Psychological Resilience in the Time of Coronavirus

2. Self-Compassion During a Crisis: What if we don't have to write King Lear, revolutionize home schooling, become spiritually evolved, and get in the best shape of our lives, on top of everything else?

April 13, 2020 Ann Marie Roepke, Ph.D.
Psychological Resilience in the Time of Coronavirus
2. Self-Compassion During a Crisis: What if we don't have to write King Lear, revolutionize home schooling, become spiritually evolved, and get in the best shape of our lives, on top of everything else?
Chapters
Psychological Resilience in the Time of Coronavirus
2. Self-Compassion During a Crisis: What if we don't have to write King Lear, revolutionize home schooling, become spiritually evolved, and get in the best shape of our lives, on top of everything else?
Apr 13, 2020
Ann Marie Roepke, Ph.D.

Episode 2 explores how we get mired in self-judgment and shame during a crisis, and how to get unstuck through practicing self-compassion.

Resources and references:

1. Einstein's desk (photo & essay):
https://www.life.com/history/the-day-albert-einstein-died-a-photographers-story/

2. Self-compassion research:
https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S027273581200092X
https://iaap-journals.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/aphw.12051
https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0005789417300667
https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1467-6494.2008.00537.x

3. RAIN practice:
https://www.tarabrach.com/wp-content/uploads/pdf/RAIN-of-Self-Compassion2.pdf

4. Mental health resources:

Directory of therapists: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/therapists

National Suicide Prevention Life Line: 1-800-273-8255

National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Helpline: 1-800-950-NAMI

SAMHSA Disaster Distress Helpline: 1-800-985-5990

NAMI’s guide on coronavirus: https://www.nami.org/covid-19-guide

CDC’s coronavirus information page: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/faq.html






Show Notes Transcript

Episode 2 explores how we get mired in self-judgment and shame during a crisis, and how to get unstuck through practicing self-compassion.

Resources and references:

1. Einstein's desk (photo & essay):
https://www.life.com/history/the-day-albert-einstein-died-a-photographers-story/

2. Self-compassion research:
https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S027273581200092X
https://iaap-journals.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/aphw.12051
https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0005789417300667
https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1467-6494.2008.00537.x

3. RAIN practice:
https://www.tarabrach.com/wp-content/uploads/pdf/RAIN-of-Self-Compassion2.pdf

4. Mental health resources:

Directory of therapists: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/therapists

National Suicide Prevention Life Line: 1-800-273-8255

National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Helpline: 1-800-950-NAMI

SAMHSA Disaster Distress Helpline: 1-800-985-5990

NAMI’s guide on coronavirus: https://www.nami.org/covid-19-guide

CDC’s coronavirus information page: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/faq.html






