We all need compassion in order to thrive: we need to feel seen and heard; we need to feel soothed; we need to feel as if we matter to ourselves and to others especially when times are tough. Self-compassion allows us to see and hear ourselves; to soothe ourselves so that we have the safety net needed to show up authentically even when those around us might not agree with us or support us; to affirm to ourselves that we matter. Self-compassion is lovingly noticing our stress, having the skills and courage to witness that stress with concern and curiosity, and implementing the tools to respond effectively to alleviate stress.
When we have the self-compassion necessary to trust and honor what our body tells us and to give ourselves permission to align ourselves with our own values through using our strengths, we are practicing being empowered. Practicing empowerment means living from our authentic core even when those around us might not agree with who we are or what we believe in. Self-compassion helps us ride the bumps in the road when our culture or our community don’t completely love our authentic selves. When those around us aren’t able to affirm our worth, self-compassion shows up and affirms it for us, giving us permission to be.
Honoring our Body
Learning to trust and honor our body is what Somatic Self-Compassion is all about. We:
- learn about the origins of our stress and that our stress response is completely understandable and necessary for our survival;
- learn about the ways this dear vessel, our body, likes to be soothed;
- learn to hear the requests and the wisdom in our body; and
- grow away from external expectation and into internal permission.
Claiming our Gifts
As we honor our body, we can also claim our gifts, strengths and talents more and more so that we can align ourselves more and more with what we value. Developing interoception – having access to physical and emotional material in our body – and caring for our body, frees up the enormous amount of energy required to resist our body.
It’s takes a lot of hard work to ignore emotional and physical pain. As we move from a place of active resistance, through affectionate awareness and courageous connection with ourselves, toward a new radical response of presence, stillness, and honoring pleasure, our practice can midwife us into a place of more ease, comfort, self-nurturing and confidence in our body.
From that place of support where our needs for physical comfort, safety, and belonging to ourselves are taken care of, we can move toward claiming our innate talents and using them more and more in the world for our benefit and the benefit of others. As we learn that it’s safe to be our own inherent person, we have the opportunity to re-discover our own inherent gifts.
And we can start to claim these gifts as unique and special and so needed in our community. Gifts and talents we might have taken for granted can become our easy ride as we align ourselves more and more with the values and sense of purpose that we are reconnecting with. As we support ourselves through soothing and hedonic pleasure, we are freed up to look forward to more eudaemonic pursuits around:
- creativity, and
Self-Empowerment and Self-Compassion
Self-compassion is a necessary tool on the journey to becoming empowered and many of us need to feel empowered in order to move out of systems of oppression. Self-empowerment is a response to oppression that involves:
- decreasing the control others have over us, including the inner oppression we feel from internalizing oppressive forces;
- increasing our ability to control our own life through setting boundaries, motivating ourselves from a place of love, feeling belonging and working with our strengths to realize our values; and
- acting in accordance with our own right to thrive.
To move away from oppression and towards empowerment, we need to be able to notice what we are feeling and respond to our own needs rather than always being motivated by our internalization of what others are feeling and what we need to do to make them feel OK about themselves. Self-compassion offers us the self-support and self-trust we need to move us away from being other-focussed and launch us toward self-empowerment.
Some of us feel safe and connected to ourselves, our inner wisdom and our ability to support ourselves through thick and thin our whole lives. Others of us were not launched from a place of safety, and will need to continue to parent our adult selves with tools of self-compassion if we want to find our place of empowerment where we can honor our body and claim our gifts.
Grieving and Dreaming
If we’re on the path of re-parenting ourselves, honoring our body and claiming our gifts often requires grieving and dreaming first. We grieve the ways we have felt dishonor in our body including the stories of abuse and neglect that surround our body.
We are born honoring our body and somewhere along our story many of us learn that we need to start dishonoring our body, neglecting our needs, pushing away our inner wisdom, because the messages from our body do not vibe with the messages we are getting from our external environment. Somewhere in our story we learn that in order to survive we need to put more attention and effort on what other people need us to be, and in that process we leave our body wisdom behind because it is not helping us to align ourselves with what other people need us to be. We learn to become someone other people need us to be rather than being our inherent person.
And so we may need to grieve this loss of our inherent person. We may need to tend to the wounds of a dishonored body and soul. We may need:
- to rage;
- to sob;
- to be confused;
- to not even know where the light is;
- to process with a therapist;
- to start clumsy conversations with our beloveds;
- to spend time in nature.
We may need to travel the dark night of the soul for many decades. But we do this because we know somewhere, deep in our being, that we care about ourselves and we want to claim our empowerment. We know that our dream might have been buried, but it is still alive and waiting to be reclaimed.
The Journey Begins
“… those who are empowered seek a firmer sense of purpose, a place to be and belong, an operating fund of esteem, the possibility of choice, connections to resources and ties to others, and a palpable awareness of their achievements—both in the short run and in the distant future.” Dennis Saleeby.
This is not a simple journey, nor is it a usual one. Culture often tells us that it’s easier to continue to ignore our inherent person and to fit in with the scripts handed to us by others.
We all have the capacity to honor our body and claim our gifts and strengths. This is the hope of the human condition and the faith in the path of Somatic Self-Compassion. Somatic Self-Compassion is the map I’m working on to chart a path to empowerment, and I hope you’ll join me on that journey.
- Boyett, K.R. “Practicing Empowerment” in Schaaf, K., Lindahl, K., Hurty, K.S., and Cheen, G. (2012) Women, Spirituality and Transformative Leadership: Where Grace Meets Power
- Estes, C.P. Heart of the Wounded Healer training, 2018
- Imani, M. Grieving and Dreaming ritual, WisdomWomen gathering 2016 at Tara Mandala
- Ryff, C. D. (1995). Psychological well-being in adult life in Current Directions in Psychological Science, 4, 99–104.
- Saleeby, D. (2000) Power in the People: Strengths and Hopes in Advances in Social Work Vol. 1 No. 2 Fall 2000 127-136 Indiana University School of Social Work
- Seligman, M. (2011) Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-being
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