Archive

for June, 2015

Self-compassion as an antidote to self-criticism.

Posted on June 29, 2015 in Uncategorized - 0 comments - 0
Dr Stan Steindl

Dr Stan Steindl

By Dr Stan Steindl

“You stupid fool!

Boy, if I had a dollar for every time I said that to myself I would be the proverbial rich man! Rich in money, but not rich in terms of my sense of self. Self-criticism can have devastating effects on our mental health. We can be so generous to others with reassurance, logic, compliments and forgiveness, but when it comes to ourselves? Not so much. Why do we do it?

Professor Paul Gilbert from Compassionate Mind Foundation in the UK, answers this question by saying, “Well, you see,” (you have to imagine a Derby accent flavoured with something acquired during American International schooling as a child), “you have a very tricky brain!”

He went on to elaborate, and I think it could be summed up a bit like this…

Our modern brains are the product of thousands of years of evolution. Over the majority of those thousands of years, one of the primary roles our brains have played has been to keep us safe. We have this highly developed threat system that is all about “better to be safe than sorry”. So the brain is constantly on the look out for threat or danger, even preferring to err on the side of seeing danger when it may not actually be there. Better to be safe than sorry, right?

We also have a well-developed drive system. This is the part of our brain that is highly aspirational and seeks food, sex, excitement and pleasure. And this is where you often see a conflict. Imagine the early humans walking along through the forest. They hear a rustle in the bushes. Part of their brain, the threat system, rings alarm bells and warns, “That could be something that’s going to eat me!” At the very same time, another part of their brain gets excited, “That could be something I could eat!” The first leads to fear and an urge to run, the second leads to excitement and an urge to approach.

So, what’s all this mean about me saying contemptuously to myself, “You stupid fool!” Well, bring the brain into this 21st century, and I have a modern version of this same conflict, both the drive to be successful and the fear of my imminent failure. I’m torn, and immobilised…you see? A stupid fool!

But here’s the next problem. Somehow or other, we have developed an assumption that this highly self-critical part of ourselves is going to help us, motivate us, and make us more worthy. On the flip side, we fear that without self-criticism we might become complacent, lazy, and make mistakes. Lets put this to the test.

Can you think of something you feel self-critical about? Maybe, just to begin with, something mild. Try to imagine what your self-critic looks like. Bring their image to mind. What is the self-critic saying to you? Perhaps it calls you names, puts you down, or points out all your weaknesses. How does the self-critic sound? Maybe their words come out harsh or mean. What does the self-critic feel towards you? It often seems contemptuous, disdainful, and angry.

Now…how does all that actually make you feel?

You see, this idea we have that the self-critic is somehow going to improve us just doesn’t stack up. Much more commonly, the self-critic leaves us demotivated, hopeless, sad and small. What’s going on here? Well, some of that answer can be found if we look at what’s going on behind the self-critic. And that turns out to be the conflict between threat and drive…and fear.

The self-critic is the modern brain’s answer, though perhaps misguided, to the fear we feel about this conflict between threat and drive, failure and success. If self-criticism were a car, then fear is its engine. Fear drives self-criticism. We can’t attack self-criticism because this will only escalate the fear and therefore escalate the self-criticism. We need to find ways to create a calm, safe, and contented state of mind to soothe the fear.

The good news is that evolution has cleverly also provided for this. Humans, as vulnerable as we are, needed to develop a soothing system that helped us to care for our young, look after one another, cooperate in groups and generally survive together in what was a world full of dangers. Everyday we treat others around us, especially those we love, with kindness, care and compassion. The opportunity we have is to develop that same kind of compassion for ourselves.

Self-compassion is the answer to self-criticism. It is that ability, within a state of calm, and with a friendly voice, to reassure ourselves that this is not our fault. We are a product of evolution and the brain is indeed tricky. We quite naturally feel worry and fear, anger, sadness, guilt, shame and self-criticism. We have evolved this way, even though it may be less useful today. So we can forgive these feelings, accept that they might be there, recognise that they will come and go, and develop this compassionate self that, when we think, “You stupid fool!”, responds with:

“Hey, you’re doing ok. You just have this tricky brain. You’ll get frightened sometimes, or angry. You’ll even be mean to yourself. Just breathe, smile, connect with the present moment, and remember all that you are, as part of this common humanity, and keep going, bit by bit, in the direction you truly value.