speaker 0:   0:00
hello and welcome back to psychological resilience in the time of Corona virus. This is a podcast about the ideas, the skills and the relationships that can help us get through the Cove in 19 Crisis together. I'm your host, Anne Marie Rep Key and I'm also a psychologist and a trainer and consultant based in Seattle, Washington. Now, last week we had our first episode of the podcast, and we focused on values and the way that we can use what really matters most to us, to serve as a compass to help us get through this storm of anxiety and threat and uncertainty. I really appreciate everyone who listened and who shared feedback. And I also really appreciate a listener who gave me permission to share some of his comments about how he's been using his values to get through fear and anxiety at this time. So he shared that he is in a high risk group for complications, as is his wife. And then he also shared this beautiful photo that I'm going to link to in the show notes along with the comments. Here's one thing that keeps me going. This photo of Albert Einstein's desk the day he died. Disorganized, messy, cluttered like life. Einstein wasn't thinking about death. His desk looks like he was planning on coming into work the next day. I'm busy planning for the future. I'm a do er and plan to continue to be doing things as long as I have my health. My wife jokes with me about my idea of a vacation is going out to rewire my sister's house. I'm expanding my garden this summer with the Economic Collapse Gardens. Maybe important, I'm going to continue teaching, and Habitat for Humanity still needs houses wired. I have retirement projects, thes air, the things that are more important than being afraid. All right, so let's get moving toward today's topic and, as we do so, just a quick reminder that this podcast is for informational and educational purposes. And it's not intended as a health care service, medical advice, a doctor patient relationship or any kind of diagnosis or treatment. So if you need help, definitely check out the show Web page and show notes, and you can find some mental health resource is there? Oh, and a quick advisory. There is not any explicit language in this episode, but there are going to be a couple puns that sound a lot like explicit language. So you've been warned. All right, here we go. Today's episode is self compassion during a crisis. What if we don't have to write King Lear, revolutionized home schooling, becomes spiritually evolved and get in the best shape of our lives on top of everything else. Now you might get that King Lear reference because there's a mean that's been going around quite a number of articles that let us know that Shakespeare made use of being quarantined during the plague to write King Lear. And there have been similar comments and similar Mihm's along these lines, urging us to really make the most of this time to be productive and to achieve things that we haven't been able to before. Another one that I saw said something like, If you haven't been able to do all of these things that you've been intending to, then the problem was never that you lacked time. It was that you lacked discipline. I think that this sort of commentary is really well intended and maybe for some people, really effective. If this sort of motivating commentary works for you. Fantastic. I'm a pragmatist. So at the end of the day, I really value whatever works. And, hey, I'm a really goal oriented person myself. So I absolutely get the appeal of focusing on projects and focusing on productivity to get through this time. I also think that for many of us, this focus on goals and productivity can be double edged. Maybe in some ways it's motivating or inspiring, but in other ways makes us feel guilty or bad or ashamed or embarrassed or discouraged because we're falling short off what we hope to accomplish or think we should accomplish or assumed that other people are accomplishing right now. And maybe for some of us, this sort of motivational commentary isn't even double edged. Maybe it's just one edged, and it's the bad edge. This pressure to do better and do more can lead us to judging ourselves when we fall short of that, and that can lead to shame. And for most of us, shame isn't particularly motivating. And in fact shame can just send us into a downward spiral or a vicious cycle of doing even less feeling even more ashamed, doing even less and so forth, and I asked people about what sorts of judgments they have been placing on themselves, for, what they've been doing or not doing thinking or not thinking, feeling or not feeling during this Cove in 19 Crisis. And there were a lot that were so riel and that probably a lot of folks will find to be so relatable. So I want to share some of these now with permission from and so much appreciation for the people who shared these. See if you recognize yourself in any of thes, I've noticed self judging for feeling grief over lost opportunities as the calendar reminders for cancelled life events buzz each day. Parties, shows, lectures, family events, holidays, vacation days. I'm reminded what we've given up so far during Cove it and then with the twinge of Los follows, a bit of shame because of the insignificance of these events as we try to save lives through distancing. Another person says, I've judged myself for eating sugar for not being able to tolerate the same workouts as I do when I'm at the gym for feeling upset about something job related. When there are people who do not have jobs right now. I believe the word I've used to refer to myself was brat. I've also judged myself for the feelings of head. During all this, I started feeling really numb to everything, and I judged myself for not feeling more upset or anxious. Another person says, I've judged myself for feeling emotionally