This week, I have led a Rebel Thriver Workshop to help other women stop being self-destructive, in word, deed or thought. The workshop is based on a book by Rick Hanson, Just One Thing–Developing A Buddha Brain One Simple Practice at a Time. I recommend that you purchase this book and work through the exercises in it. With the help of Rick Hanson’s writing, I achieved some important breakthroughs in my own therapy.
Cognitive Behavorial Therapy
No one knows exactly how the brain works. But we know a few things. If we change the way our minds work, our brain changes too. What you think and feel; the things that you think about; and, how you react to the world around you changes your brain’s actual structure. The busy regions get more blood flow. Inactive neural connections wither away, while the ones you exercise grow stronger. In other words, the active synapses, or connections between neurons, once fired together, get wired together. Use it or lose it, so to speak.
This is the essence of cognitive behavioral therapy: if train your mind, you change your brain. Once you change your brain, you can change your behavior more easily. In other words, when you practice positive behaviors, these behaviors become easier and more automatic to replicate, especially when you are under stress. It’s a lot like military training: when the bombs and bullets start flying, the marines fall back on their training, and that is what this workshop is all about: getting the training.
Be on Your own Side
This first lesson is simple. Be on your own side. Are you groaning? It’s easy to be on someone else’s side, isn’t it? But are you on your own side? We’re raised to think we don’t count as much as others. Friends, we cannot keep waiting for someone to take up our own cause. Maybe you’ve been kicked or knocked upside the head whenever you stood up for yourself; maybe you believe you don’t deserve to be valued or happy.
We cannot change what happened to us when we were young. But we can control how we treat ourselves today.
Consider what it feels like when you are a good friend to someone else. Ask yourself if you’re that kind of friend to yourself? Are you too hard on yourself? When someone mistreats you, do you only make a halfhearted effort to protect yourself?
The next time you face a situation that makes you feel self-critical, frustrated with yourself, guilty, lacking power or control, ask yourself if you are on your own side. To put it another way, are you looking out for your own best interests?
Then feel like you’re with someone who loves and cares about you. Bring to mind the feeling of comfort that gives you. Remember what it feels like to be on someone’s side: a child, or a dear friend. Let these feelings fill you.
Now: imagine that you have the same feelings, the same physical stance, the same thoughts—while caring for yourself. Pay attention to what this feels like: encourage the good feelings, and if you sense any resistance, try to let it go or push back against it with light and love.
Keep asking yourself: am I on my side? And if I were on my side, what would I feel and do here? Then, to the best of your ability, DO IT.
For me, part of the key to ending self-destructive thoughts and actions was forgiving myself for all the times I wanted to take my own life and for all the times I either hurt myself or spoke hateful things about myself. You see, the guilt for what I did to myself compounded my problems. I would feel bad, really bad about what I’d done, and then want to punish myself for it.
One day, I realized that I needed to break the chain of guilt, judgment and self-destruction. Whatever I did was done. And in order to stop mistreating myself, I needed to let go of all of the pain and guilt and anger I felt toward or about the way I had acted in the past.
What is done is done. We are more than our past. We are the ones who create and drive our future. We need to let go of the mistakes we made. Don’t judge it. Don’t condemn it. It just is. Let it go, as you would let go of an illness, a spoiled apple, or a passing mood.
In order to love yourself, you need to do one thing, and one thing only: start loving. And the first step to loving yourself is forgiveness.
I want you to say it out loud. “I forgive myself.” And if you want to add a few things that you forgive, go ahead.
I will start. I forgive myself for wanting to end my life. I forgive myself for hurting myself. And I forgive myself for treating myself like a second class citizen.
And then: I let it go. I let it go.
It’s easy to feel it for others, isn’t it? Your child runs to you crying after a bad day at school; a dear friend finds out that her mom faces a cancer that is chewing up her last reserves; or even a perfect stranger on TV sobs when they lose their house to a flood. Compassion exists in our natures. We evolved and developed compassion because we need it to nurture our children and build communities.
But without a nurturing childhood, too many of us lack the ability to feel compassion for ourselves. We’re perfectionists. We’re our worst haters and our worst critics. And this lack of compassion for self is the very seed that eggs us on to hurt ourselves.
Next time you make a mistake, or you feel intense pain or sadness, bring to mind what a dear friend would feel for you. Envision their facial expressions; their gestures; the love in their eyes. Let your body receive this compassion.
Then, imagine a child or a dear friend is in pain–the sort of pain you are in right now. Bring to mind the compassion you would feel for them. Let these feelings fill your heart. Extend those feelings toward that person, as if touching them from afar with light and love.
Now, seize hold of this compassion, and turn it inward. Go ahead. You do it with your anger and even hatred without hesitation. Now I want you to take this love–and send it into every cell in your body. And then I want you to whisper something kind.
Pick a kind phrase.
“May I feel better.”
“I am so sorry for my loss.”
“I love me so much.”
“May this pain pass.”
“May I walk with light and love.”
Peace be with you. And as one of my friends always says, “keep on shining.” Rolling Stones with Bonnie Raitt: “Shine A Light”