For more information on Dr Steindl and the team of Clinical Psychologists at Psychology Consultants, visit www.psychologyconsultants.com.au

 

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Inside Out: A movie of the mind, a movie with a heart.

Posted on June 22, 2015 in Uncategorized - 0 comments - 0

inside_out_movie-wideBy Dr Stan Steindl, Clinical Psychologist  

Inside Out is a wonderful movie, and ultimately about our need as human beings to be soothed, comforted, nurtured and consoled. But before we get to that bit…

All human beings have certain primary emotions. Psychologists, neuroscientists and philosophers may debate what emotions are involved and what to call them, but those emotions depicted in the movie (Fear, Anger, Sadness, Joy, and by all means, throw in a little Disgust!) are all very important. And each of them have had an evolutionary function to play. Let’s take a look at the evolutionary theory.

First, the threat system.

Human beings have the widely-known “fight/flight” response to danger. Intimately involved in this are emotions of anger (fight) and fear (flight). And the threat system is a “better to be safe than sorry” system, erring on the side of assuming danger even when there might not be danger present. Disgust probably comes into this system as well, turning us away from things that might cause us physical or social harm.

Second, the drive system.

This is the system that is all about gratification and pleasure. In this system, joy and excitement are the primary motivators. This is a very aspirational system, and often the emotions associated with it don’t last in any kind of permanent way. But it relates to our drive for success and can sometimes seem insatiable leaving a sense of disappointment when “a miss is as good as a mile”. Often, our self-esteem can be based on our drive system, so it can be tenuous and fluctuates with every success and every failure.

But the movie Inside Out is about something more. In the movie, the five feelings go on a journey to discover that there is a third important system that all human beings deeply need:

The soothing system.

Human beings are terribly physically vulnerable. Think of those documentaries showing a zebra being born. Within minutes it takes its first wobbly steps and shortly after its wagging its tail and running with the herd. Human babies on the other hand need looking after for years, often decades! There has always been an evolutionary imperative that we care for one another, whether it be to care for our young, look after other members of our tribe, cooperate in groups, or generally survive together in what was a world full of dangers.

The movie makes the point that maybe there is an important role for sadness to play. The emotions associated with the threat system, as well as those associated with the disappointments and failures of the drive system, can leave us feeling and expressing sadness. This then serves as a cue to others to soothe, comfort, nurture and console us. And so the three systems all work together, just like in the movie, to keep us safe, keep us moving and keep us consoled.

Inside Out is about a 12-year-old girl who is discovering many of her emotions for the first time. And it does a very nice job of that. What the movie doesn’t depict is that the soothing system can also eventually start to develop on the inside as well. Think of the following sequence of events:

  • A baby boy lies crying in his crib. His mother comes in, picks him up and cradles him, softly singing a familiar lullaby.
  • A little older, the toddler falls over, scraping his knee. Hurrying over, his mother gets him back on his feet, giving him a squeeze and tells him he will be all right.
  • The boy, now 10- or 12-years-old, is playing football and gets knocked to the ground in a hard tackle. As he’s getting up he looks over to the sideline and there’s his Dad, smiling softly, supportively, and nodding as he gives the boy a subtle thumbs up.
  • As a teenager, the boy starts to look further afield for his comfort and soothing. He looks to his friends, or perhaps heroes or celebrities that he has stuck to his walls, and he finds reassurance there.
  • Finally, the adult has incorporated all these experiences of being soothed and comforted, and creates what might be called a “soothing self”, becoming the one that soothes, comforts, nurtures and consoles himself.

It’s not easy. The threat and drive systems are powerful forces. But if we practice, we can develop this kind of “soothing self” in ourselves and in our children, and we know that self-compassion, that ability to be kind and caring, understanding and forgiving, and aware of ourselves and our primary emotions, can protect us from emotional ill-health, such as anxiety disorders, depression and shame.

