Some people struggle with phobias, some people with loss. Some folks have confusion about their career, some with their sexuality. But, as a therapist, the most common issue I see people wrestling with is self-criticism and lack of self-worth. The most important part of my role is holding the knowledge of my clients’ value and goodness. So it begs the question: How do I KNOW my clients are valuable and good? And what does that even mean?
The Buddhists have a term: basic goodness. Basic goodness rests on the fact that, at their core, all beings want to be happy and peaceful. Often, people think they’re the one exception in regard to basic goodness. However, it’s not the adult client I see in my office, but their scared inner child, who wants to have a conversation about why basic goodness doesn’t apply to them. This may be because of scary feelings they have, or poor choices they’ve made, but most often it’s because some relationships or experiences during their childhood sent them the message that they were unacceptable in some way. A message that was internalized and generalized.
Life runs from aggression and is soothed by love. Life wants to persist. When people’s behaviors don’t follow these rules, it’s not because they’re bad. In those cases there’s pain or fear blocking someone’s true nature of basic goodness. It’s not their fault—it’s their work. It’s not something to eradicate—it’s something to breathe into with gentleness.
Recognizing our own basic goodness is important to every one of us. Many of us live our lives running after or running away from relationships, intimacy, and opportunities to “prove ourselves worthy” out of fear of our being somehow defective.
With our human minds, we often can find ourselves caught in trying to figure out if we’re worth the love, self-acceptance, and gentleness for which we long. When we react to and obsess about the internalized voice that says “Something is wrong with me” we end up struggling to maintain it (out of familiarity) or disprove it as a subplot to our life.
And though it’s a subplot so many share, it’s one of which people are ashamed. And so we go around smiling, functioning, showing our most confident sides—masking the core doubt and pain—hoping to someday figure out how to feel or be lovable and worthy.
The thing is: There is nothing to figure out.
The internal voice which has all kinds of proof—for and against why we are or aren’t pieces of shit—is actually a freaked out kid who needs our love, attention, and acceptance. We wouldn’t push away a scared, confused child saying “What’s wrong with you? Stop all your scared/sad bullshit and get over yourself!” but we say something like that to ourselves all the time.
However cheesy the term “Inner Child” is, it’s a true and powerful concept.
The rules with which we’ve been parenting that child don’t work: logic, force, demands.
Your scared inner child doesn’t have the resources to comfort himself. She’s not going to be able to decide you’re ok. Drop the rules. Drop the logic. When the methods you’ve been using to feel better don’t work, you have to stop struggling to make them work. You have to return to love.
It doesn’t make sense to reason a scared child out of his or her fears:
“Monsters don’t exist because I say so.” OR
“It’s silly to be afraid to go down the slide.”
However much we know that the child’s fears are not based on truth, debating the issue is beside the point and generally unhelpful.
Maybe we talk about what it feels like to be afraid. Maybe we explore what could be stressing the kid out. Maybe we offer to lie together in the dark until the child feels safe. Maybe we remind the child we believe in her and we’ll keep her safe.
That empathy and comfort is what we need to offer ourselves.
We need to do that for ourselves. Our wish to be loved is the only proof we need that we are lovable.
He was in sales; I was studying to be a therapist. We had different views on religion. With his short hair and clean-shaven face he was more clean-cut than my previous boyfriends. And our first kiss had just been so-so. I had my doubts about where this might go.
On that date, however, as we shot pool and munched peanuts I ended up having such a great time that I decided to give him a chance, and that evening the kiss was delicious.
Over twelve years of marriage and parenting, our differences have, at times, been the source of conflict. But what I’ve learned to hold onto is that, it’s the doubt, judgment and criticism of our differences, that are toxic — not the number of ways we differ.
Of course, we all want to share some fundamental things — and to have a successful relationship we’ve got to have the basics — safety, love, trust and commitment. But compatibility is more about the ways we draw on one another’s strengths to build a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts.
More than, “Do we have enough in common?” or “Can he finish my sentences?” I think the important question is: “Am I open and willing to work towards finding the gifts in our similarities and differences?”
There are red flag issues like abuse or dishonesty, and then there’s the other stuff: I’m outdoorsy and he’s not, I’m neat and he’s messy, I’m a meat-eater and he’s vegetarian. These differences aren’t deal-breakers. In fact, our fixation on the ways that our husband is “too different” from us is the actual thing that keeps us from being compatible.
But what do we do when we find ourselves focusing on, and judging our marriage, for the qualities we don’t share?
Here are some tips for nurturing true compatibility: (click here to read the rest…)
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We’ve got a lot of little choices like this everyday because we live in a culture based on consumption and individualism. What can YOU make? What do YOU have? What do YOU do that’s special or different? It can be wonderful in so many ways. There are ingenious and gorgeous creations all around us (but there’s plenty of crappy plastic shit too).