exhausted, even though I'm not a front line worker. And so quick sidebar of commentary We put ourselves in this double bind where we can judge ourselves for not feeling emotional enough about all this or judge ourselves for feeling too emotional about all of this. We allow ourselves this really small, razor thin band of acceptable reactions. Someone else said. I judged myself for not doing enough in terms of community organizing. I've caught myself thinking I should quit playing in practicing music and really frustrated with how I'm sounding. There's no reason I should not be able to maintain the same level of productivity I did in January or February. I'm also judging myself for not having the strength to do more politically. Survivor's guilt. I haven't lost my job. My immediate friends and family circle are mostly doing okay and healthy How could I possibly excuse my lack of focus and productivity by claiming stress about this situation when so many are suffering so much more than me? And this is the common theme that so many of us are judging ourselves for not being more productive or focused or judging ourselves for how we're coping with this whole thing. And it reminds me another one of the favorite means that I've seen about how we're dealing with Cove it. And it was something along the lines of Day one of quarantine. I'm going to learn how to cook and get in great shape. Day seven of Quarantine for personal reasons. I'm eating lasagna in the shower, and I think a lot of us have fallen somewhat short of our intentions of how we wanted to respond. And so how do we deal with all of this? How do we deal with these pressures? How do we deal with these judgments? And the thing that I want to explore today is responding to all of this with self compassion. So first, let's talk about what self compassion is and how it's different than things like self esteem. So I grew up in the era of Saturday Night Live, when Al Franken played this character named Stuart Smalley, Stuart Smalley was this character who had either consumed a lot of self help materials or maybe made self help materials. But he would sit and look at himself in the mirror and Sam good enough. I'm smart enough and gosh it on it. People like me and I think that self esteem is ultimately in this same vein. Self steam is about some sort of evaluation of our worth. Some sort of evaluation of whether we have enough of thes positive qualities and often self esteem seems to place this demand on us that we need to measure up and be found to be above average, to be special. And I think we can really recognize this if we imagine being told in a performance review that we were in average employee or being told by people we care about, that we were an average friend or inviting friends out to a concert we were performing in and being told afterward that we were an average musician or an average singer, or we might think about how he'd feel being told we were an average lover, the list can go on and on. The point is that from many of us, when it comes to self esteem, it's an ongoing task of seeing whether we measure up, whether we're good enough, whether we're exceeding a usually very high bar. Self compassion is different than this, so there are some different definitions of self compassion. Some of them are influenced by Buddhist philosophy and Buddhist psychology, and the definition all talk about is one that's been used by Kristin Neff, who is really one of the psychological researchers whose pioneered the study of self compassion in recent years. And in this view, self compassion has three main parts. The first part of self compassion has to do with treating ourselves with kindness and gentleness. The way that we might treat and talk to a friend or a child, or someone that we felt tender feelings toward in those situations were not doing that same sort of evaluation process to constantly measure whether this person's good enough. We're really looking at them with a very kind lens. The second aspect of self compassion is about recognizing our shared humanity. So when we're suffering, when we feel we're falling short. It's about being able to realize that that's not just about us being personally week or being inferior or not coping well. It's really us sharing in this common human experience of suffering, of feeling inadequate. And the third aspect of self compassion has to do with being mindful when we're judging ourselves. When that critical voice kicks in to tell us that we're not measuring up that were inferior and so forth, can we notice that and be a little bit not attached from it? Sort of take that thought and put it up on a shelf and look at it without necessarily assuming that it's the truth, all right, so self compassion is about treating ourselves kindly, recognizing our shared humanity and being mindful when we're judging ourselves so you can see that this is a little bit different than self pity. It's not about wallowing and saying, Poor me, I have it so bad. But it's really about acknowledging that we all suffer and that, in our moments of suffering, were really connected with the rest of humanity, and self compassion is also different than self indulgence. Sometimes I think that there's an objection to being kind to ourselves because we think well, if I'm not harsh with myself, then I'm just gonna let myself get away with everything. And I'm just going to sit on the couch eating potato chips for the next three months of this crisis. Ah, and be more and more of a disaster. And I think it's really important to myth. Bust this because we can be kind to ourselves and still be accountable or still be goal driven. It's just that we don't have to fall into shame when we stray from those goals. And in fact, Crist Enough. The researcher that I mentioned earlier finds that people who are higher and