When we feel fear, anger or sadness, our soothing self can be there, with a friendly voice, and say, “Hey, you’re doing ok. You just have this emotional brain. You’ll get frightened sometimes, or angry. You’ll even be mean to yourself! Just breathe, smile, connect with the present moment, and remember all that you are, as part of this whole world of people, and keep going, bit by bit, in the direction you truly value.

For more information on Dr Steindl and the team of Psychologists at Psychology Consultants, visit www.psychologyconsultants.com.au

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Compassionate Management: The Secret Ingredient of Corporate Success

Posted on June 15, 2015 in Uncategorized - 0 comments - 0
Image courtesy of stockimages at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of stockimages at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Dr Stan Steindl

I was at the airport the other day, uncharacteristically early. Very early. In fact, I was there in plenty of time to catch an earlier flight home. The only problem was on this occasion I had a cheap ticket. But I thought, “Why not? I’ll go and see if the help desk can…well…help.”

I shuffled up to the imposing counter and the customer service person peered at me over her glasses. “How can I help you?” I tried to explain my situation but before I finished she was telling me that I have a cheap ticket and they cannot be changed.

I felt a little surge…but then I took a breath and consciously reflected on the situation, and her as a person, just like me, both of us just doing the best we can. I smiled kindly and said, “No, no, I understand. I just thought I would check but I suspected nothing could be done.” She seemed surprised. We nodded and I walked away.

It was less than a minute later that I heard over the load speaker, “Could Dr Steindl please return to the [help desk].” I returned to the desk and the customer service person was much more welcoming. “I changed my mind,” she said, smiling broadly, “We can get you on the earlier flight.”

Why am I telling this little story?

Well, it demonstrates, even in a very small way, the positive effect that acceptance, non-judgment, kindness and, especially, compassion can have on the people around us, often motivating them to do the same.

And this same phenomenon translates to the workplace.

When someone disappoints us, lets us down, makes a mistake or fails us, our natural impulse is to criticise, reprimand or punish them. This is especially the case in the workplace, where managers traditionally use a more punitive approach with their staff. We expect that it will “make them listen” or “teach them a lesson”.

An alternative style of management is emerging, and gathering more and more empirical support. This new style is to adopt compassionate management practices.

Compassion is defined as a combination of several components. There is the awareness component of compassion, being able to notice when another person is distressed, struggling or suffering. There is also the empathy component, or the ability to resonate with that feeling, recognising that distress is an experience we all share. Further, trying to be non-judgmental towards the person who is distressed, and not defining them by the immediate problem, but remembering all that they are as a whole person. And finally, having the intention to do something that will relieve the distress, and nurture or develop that person.

Compassionate management has been found to have significant benefits at work. Managers who are compassionate at work are more likely to have loyal and committed employees. Compassion increases the employee’s willingness to trust their managers. And employees feel increased happiness and well-being, and continue to maintain support for the organisation, even in the face of bad news.

And beware, anger, hostility and aggression from managers have the opposite effect, eroding loyalty, damaging trust and creating stress, thus contributing to far less optimal performance amongst employees.

Greater loyalty, trust, happiness and well-being lead to vastly improved performance on the job and greater corporate success.

Sometimes managers worry: “What if my being more compassionate causes them to think I agree with them, or I’m letting them of the hook, or I’m not holding them accountable?”

But the compassionate manager recognises that disagreeing with someone, giving them corrective feedback or keeping them accountable can all sit very comfortably in the context of compassion. In fact, delivering difficult messages in a compassionate way can actually make it more likely that the employee will listen, rather than delivering difficult messages in an angry way causing them to react defensively or shutting down to the conversation.

The great news is that it’s possible for us all to cultivate more compassion. A number of programs have been developed that aim at cultivating compassion through lived experiences, meditative practices and other techniques. So, why not give it a try? Here are some steps for managers to keep in mind when developing a compassionate approach with employees. Remember the acronym C.A.R.E.:

Create space, calmness and awareness.

