Have you ever been swept away by your anger , sadness or any of those emotions labelled as "bad"? Where it felt great to release it at that moment , but then when you step away you feel a sense of remorse? Well, I have and not proud of it but I do know that I'm not alone in feeling this way. There are moments when I'm guilty of being reactive to my family, and others, where my emotions hijack me, and when I come back to "my senses" , become more present, it felt as if someone has taken over me. Oh the guilt, and confusion when we let our emotions take the best of us. It can leave us feeling overwhelmed. We feel bad for hurting others, and we also end up feeling bad about ourselves.
This happens to all of us. Never think that you're alone. I believe that all of us would like to be more loving and understanding but at times being in auto pilot may affect our behaviour. We are swept away by reactivity. How can we then bring a sense of deep connection and kindness when reactivity has been our default most of our lives?
The very first step we all must take is to acknowledge that we are being reactive. We need to name it, "Yes I am feeling upset.". Then perhaps we can start to investigate, stepping towards curiousity. Maybe asking yourself , what is this thought, feeling, or emotion trying to convey? Simply pause and do nothing about it. When we are curious, we feel less drawn from being reactive. There are many studies around the power of mindfulness and self-compassion as a way to shift from reactivity to responsiveness.
Let's take our inner critic and it's impact on mental health and life as an example. There's an increasing body of research that's pointed to connections between the inner critic and a range of difficulties. For example, self-criticism (i.e., the inadequate self and the hated self) are linked to depression. A variety research also showed that inner critic is also linked to tension and anxiety, as well as bingeing on food, self-inflicted injuries, thinking about suicide, and lower relationship health with a romantic partner. And a study following people over time showed that individuals who were self-critical when they were 12 were also less engaged in high school, and by age 31, they hadn't pursued as many years of schooling and were more apt to have emotional and social issues.
I believe that all of us aspire to be kinder to ourselves (yes, you come first) and others. Know that this desire for change is a courageous step in itself. When we can be more present, and curious, we create space to be more thoughtful in the way we response to others and our life. We can then discern and explore other helpful ways to treat ourselves and others.
For example , when we notice that our inner critic is strong, and we're not feeling good enough, we can start to acknowledge that we are feeling "off". We can begin to investigate what it is that's causing us to feel a certain way without blaming or judging ourselves or others. Maybe you can start by reconnecting to your body. If you're noticing tension in your body, notice where you're feeling it, then you can start to breath and let tension release. You can also write and journal, speak to a friend who would listen, or seek help from a counsellor or therapist. You may not have the immediate answer, but you've already taken a step back from reactivity. Or maybe you know that anger takes the best of you, you lose it quite quickly. With mindful awareness, you can sense anger in your body, you explore it, investigate perhaps where you feel it. You shift your attention from the source of anger (situation or person) to your body. Maybe you take a few breaths or take a walk and notice the shift transpire. After a few minutes you may feel less agitated, or you may still be feeling angry but you can now recognise that you do not have to succumb to your default response to anger. Instead of lashing out and regretting what you're about to say, you take a moment. You choose to mindfully pause.
We aren't perfect, and yoga and mindfulness will not take away life struggles. Even if we've been embracing being more present in our lives, we can still get lost in our thoughts and perceptions. However, our practice can help us move through life's highs and lows, and when we do, being understanding and kind to ourselves is key to returning home to love. Dr. Kristin Neff, pioneer of Self-Compassion research identified 3 key elements of self-compassion:
Self-kindness vs. Self-judgment: Being tender with yourself vs being critical
Common humanity vs. Isolation: You are not alone. Others are experiencing suffering as well.
Mindfulness vs. Over-identification: Present moment awareness, a sense of being the observer where there's a sense of openness . When we over-identify , we get lost in what we think is true . There's a rigidity to over-identification.
As we begin to awaken to life, not owned by our emotions and thoughts, we create space for discernment, the ability to judge well. Think about the cultivation of mindfulness and self-compassion as a skill. Therefore, it's something that you can strengthen in your life, just like you would when you go to the gym to strengthen the body. By going to yoga, moving mindfully or meditating, you have the opportunity to become cultivate self-awareness and compassion.You can start to observe your emotions, and thoughts as it comes and goes. Hopefully, as you 'strengthen' your capacity for self-kindness, and mindfulness you are able to surf the waves of life instead of drowning. You can start to catch yourself when you're just about to lose it and if you do lose the plot, shower yourself with lots of compassion just as you would to someone you love.