As discussed previously, mindful self-compassion (MSC) is the art of being your own good friend especially during times of pain, loss and frustration. This doesn’t come easily to many; as well as being a learned behaviour, self-recrimination and denial form part of our survival instincts – we dare not do anything to lose the acceptance and safety that being part of a ‘tribe’ affords us, so we meet our own pain with harsh criticism or dismissal instead of the compassion we extend to others.
While MSC is the antidote to such restrictive and repressive behaviour, it isn’t meant to be a panacea. We don’t offer ourselves compassion because we want to feel better; we do it simply to honour, validate and acknowledge our pain as being part of the human experience. Sometimes this does result in being lifted from a dark mood, but sometimes it can actually give rise to even more difficult emotions.
This is known as backdraft. In firefighting terms, this refers to a chemical reaction that occurs when oxygen is re-introduced to a fire with little ventilation, resulting in rapid combustion.
So it is when we have been starved of kindness. It has been said that love reveals anything unlike itself and, at times like this, it is true. Once love is re-introduced to our lives, past resentments, insecurities and vulnerabilities can explode out of nowhere. We may become angry at how others have failed us and how we have failed ourselves. To add another level of complexity, it may be that this anger destabilises the beliefs and behaviours (be they self-destructive or self-preserving in nature) that we have carefully maintained for so long. And perhaps these beliefs even date back to childhood, when we first began to construct ideas about the world and the part we play in it.
It would be easy to become disheartened with MSC at this point. Such a lot of potential pain from something that was supposed to help. But, just as a wound needs to be clean before it can heal, backdraft is necessary. And, you guessed it, the road through backdraft is paved with yet more self-compassion; purely because there is suffering and everyone who suffers deserves kindness.
It may feel like taking two steps backwards for every step forwards but, ultimately, withstanding the heat caused by backdraft is worth it. For true healing brings clarity and self-awareness, purpose, and the ability to be gentle with yourself in the face of your own frailty.
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