  • Step out of autopilot and notice your own frustration, anger or whatever your feelings may be. Rather than being reactive, take time to reflect on the kind of compassionate manager you would like to be and create intention to respond according to that.

Activate empathy, understanding and acceptance

  • Use careful active listening to aid in your understanding of the person, their concerns and their struggles. Avoid jumping to criticism and reprimand, and instead try to remember the whole person, who they are beyond this current mistake. Try to see the situation from their perspective and think about how you might be helpful.

Reflect on your shared humanity

  • Remember that we are all human beings, doing the best we can. All of us have good bits and not so good bits. Forgive them their mistakes, and acknowledge their strengths. Remember your own mistakes and how they helped you to grow.

Enact kindness, care and support

  • Don’t crush them further. You don’t need to let them get away with it. But treat them kindly and fairly, help them constructively learn a lesson and inspire them to do better because they know you genuinely care.

Incorporating compassionate management practices into a business creates so many opportunities. Not least, compassionate management makes a positive contribution to people and their well-being. Furthermore, it also benefits the corporate bottom line, making it the secret ingredient to corporate success.

For more information on Dr Steindl and the team of Clinical Psychologists at Psychology Consultants visit our website www.psychologyconsultants.com.au

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Sydney Musings and the Charter for Compassion

Posted on June 9, 2015 in Uncategorized - 0 comments - 0

STanby Dr Stan Steindl, Clinical Psychologist, Psychology Consultants, Pty Ltd

Sydney Musings

Whenever I’m in a big city, I love to watch the people. Today in Sydney I’ve taken time out to just sit and connect with the humanity of the place. It smacks you in the face, the heaving, seething, weaving masses of people. And yet I marvel at the way that, despite all these individuals, the group generally functions pretty well. How do they do it?

Of course, there are certain exceptions. But it really is incredible how this large number of people are able to live their lives in such a cooperative way. I notice how they move about:

People collect at a street corner while the traffic flows past them. Then the traffic stops, and the people make their way across the road. The crowd seems to thin for a few moments, and then the traffic moves again and another group of people start to collect on the street corner.

It may seem simple, or even mundane, and yet there is an elegance to the way people exist together. It’s like a dance. Everyone is cooperating with one another.

I also notice, beyond this simple cooperation, that there is something more.

Just in front of me, a little boy trips over. His mother bends down and picks him up, soothing him and gently rubbing his sore knee. Then over my shoulder I hear a man sitting in the cafe behind me call out, “My compliments to the chef, those eggs were sublime!” And then the proverbial happens: A young woman approaches an older woman heavily ladened with grocery bags, and helps her across the street.

These acts of comfort, gratitude and kindness are happening all the time, all around us, every day. It reminds me that what really makes society work is people’s natural and innate adherence to the “golden rule”. Treat others as we would wish them to treat us.

Every religion of the world, every spiritual tradition, every philosophical or ethical approach is imbedded with the principle of compassion. In fact, compassion is adaptive. As Charles Darwin said in The Descent of Man, “communities, which included the greatest number of the most sympathetic members, would flourish best, and rear the greatest number of offspring.” And it is no less true for us now than when our ancient ancestors were cooperating with one another, looking after one another, to survive the harsh realities of the world in which they found themselves.

Compassion is hard-wired within us. People practice compassion everyday. But perhaps there is also more we can do. Perhaps Sydney could do more? Or the other capital cities around Australia? Or even our smaller communities? Well, the good news is that there is a worldwide movement that is trying to achieve just that.

The Charter for Compassion

In 2008, Karen Armstrong received the TED prize for a talk she presented titled “Compassion: An urgent global imperative.” From there she used the prize money to found the Charter for Compassion. The Charter’s vision is “A world where everyone is committed to living by the principle of compassion.” Since its inception, the Charter has developed a worldwide network of hundreds of cities, towns and countries who have declared their commitment to cultivate compassion within their communities.

