Tag Archives: Compassion

Parenting in Real Life: Modeling Imperfection

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We parents are hard on ourselves. It is no secret that the parenting bar is often set ridiculously high. There is some usefulness for these high expectations- they can sometimes provide a boost of short-term motivation or help make clear what is really valuable. But, more often than not, unrealistic expectations only make us feel… well… crappy.

Funny enough, when we find that we cannot leap effortlessly over that high bar we set for ourselves, a common method for dealing is giving ourselves a stern internal talking-to and setting the bar even higher! Most of the time, this strategy- although based on good intentions- only depletes our sense of self-efficacy and further invalidates the very good efforts we are making but overlooking.

There is an alternative that serves to set up a new pattern of relating to yourself and has the potential to impact your child’s relationship with him or herself. As your child’s primary role model, you have the fabulous opportunity to model imperfection. Just as many parents make an effort to help their children realize that the implausible expectations society places on appearance and physical beauty are not reasonable, you can do the same for behavioral and emotional expectations.

You don’t expect your child’s appearance to fit the photoshopped standards of beauty perpetuated in the media. And more than likely, you do not expect them to go through life without making a mistake or never being disappointed in themselves. And you are in a unique position to show them how to embrace the imperfection that helps to make us who we are as individuals. You get to say to them:  “I was really angry today and I can see it did not help the situation. Next time, I am going to try to handle my anger in another way.”

Or: “Yes, I was very frustrated today when I said those words while I was driving. Normally I try not to say those words because they can be hurtful. Next time, I will try to handle my frustration differently.”

And what you are really saying is: “I am not perfect. Sometimes I do things that I am not proud of. But I own that and I am accountable for my mistakes.” That small act of acknowledgment pays dividends. You are actively showing your child how to cultivate self-compassion and how to be vulnerable. Concurrently, you are showing him/her how to take responsibility for their actions, how to be courageous in the face of difficulty and  how to build a innate sense of worthiness.

As discussed earlier, self-compassion is not self-indulgence. Modeling imperfection does not mean that all of the sudden your “expectation bar” is tumbling down to the floor and you spend the rest of your days lying in front of the television with a gallon of Nutella (although that may happen from time to time). It simply means that you make a conscious effort to cultivate a different kind of internal conversation that is more kind, fair and balanced. One that is more along the lines of “Yeah, that did not go as well as I had hoped but I am proud of what I did accomplish” versus the tired old refrain of “Everyone else could have done that and you didn’t. Tomorrow you’ll have to try even harder because failing is unacceptable.”

And how wonderful would it be if you could simultaneously help your children to cultivate this same kind of dialogue?

(Image courtesy of digitalart / FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

Acting “as if”

Sometimes it works better to put the cart before the horse
Sometimes it works better to put the cart before the horse

We’ve all heard the phrase “fake it ’till you make it” and this concept has come up frequently in my clinical practice this week. When you find yourself struggling to implement a new skill or persist with a new behavior or routine, this idea of acting “as if” can be particularly useful.

It is important to recognize what one is feeling or how one may be pulled to behave but mindfully implementing this idea can do so much good. For instance, on those days when I am tired and daydream about only getting out of bed to refresh my coffee, I find that it is useful to act as if I am energized. And going through these motions (rather uncomfortably at first) can help to augment my momentum until the behavior feels more natural.

Oftentimes, our behavior can impact our thought patterns in powerful ways. When our minds observe our bodies acting in certain ways, we take that as evidence regarding how we are feeling. And because our minds do not like it when our behavior and our thoughts and feelings do not line up, they shuffle things around a bit so that it all makes sense. If I am singing in the shower to my favorite song, my mind says “Hey- she must be feeling ok. Let’s get pumped up for this day!”

It sounds a bit tricky but I invite you to give it a try. Even in subtle ways, our bodily activity can jumpstart our thinking in very productive ways. A simple way to play with this concept is by wearing a gentle half-smile throughout otherwise mundane activities. Research indicates that because of the bi-directional relationship between behavior and emotion, simply changing our facial posture can trigger a cascade of seratonin and dopamine that results in feeling more positively.

So try putting the cart before the horse and acting “as if” when approaching a difficulty. We sometimes have more direct control over our behavior than our emotions. Therefore, this concept is a useful way to practice self-validation, by recognizing your emotional needs, while gaining a sense of mastery by responding effectively to those needs.

(Image courtesy of vectorolie / FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

Mindfulness as an Antidote to World-Weariness

There is so much beauty to be noticed
There is so much beauty to be noticed

The first thing I saw when I read the paper this morning was an article detailing the killing and butchering of a young giraffe at a zoo in Denmark. There were gory pictures of the animal being chopped to pieces in front of on-looking children and then the carcass being fed to a lion. Throughout this morning, I saw the pictures again in my friends’ Facebook feeds and on various online news sites.

As consumers of media and livers of life, we are regularly bombarded with disturbing images, experiences and details from the world around us. At times, it can seem that there is so much pain and suffering in the world that we are powerless to stop it or to suggest that life can be beautiful and filled with wonder. It is true that if you look for it, you can find just about any atrocity you imagine. Likely, there is even a Twitter account, Facebook profile and blog that will keep you updated on this atrocity as it unfolds.

And that is where mindfulness comes in. Being mindful reminds us that we can choose where and how to focus our attention. We can intentionally bring our awareness to the goodness that happens with just as much consistency and intensity in this world as war, injustices, and brutality. We can focus on the small acts of kindness and subtle heroism that restore our sense of humanity. This does not mean that being mindful fosters denial or inaction. Mindfulness enables recognition that our compassion is best activated when we feel hopeful and empowered rather than raw and depleted.

Mindfulness helps us to recognize how we respond to any stimuli, including the entire array of emotional experiences our bodies and brains enable us to have. In a moment of world-weariness, we can check in with ourselves and notice that fear and sadness and anger are activated. And rather than pushing it aside with cynical numbing, we can open to and embrace our ability to feel empathy, to feel genuine connection to others who may be suffering. And then, we can decide how to respond effectively to these feelings.

When you catch this world-weariness in yourself, it can serve as a cue to reach out and connect with someone you care about, or make a thoughtful donation to a charity of your choice, or engage with your community. Or perhaps, it will cue you to simply replenish depleted stores of resiliency by taking some time away from the internet, making a cup of warm tea or going for a jog. There is goodness and gentleness in the world- maybe more of it than we recognize as it is not often celebrated or remarked upon. If we cultivate an ability to seek out goodness and contribute to it, this will help to counteract vulnerability to being overwhelmed by the real difficulties in our society.