballgame. Life’s too short.”

Justin stretched, took another deep and cleansing breath, and dove into his challenging day with a sense of resilience and of being supported by his own internal coach.

Same day. Yet completely different.

Call to Sign Up: Self-Compassion in Psychotherapy Global Discussion Group

Dear MSC Friends,

In 2019 we started hosted a wonderful discussion session for MSC teachers who are also therapists. We take an hour each month to connect and share with colleagues around the world who are also MSC teachers and practicing therapists. We talk about how we use MSC in our clinical work and how our clinical work interacts with our MSC courses. The discussion is wide-ranging and energizing. Since the session happens at sunrise in Los Angeles, mid-day in Europe and evening in Asia, we’re able to welcome colleagues from around the globe. We’ve been inspired by the wonderful range of participants and experiences. We’d like to invite all MSC teachers who are also therapists to sign up to receive 2nd Tuesday SCIP announcements directly from us using this link.

Gratefully,

Cori Rosenthal and Ben Weinstein
(2nd Tuesdays SCIP Facilitators)

On the Road to Empowerment: Fierce Self-Compassion for Mothers

by Alison Rogers
Psychotherapist, Yoga Teacher, and Author

“This is a wonderful gift to any new mother. When we cultivate inner warmth, kindness, and health it not only helps us as mothers, but also helps everyone around us, including the new life we bring into the world. This book will help you care for your body with gentle yoga poses, and to relate to yourself with more wisdom and compassion so that your experience of motherhood is as fulfilling as possible.” – Dr. Kristin Neff, Author of Self-Compassion

Compassion is aimed at the alleviation of suffering—that of others or ourselves— and can be ferocious as well as tender.

-Kristin Neff


Mothers are both fiercely and tenderly compassionate towards their children, but not as often towards themselves. Kristin Neff wrote the words above in response to the Kavanaugh hearings and the #MeToo movement. But it feels just as pertinent when we think about mothers today. Self-compassion can be an antidote to the intense self-critiquing and cultural judgement of new mothers. Sometimes mothers need tender self-compassion, and sometimes they need to be ferocious about resisting shame, caring for themselves and asking for what they need. New mothers often feel conflicted and uncertain about the many significant decisions they are required to make. They are faced with layers of conflicting and contradictory social and cultural expectations with few realistic options for meeting those expectations. Work or stay home? Breast or bottle-feed? Crib or co-sleep? Any one of these choices can make a woman feel like the wrong sort of mother.

And this type of double bind — doomed if you do, doomed if you don’t — results in many women feeling powerless, ashamed, and conflicted. No wonder many new mothers feel anxious, exhausted and lonely. 

Mindful Self-Compassion practices encourage mothers to take time to listen to their feelings and thoughts without becoming over identified with them, to feel kinder and more protective towards self, and to realize that all mothers struggle with conflicting feelings, unrealistic and contradictory expectations, and at times, isolation.

In a recent article in Elle magazine on the resistance to mother shaming, there was reference to a national poll conducted in 2017 by the C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital, in Ann Arbor, Michigan, that found that 6 in 10 mothers have been judged for their parenting, most often by family members. And that in another poll that year, sponsored by the baby food company Beech-Nut, found that 80 percent of millennial moms said they’ve been criticized by someone they know. “Guilt and shame are the watchwords of today’s mothering,” says Joshua Coleman, a psychologist in the San Francisco Bay Area and a senior fellow on the Council on Contemporary Families.

In 2011, I conducted a small pilot project for mothers diagnosed with postpartum mood disorders. Each workshop consisted of guided mindful yoga, a sharing circle and self-compassion practices. At the end of the workshop series, 8 of the 10 participants had higher scores on the Self-Compassion Scale (SCS) and lower scores on the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale. Women in the workshops reported that they felt more relaxed, capable and less alone after the workshops. I attribute many of the benefits to the practices of self-compassion that were woven into every aspect of the movement, discussions and meditations.

In our forthcoming book, Breathing Space For New Mothers, Erin White and I invite new mothers to take short pauses to practice self-compassion through breathing, and short mindful yoga.

In 10 chapters we offer mothers practices to increase awareness, and self-compassion, so that they can find their own authentic voice as they make the challenging and deeply meaningful transition into motherhood.

An excerpt:

Yoga is Embodied Self-compassion

“Mindful yoga is a physical expression of self-compassion. We offer compassion to our body, mind, and heart by giving it some loving attention through stretching, soothing, and opening. Yoga moves us out of our heads and into our bodies by yoking the breath with movement and focusing attention on the body and its sensations rather than the thinking mind. Yoga gives you the tools to relax and reset your nervous system. As the nervous system relaxes, it becomes easier to pay attention with gentle compassion toward yourself.” 

From Comparison to Kindness 

 Self-compassion reduces anxiety and the sense of isolation in mothers. Self-compassion is not self-pity. We’ve come to understand self-compassion as a kind of friendship with ourselves. From an early age, women are taught how to be good to our friends, to listen to their stories, to bolster their spirits in difficult times. To look at them with generous eyes. This is how we can see ourselves. We can be curious, loving, patient, impressed with all we have accomplished, excited by the great adventure of our lives. At first it can be hard to see ourselves this way! But early motherhood is the perfect time to learn how. In this period, we have more capacity for love than at any other point in our lives. So why not include yourself in that expanding circle of love, protection, and care? Sylvia Boorstein says, “let me greet the present moment as a friend,” which seems like a great place to begin a practice of compassion. Because if you can greet this moment as a friend, you’re greeting it with generosity and love. And by greeting it, you are, in a way, greeting yourself. Not the self that you were—or that you hope to be or wish to be or think you should be—but your present-moment self. 

As mothers, we need connections, not comparisons. And we need compassion. The shift from a comparing mind to a kind mind is more important even than mindfulness. You can practice self-compassion by pausing and resting long enough to ask yourself how you feel—and long enough to wait for an honest answer. “

When a woman feels less anxious, more aware of her own emotions and more tender and fiercely compassionate towards herself and others, she is empowered to resist shame and step out in her own unique imperfect, and good-enough version of motherhood.

This article was excerpted in part from the forthcoming book, Breathing Space For New Mothers; Rest, Stretch and Smile—One Yoga Minute at a Time. By Alison Rogers with Erin O. White. North Atlantic Books. Find more at: www.theyogaofparenting.com

The transition to motherhood offers endless opportunities for harsh self-judgment. But the opportunities for growth and a new and profound form of love are just as endless. Love for your baby, but also love for your imperfect self, your imperfect life. 

For some of us, self-compassion is a new concept, but there is no time like the transition into motherhood to learn the skills of self- compassion. We can learn to be as gentle with our new motherself as we are with our new baby. Self-compassion makes it easier to have compassion for your own parents, partner, friends, and colleagues.”