self compassion actually take more initiative to make changes in their lives, so kindness and drive are not at all mutually exclusive. Now it's more and more research comes out. We're learning more about the unique benefits of taking this self compassionate stance, and a lot of this research is comparing the difference between being high and self esteem, which is that more evaluative judgment of our worth versus being high in self compassion, being kind to ourselves, and what the research seems to show is that both of these things self compassion and self esteem are linked to things like having higher well being and lower anxiety and depression. But interestingly, self compassion seems to have these benefits with fewer downsides and risks. So, for instance, self esteem tends to be linked to more short of defensive anxiety, more of a need to be superior, more pressure to constantly evaluate ourselves. And it's more fragile. What if we fail in something that's important to us? Or what if we lose a source of self esteem, like losing our job or losing a relationship? If we're really leaning on self esteem instead of self compassion, we can really get to a bad place. In one of these studies on the differences between self esteem and self compassion, the researchers followed in the proud tradition of doing things to their poor research subjects were participants just to make them anxious. And in this case, what they did was they had the participants do mock job interviews, and they included that dreaded question. What is your greatest weakness? And what they found was that people who were high in self compassion versus high in self esteem or less anxious after that question. And interestingly, people who were high in self compassion versus self esteem used more language like we rather than just I. So when they were talking about their weaknesses and their struggles, they seem to connect it to common weaknesses and struggles that lots of humans experience rather than using I language that made them alone in those experiences. In another study, in a similar vein, participants were asked to first make videos where they introduced themselves to other people, and then they were given feedback based on the video about how they seemed toe others. How warm, how friendly, how intelligent, how likable they were. And the twist is that this feedback was given completely at random. It really had nothing to do with e intro videos or the personality of the people who made those videos. It was just given at random as part of the experiment. So half of the people were given really positive feedback that they seemed really warm and smart and likeable, and the other half were given not necessarily really mean negative feedback, but sort of neutral feedback that they seem like they had average intelligence and they were sort of likable, and what the researchers found was that people who were higher and self compassion we're pretty unflustered. Whether they got positive feedback or neutral feedback, they could roll with it, and they were willing to take that feedback seriously as having something to do with their personality. In contrast, the people who were hiring self esteem but not self compassion could not handle the neutral feedback. What you mean? I'm only average in these ways, and they tended to try to brush it off as not really being about them. And so again, this comes back to that difference between self compassion versus self indulgence. It seems like people who are kind of themselves are really willing to take in all sorts of feedback and to take seriously. It's just that they don't spiral into you anxiety, your defensiveness or shame about it. So at this point, if you're feeling convinced that self compassion is a good thing, you might be wondering, Well, how and where do I get more of it? Especially as we go through a crisis like this where there are so many pressures and so many demands on us, it seems like a more important time than ever to be able to tap into a little bit more of this kindness and compassion for ourselves. Now, fortunately, the psychological science suggests that we can indeed improve our self compassion. So a couple approaches to this first and foremost. I think that we can benefit from just setting the intention to be more compassionate. I know that it is much easier said than done to take this kind and caring stance to ourselves and begin by just wanting to and trying to. I used to dio some dance, and I remember that part of the guidance was, If you want to turn a single turn, double turn a triple turn, then the first thing that you need to dio is look in the direction of where you want to turn and where you want to move, and by looking in that direction, you can do some spotting and you can actually pull off thes turns and movements without getting dizzy and loosing your way. And I like that metaphor when it comes to self compassion. Can we just turn our heads in the direction of that self compassion, even if we can't quite pull off this whole move yet. Second, one thing that we can try doing it's noticing the way that we talk to ourselves and making some changes with that language. So often our non compassionate responses to ourselves use words like, should I should do this. I should feel this. I shouldn't feel that and so forth. What would it be like if we deleted the words should and instead tried freezes like I want to do this or it's important to me to try to do that or one of my favorites. It would behoove me. There's something about the whimsy of things something would behoove me that I think can help to get a little bit out of the weight and the seriousness and the judgment of Should. As a sidebar, Albert Ellis was he really important and influential psychologist who in the fifties and sixties developed something called rational emotive