Jules showed up for supervision very composed but somewhat dispassionate. Her demeanor was guarded, her responses brief, and her facial expression impassive. After a short exchange of pleasantries and a brief overview of our time together Jules’s tough exterior began to crumble. Her hands started to shake and her breathing became short and shallow. Noticing this quick change in her behavior I invited her to take a few deep breaths and then guided her through a short mindfulness exercise. After she regained her composure she started to share how anxious she has been leading up to our supervision. She disclosed her deep-seated fear of failure and how she thought that her videotaped counseling session would confirm what she already knew about herself all along—that she was not good enough to be a counselor. Such feeling of inadequacy is not alien to Jules and it tends to rear its ugly head when her performance or work is evaluated. Admittedly, this is an area that Jules has been working through in her personal therapy.
To her supervisor, though, Jules has already shown great potential as a counselor. Her sessions are marked with careful execution of basic counseling skills and her relational stance towards her client is very inviting, non-threatening, and safe. These, among others, have been highlighted during supervision, which provided some relief from this ongoing struggle of self-doubt. Like most people, the conflict between self-perception (i.e., Jules sees her self as inadequate) and other-perception (i.e., faculty and peers see her potential) stems from a life experience that is filled with criticism, judgment, and negative messaging by self and others, usually familial and those in close relationships. And despite evidence to the contrary and the psychological damage it inflicts, individuals like Jules tend to listen more and put great import towards the critical voice that runs ceaselessly in the background. The story of Jules is far too common and its trajectories are awfully predictable. The familiar script of insecurity and self-loathing that animates these stories is often hidden under the guise of human strivings for perfection and relentless pursuit to be successful.
The process of transformation begins where the problem lies—in the self. Only this time, the self is treated with kindness and compassion and not with judgment and negative appraisals. According to Kristin Neff, the attitude of self-compassion is composed of three related components: “1) self-kindness—being kind and understanding toward oneself in instances of pain or failure rather than being harshly self-critical; 2) common humanity—perceiving one’s experiences as part of the larger human experience rather than seeing them as separating and isolating; 3) mindfulness—holding painful thoughts and feelings in balanced awareness rather than over-identifying with them.”
For many a Christian, the root of self-compassion is the experience of receiving God’s compassionate love towards us, with the divine image deeply etched in all of us. This loving and experiential knowledge of a compassionate God makes possible an identity that is graced, acquired not on merit or good works but on our status as God’s own beloved. There is no amount of human strivings or human failings that can alter God’s unconditional love towards us. Hence, we no longer have to run away from or conceal our wounded and fragile self. We need not wear a mask of unyielding self-belief or regard ourselves as better than others. God’s acceptance of us just as we are empowers us to accept ourselves as we are. Here again, we see the power of God’s “with-ing” in enabling us to stay with our pain and suffering and through that accompaniment and balanced awareness of our condition we experience a kinder, more compassionate version of ourselves that lies within.
The meditation below is an attempt to CALM our ANXIOUS SELF. This active yet quiet form of prayer prepares us to approach that anxious part of the self from the deeper, kinder, loving, and empathic COMPASSIONATE SELF.
To access the remaining compassion meditation audio files click on this link. It will prompt you to register your name and email address and from there you can dowload these files for easy access and personal use.
*Excerpt from the book Compassionate Presence, pp.89ff