DEVELOPING AND NURTURING SELF-COMPASSION
Self-care is your choice to take care of yourself mentally, emotionally, socially, and behaviorally. To have self-care you might address your mind chatter, rewrite your story so that you see yourself as the heroine, or take a bubble bath when the day is getting long. Self-compassion, however, is different from self-care.
Compassion, when broken down into its roots literally means: Com: Together with Passion: Suffering
In other words, when you have self-compassion, you are together with your own suffering. What would it look like for you to be together with your suffering?
We have found that when people experiencing Betrayal Trauma have self-compassion they feel their pain, experience it, validate it and then choose resilient and healing behaviors to regulate it. Those who do not have self-compassion often avoid the pain, refuse to recognize that they have been victimized, blame themselves for their pain or choose to dwell in the pain rather than participating in self-care behaviors.
Recognizing Our Common Humanity
An essential aspect of self-compassion, along with acknowledging and giving validity to your pain, is recognizing the common humanity of your pain. In other words, you must recognize that you are not the only person in the world who has experienced or is experiencing this pain. In Rhyll Croshaw’s, “What Can I Do About Me?” she states,
“You are not alone in this. You are unique but your situation is not. Though we will each need to find our own path, our needs are much the same and together—and with God’s help—we can meet our challenges with courage and strength. You won’t need to look far to find someone who understands what you’re going through. Then with recovery, you too can stand as a friend ready to give encouragement, confidence, strength, and spiritual direction to others in need. You are not alone. We are not alone.”
Many times, women in Betrayal Trauma feel as though they are the only person in the world experiencing this. When you choose to believe that you are the only one in trauma, the result is isolation and further depression. When you choose to reach out to others in your suffering (with self-compassion), you make connections that will help us to heal.
• Taking Action: Along with participating in our educational class, we suggest you participate in group psychotherapy and 12-step groups. These are safe, healthy places to share your common humanity and come together with your suffering as others do the same. The social support is, not only helpful as you come to accept and heal your own pain and suffering, but important to those who are early in their healing process as well.
A second aspect of self-compassion is giving and accepting validation. Validation literally means, “searching for and finding the truth of some- thing.”
Think of that! Validation means to search and find truth in something. Journal about your feelings in response to the following questions:
• What does it feel like when you when you receive a genuine compliment?
What do you usually say/do when you are given a compliment?
• Are you genuine in your response?
What does it feel like for you to give a genuine compliment?
Receiving and giving validation puts you in a vulnerable state because you open yourself up to what may be the truth. Imagine a child who runs up to her mother. The child says, “Mommy I love you so much! You are pretty and funny.” And then gives her mother a hug and runs off again. What would this feel like for you? How would you respond?
Many who have experienced trauma might respond by saying, “Well she is just a child; that doesn’t mean anything.” Or, “She has to say that; I am her mother.”
In this instance, the mother is rejecting the truth from that child. She is, in essence saying, “Your truth about my worth does not matter.” What internal beliefs do you think this mother has about herself?
If you now know that receiving validation is another way of finding and confirming the truth, and you reject or deny validation from others, then aren't you practicing a form of self-betrayal?
It takes practice and willingness, but as you allow yourself to be vulnerable and self- compassionate, you can open up, not only to your suffering, but also to truth from others and the truth of your own worth. This truth, that you are enough just because you exist, will lead to healing.
A final principle of self-compassion is authenticity. Authenticity is your willingness to share your honest self with other people. This includes both suffering and joy, happiness and pain, strengths and weaknesses.
Authenticity requires you to, first, be totally honest with yourself (self- compassion), and then totally honest with others. You are, first, true with your emotions, not hiding your pain from yourself, and then you need to choose not to hide it from others. When you are authentic, you won’t hide or feel you have to hide.
Authenticity with your Addicted Partner
We often tell the men that their partners share their pain, the men are being given a gift. Although those with addictions initially do not like to hear of the pain, and may even feel shameful about it, each time you share your true self with your partner, he is given the opportunity to hear you and understand your pain. A man makes long-term restitution, by comfort- ing you in your pain and choosing to be with you while feeling it.
When you are authentic, you are saying, “I want you to be the one to be there for me while I suffer.” And, as he chooses to have empathy or compassion (together with your suffering), he can make restitution and help to heal the relationship.
Although it may be intimidating, all relationships need authenticity and compassion from both individuals to succeed. When people are dishonest about their emotions, similar to denying validation, they betray ourselves. By sharing your truth, you are honoring your strengths and your pain.
For example, an addicted partner might ask, “Is something bothering you?”
If you are truly in pain and you answer quickly out of fear, “No I am fine,” you are, not only lying to your partner, but, you are betraying yourself.
At this, many women retort, “He won’t hear me! Why should I talk to him? I'll just get hurt!” It's important to recognize that he may not be in a place to hear you. Addiction is the opposite of intimacy, and if he is not working on his recovery, he will not be in a compassionate place. Even if he is working on his recovery, he may not be capable or willing to sit with you for long as you express your feelings of pain. In these cases, it's still essential for you to be authentic. If you can be honest with your addicted partner even knowing that you may not be heard or validated as you need, and then if you are able to reach out authentically with those who can support you (friend, family, 12-step member), you will grow and heal. You will not be held back in your recovery from Betrayal Trauma.
How do you develop self-compassion?
There are many ways to develop self-compassion. Some of those have been listed above. Here are three specific tasks you might practice regularly to help you begin to recognize and develop your own self-compassion.
• I am...
Stand in front of the mirror and look into your eyes. What do you see? Who is she? Who is that woman in the mirror? Do I see her value? Do I see her strength, beauty, and qualities? Look at yourself from a holistic perspective. Answer this question to yourself: In general, who am I?
In order to have true self-compassion and come together with your suffering, it is essential to slow down your brain. As you know, trauma and flash-backs of trauma will hijack your brain, and you will be unable to see your situation for how it truly is. When you become mindfully aware of your body, your emotions, and your existence, you can begin to become more aware of your pain and need for healing.
Spend a few minutes every day stopping yourself and asking yourself these questions...
• Am I okay?
• Where are my thoughts?
• Where are my emotions?
• What do I focus on most of the time?
This sort of regular internal check can help you become mindfully aware of where your suffering is and what healing you need.
The Power of Vulnerability
• Who do you love the most?
• Write a 300-500 word letter to the first living person that popped into your head.
Call that person and ask if you can visit them or video chat with them.
• Ask if you can share with them what you have written.
• If they accept, read your letter to them.
Research has indicated that participating in this exercise will boost your ability for self- compassion greatly. You will find your ability to love and understand yourself will increase as you practice thinking through and sharing vulnerable compassionate thoughts.
Long-term, your healing from trauma must include self-compassion, recognizing your humanity, validation and authenticity. Your partner’s recovery from addiction will necessitate the same.
Dr. Skinner’s passion is helping people change their lives. He enjoys providing as much help as he can to those who are struggling by using a variety of mediums. He’s authored Treating Pornography Addiction, created multiple audio series regarding pornography addiction and relationship intimacy, and is currently providing an online educational class to women dealing with betrayal trauma.
When Dr. Skinner is not working, he enjoys running or spending time with his beautiful wife and eight children. He grew up in Idaho where he learned the value of hard work in potato fields.