The blessing and the curse of individualism is that it comes at the cost of no longer having an assumption of one’s place, role, or purpose in the world.
The number of choices and options we have are dependent on wealth and privilege, but everyone has to choose their cereal, politics, mate.
And a challenge of choice, is doubt.
Did I make the right choice?
Did she make a better choice than me?
When we no longer have the village — when we don’t share the rituals and traditions passed down over the ages — we have to recreate the wheel of family, life, love, parenting and to hope we do it “right.” It’s a freeing thing to be able to decide what’s right for ourselves but it also leaves us floating, unanchored to culture and tradition.
And so, we wonder if we’re making the right choices. Should I stay in this job or go back to school? Should I move to another state? Should I get married or cohabitate? Should I breast-feed or use formula?
And the hardest thing about all the choice is that we don’t talk about the doubt that almost invariably comes along with it. (Click here to read the juicy stuff…)
When we came down out of the trees and began holding our bodies upright to reach ripe fruit we got top heavy.
Our brains got bigger and our skulls had to evolve larger to hold them. We began to be born half-baked. Our skulls under the peach fuzz of our scalps like puzzle pieces–shifting and fusing over a period of infancy. We had to stay in one place longer to raise our half-baked babies. And when we stayed around we needed tools to help us fight for food and protect ourselves. We shaved stone into arrows to pierce the hearts of our prey. Lit fires. Noticed patterns in the stars.
We began to depend more on our cognitive and creative abilities and less on our strength and size, and these abilities are exceptional. Over time: art, music, crop-selection, medicine, flight, computers.
Our brains. They have imaginal capacity beyond compare and we translate those imaginations into reality.
But the mind doesn’t have a governor. The mind doesn’t have limits if it isn’t grounded in the body. And so the wonders we’ve accomplished have come with a dear price. Difficulty knowing when to stop. Trouble remembering simplicity. Challenge in bringing ourselves back from the wide scope of fantasy and creation and grandness (or dark caverns, boogiemen, and impossible labyrinths).
In the past, culture did some of this for us. Humans had rules and rituals to contain and order us. The elder was the governor. The wisdom handed down. The expectations like the herding of kids by a mother goat. Giving us order. And some cultures have sustained their traditions–giving their people direction, mirror, path.
There are no perfect cultures where all members are healthy, actualized, peaceful. But when there is no culture but one of consumption, breakdown happens. So many of the struggles I see in my work are fed, if not created by, the lack of connection so many of us feel to a greater community. In the vacuum of our solitary minds, we build stories of insufficiency.
There is a story of a conference in 1990 where the Dalai Lama was asked by Sharon Salzberg about dealing with the chronic lack of self-worth we westerners have. She said she’d been teaching her students to first focus on compassion for self and then turn that compassion out towards others. The Dalai Lama had no idea what she was talking about. He asked the westerners in the audience who had experienced the self-hatred and self-contempt of which she was speaking and every hand went up. He then agreed that focusing first on self-compassion is key.
In a culture ruled by the mind…which doesn’t even recognize that ruler but takes it for granted and believes its refrain, we must take the radical act of
putting our minds in their place.
We’ve got to remember that we are animals. We are bodies. We need connection. We need touch. We need movement and song. Our minds need the whole of us to be in charge. Our minds are like nervous children, running through a huge house. Bring them into the kitchen, give them tea, put on a fire, hug them, “shhh” them. Tell them they’re okay just as they are.
The New Year is coming up quickly and out of the darkness the light begins to increase again. Many people use this transition as an opportunity to do things differently. We create ideas, plans, and hopes about how we can be our best selves. Cue the resolutions!
Some people get excited about a new start—their cups are brimming with optimism. Others roll their eyes, trying not to remember the past resolutions, which started out with a bang and petered out.
I remember walking into my yoga class after January 1st one year and I could barely find a rectangle big enough for my mat (though previous classes had big sprawling areas free for each of us). Just a few weeks later we were back to having plenty of room.
I tend not to make resolutions around New Years because I feel like I’m setting myself up for failure. I don’t generally change drastically from one day to the next, even if I wish I did. For most of us, changes tend to happen slowly, in baby steps, so I tend to think that a major proclamation of change simply because the earth has reached a certain point around the sun again might be pointless.
Also, New Year’s resolutions can function as dressed up bits of self-criticism or rejection:
- In the New Year I’ll lose 15 pounds and then I’ll feel good about myself.
- In the New Year I’ll be more patient with my kids and then I’ll really be a good mom.
- In the New Year I’ll be smarter with my money and then I’ll finally be a responsible adult.
Each of those examples comes from a feeling that we should be different, and that we’re not “enough” as we are. That’s not to say that we can’t grow and change in ways that benefit ourselves and those around us, but we need to pay attention to the energy behind the intention to change. (Click here to continue reading…)