behavior therapy, which has a lot in common with the cognitive behavioral therapy that I practice and that we're drawing on in this podcast. And he had a way with words and away with sass, and he coined a couple of terms. One was muster vacation, which has to do with placing unrealistic and perfectionistic standards on ourselves for how we must behave in the world. And he would also refer to us shooting all over ourselves. Likewise, when we use the term should and force ourselves to try to comply with these unrealistic standards. So the point here is can we tune in to the way that we're talking to ourselves, catch the must and the should and try to change that to some sort of language that serves us a little bit better. And third, I want to give you a concrete tool that you can use in the moment when you notice that you're experiencing difficult emotions and maybe being a bit harsh with yourself. So this is a practice called Rain R A i N. And that's an acronym, and this is as far as I know, created by Tara Brock. Perhaps it has some other origin, and she's just been the one to develop it. But definitely she's the one to check out. If you want to learn more about the rain practice, and if you look at the show notes, you can find some resource is there. All right, so what is this rain practice? It's a four step process, and it's represented by this acronym R A i n. So step one are recognize, recognize what's going on in real time, and this is easier said than done. But can we work to notice in the moment that we are experiencing strong emotions? And can we take a minute to just say, Okay, I'm feeling sad or I'm feeling scared or I'm feeling stressed out or angry, ashamed whatever it might be. And there's some interesting science that's come out about just the power of putting that label on an emotion on the way that that brings the prefrontal cortex the more logical part of our brain into better communication with the limbic system, the emotional and fighter flight part of our brain. So Step one is to just recognize what's going on and put a name on it. I'm feeling sad, scared. Whatever Step two A is allow. Can we allow those feelings those experiences to be here right now and they want to say right away? Allowing is not the same thing as liking it, wanting to feel this way, resigning ourselves, swallowing or any of that. It's just about allowing and acknowledging that these feelings and experiences air happening right now, instead of saying we shouldn't be happening or trying to push them away, can we just give those feelings and experiences? Ah, little bit of space, a couple minutes. Some of us are more verbal people and more in our heads. I'm definitely in this category. So for me, every one of these four steps is more verbal. It's something to say in our heads were out loud, so to allow we might say something like, Okay, this is happening or okay, this is my experience right now for people that connect more with the body. You might choose to use the body to try to create this allowing stance. So, for example, you might rest your hands with the Palm's Open facing upward, which is sort of a posture that's not defensive, it's not pushing away. It's more open and receptive and saying, OK, I can hold this and allow this, maybe gently resting those hands with upturned palms on knees on the table. Whatever it might be, Step three in rain is I investigate, and this is about investigating what's really going on with me right here. What's behind these feelings? What am I thinking? And over time, we might come to notice the same patterns in our thought that get us back to this place almost like an old record with the familiar song that's on again. So can we notice those thoughts and maybe kind of hold them at arm's length and take a look at them or again for people that are connected with the body? Maybe we notice How does my body feel right now with these emotions? And then the fourth step in rain? Maybe the most important and nurture? Can we nurture ourselves in this difficult moment? Can we set that intention to be kind or compassionate with ourselves? What would we say right now to a friend or a child? What would we say to someone that we care about? We probably wouldn't say. Well, yeah, You're a real idiot for feeling all these things that you shouldn't feel and for failing at doing all these things you should do. No, we would probably say something a lot more validating and comforting like Yeah, this isn't easy. It makes sense that you feel this way again for you. It might be something verbal, or it might be something that uses the body, like placing your hand on your heart or placing your hand on your shoulder and sort of a caring, comforting way. So rain, however you make it work for you. It's about first recognizing in the moment that you're going through it and naming those feelings, allowing them just a little bit of space, letting what's here. Just be here investigating what's underneath this and nurturing ourselves, trying to hold all of this with kindness. All right, team. As we get ready to wrap up here today, I want to leave you with a quote again. This one is coming from you, me sack Ogawa, who I did not know of before I stumbled upon this quote from her. She's apparently comic book artist, and I love something that she said sometimes it's OK if the only thing you did today was brief, all right, that is this week's episode. I really hope that something in here has been helpful or comforting in some way, and I would love to hear from you. Let me know about your ideas or suggestions for future episodes. You can contact me at Resilience Podcast 2020 at gmail dot com. And if you like this podcast, it would be awesome if you subscribe or follow it or leave a review. All right, take care of yourselves. Take care of each other and we'll see you next time.