In 2010, the Australian Federal Parliament was one of the first governments in the world to sign the Charter, but it is now time to be doing more. Anyone and everyone can sign up to the Charter, as individuals or organisations. Let’s start to form compassionate communities, compassionate cities, compassionate universities and compassionate organisations throughout Australia. Let’s join the movement, and take action. If you are interested, go to www.charterforcompassion.org and learn about starting a Compassionate Community Initiative.

And in the meantime, here’s a little task for you. See if you can notice, as you carry out your day, examples of beautiful acts of cooperation, comfort, gratitude, appreciation, forgiveness, kindness or compassion from one human being to another. It might be something you do, or something you observe from a family member, a friend, a colleague or even a stranger. Let’s celebrate the compassion that is all around us everyday, and have that inspire us to bring even more compassion to the world in which we live.

To read more about Dr Steindl and the team of Clinical Psychologists at Psychology Consultants visit our website www.psychologyconsultants.com.au

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Compassion’s place at the borders: A response to Andrew Bolt

Posted on June 1, 2015 in Uncategorized - 1 comment - 0

STanBy Dr Stan Steindl, Clinical Psychologist

I’ve always been bemused by the apparent derogatory term “do-gooder”. I wondered to myself, “Isn’t doing good a good thing?” I mean, doing good is reflected in the Golden Rule, is it not? Treat others the way we would want to be treated by them.

This concept, broadly described as “compassion”, is in every religious tradition, and every philosophical, moral and ethical doctrine since ancient times.

So, of course, I shook my head sadly when I came across Andrew Bolt’s recent article in the Herald Sun, in which he declared “Border is no place for compassion.” Sigh.

Charles Darwin said in Decent of Man, “communities, which included the greatest number of the most sympathetic members, would flourish best, and rear the greatest number of offspring.” He actually said nothing about survival of the fittest, that was said by a fellow called Herbert Spencer. Darwin’s assertion could actually be translated as survival of the kindest.

Humans are at their best when they are kind, cooperative and compassionate. Now, this does not mean boundless compassion. Compassion is not the same as simply “being nice” or “giving in” or “letting people off the hook”. But we also know that reprimand, humiliation, punishment, and imprisonment more often have costly effects, especially in the contexts of social, cultural or racial differences. Resentment deepens, divides widen, intentions worsen and people start to take sides.

Compassion is often defined as a feeling and an action. Professor Paul Gilbert, from the Compassionate Mind Foundation in the UK, defines compassion as “…an awareness and sensitivity to the suffering of others, with a motivation and commitment to try and alleviate it.”

And compassion has many benefits. Professor James Doty from Stanford University’s Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education (CCARE) in the US, has found in the research that “compassion results in lower blood pressure…increases in the immune function…decreases in stress…compassion is what it’s going to be that saves our species.”

Compassion is good for the receiver and the giver, leading to improvements in the well-being of all.

Mr Bolt’s threat system is activated. He is afraid, and his fight/flight response comes through in his writing. And that’s perfectly ok. We all experience shock and fear in response to the horrors that are happening around the world. These are very difficult times, and the people he is talking about in his article are very different from him and are perceived as a very dangerous threat.

There is no doubt that when we are feeling threatened, compassion is difficult to practice. People worry that compassion will make them weak, or they will be taken advantage of, or they will be harmed in some way. But compassion is strong. It is wise. It is considered. It is kind. It is collaborative. It is encompassing. It is for the benefit of all parties.

Compassion is exactly what we need at our borders. In fact, compassion is what we need at all borders: borders between one person and the next, one family and the next, one community and the next, and one nation and the next. At the borders, compassion promotes peace.

Chris Hadfield is the astronaut well-known for singing Space Oddity from the International Space Station. He also had many insights while in space. Not least he said that looking down from above at our beautiful blue planet, “…you recognise the unanimity of our existence. The commonality.”

When we widen our gaze it is very clear that there is no “us and them”, there is only “us”. And we need to find a way to make compassion work so that we can all look after us. It will take time to shift in the direction of compassion, especially for governments who have so many competing responsibilities. But it seems to me that it is imperative that we do shift into an age of compassion.

Everything depends on it.

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