Host Robert Strock discusses how to continually develop self-compassion by identifying the healing intentions that lie at the heart of who we are. All too frequently when we have challenging feelings, we react in negative emotional l ways, which is an expression of (usually unconscious) self-rejection. That’s when it’s time to remind ourselves that our feelings aren’t the most important part of who we are. Feelings are feelings, and in many cases, they’re perpetually involuntary. We can reduce self-rejection by identifying feelings and recognizing that though we have those feelings, they are not the best reflections of our central identity. Each of us has a place inside where we want to be good and helpful. That person who lies beneath the feelings and consistently desires good, that’s the most essential person who can move toward healing self-rejection.
In this light, deep ongoing awareness requires not just feeling challenging emotions or expressing them, but moving toward tolerance, acceptance, caring, and empathy to these feelings and ourselves. When we feel difficult feelings, we must continually ask ourselves how we can care for ourselves while being immersed in those feelings. Going back to and identifying and activating our core caring intentions of goodness, empathy, and helpfulness is a process of developing self-love. Continue to ask, “What intention will lead me toward caring and compassion?” This process of recognizing our challenges and responding with caring leads us toward self-acceptance and reduced self-rejection. Identifying our healing intentions and then asking how we help ourselves helps us move in that direction.
Resources related to this episode
Robert Strock Website
Robert’s Book, Awareness that Heals
Free Downloadable Introspective Guides
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Awareness That Heals, Episode 20.
Robert Strock: (00:03)
So it’s a matter of lifelong training that when you’re feeling suffering in any form that you train yourself, I am the one who doesn’t want to let my challenging feelings be the source of my next thoughts. I am the one that wants my best self to guide my thoughts.
The Awareness That Heals podcast helps its listeners learn to develop the capacity, to have a more healing response to emotions and situations rather than becoming stuck. Your host, Robert Strock has practiced psychotherapy for more than 45 years. He wrote the book Awareness That Heals, Bringing Heart and Wisdom to Life’s Challenges, to help develop self-caring and the capacity to respond in an effective way to life’s challenges. Especially at times when we are most prone to be critical or to withdraw together, we will explore how to become aware of our challenging feelings and at the same time find alternative ways to live a more fulfilling and inspiring life.
Robert Strock: (01:09)
Welcome again to Awareness That Heals, Bringing Heart and Wisdom to Life’s Challenges. We’re talking about something again, that is really subtle. And I feel a need to emphasize how subtle it is because we can think we can understand the word subtle when we hear it. But by definition it means our understanding might not be enough that we say, oh yeah, okay I get it, subtle. Well, maybe you do. Maybe you don’t. Maybe I do. Maybe I don’t. So it’s very insidious how we reject ourselves in ways that are unseen. The ones that are seen, it’s still difficult to deal with. If we’re criticizing ourselves, that’s hard enough. But what about when it’s below the surface and it’s happening on a feeling level, responding to feelings with no thoughts. So the theme again, today, that we’ll be dealing with is how we can move from self-rejection towards self-compassion.
Robert Strock: (02:19)
So, as I was mentioning in prior episodes, the being able to see and feel my own feelings of inadequacy and uselessness and contractions and withdrawals really helped me after the transplant to identify the feelings and then to see that I didn’t like it. I hated the fact that I couldn’t feel love. I couldn’t feel joy. I couldn’t feel tenderness anywhere near. I was in the single digits of percentages of how much I could feel it, relative to what I had my whole life. And one of the things that I didn’t talk about in the prior episodes is that I would say to myself, this isn’t you, this is the chemistry. And it’s so important that whether it’s chemistry or hormones or depression or anxiety or whatever the feeling is that you’re in that you, that you say to yourself, if you can find that place, this isn’t you, this isn’t what your real aspirations are.
Robert Strock: (03:33)
This isn’t your passion. This isn’t your essence. This is your feelings. And these feelings almost perpetually are involuntary. Now some of them, yeah occasionally we can earn a feeling, but usually feelings happen from the unconscious. And yeah, we can create some good feelings sometimes when our chemistry is balanced and we don’t have some of the conditions that, that cause it to be more difficult. But when, when you start to identify, oh, this is the hormones, this is the lifelong anxiety. I’m still here as someone who aspires to help, I’m still here as someone who aspires to be the best person I can be given the conditions that I’m facing. So it’s that identification of a feeling. And then the disidentification with it not being who you are, that’s extremely helpful. And moving forward, the loss of energy is due to the chemicals and the loss of sleep.
Robert Strock: (04:43)
I am the one who can see my feelings and others fairly well and can help guide. And certainly I’m the one that wants to help guide on the one that wants to help see. So I realized that if I was going to react off of those feelings, I never could do anything positive. But if I reacted off those feelings in the form of self-rejection, which would be automatic, because if you’re going to let really your most difficult feelings lead to your next thoughts, I assure you, there’s going to be elements of self-rejection there. So all I can do, if I let myself react off of those feelings is make it worse. And so it’s a matter of lifelong training that when you’re feeling suffering in any form that you train yourself, I am the one who doesn’t want to let my challenging feelings be the source of my next thoughts.
Robert Strock: (05:58)
I am the one that wants my best self to guide my thoughts. I am the one that wants to make my best efforts. And when I say best efforts, I don’t mean perfect efforts. I don’t mean that you might not have a few habits that are not healing. I don’t mean that you’re God, you know, in the sense of perfection or without faults. I mean, if there was a core intention inside you, that wants to be good, that wants to be helpful. And that that’s the dominant intention inside you. That’s who you are. And when you recognize that’s who you are, and that’s who I want to guide my thoughts. I don’t want these feelings to be the ones that guide my thoughts. And it’s hard. This is not easy to practice. It’s not even that easy to understand, but it really is as close to a psychological lobotomy as anything I know to actually retrain your mind, not to follow your feelings when they’re challenged, just want to say having been a licensed psychotherapist, as long as I have, which is a long time, this is not anywhere near what we’re trained to do.
David Knapp: (07:35)
This is nothing about what we’re trained to do and how we’re trained to help people as psychotherapists. Can you speak to that?
Robert Strock: (07:46)
Yeah, it’s, it’s, it’s a very sad subject, really with obviously some significant exceptions. I think a significant minority of therapists recognize that our compassionate self, our caring self, our heart of hearts, our soul is the center of our life. And creating some sense of purpose is who we are at the core, but the general trend of therapy is to be well adjusted to the world. And I have to admit, I have a little bit of a, what might be accurately called I’d like to say skepticism, but it might even be cynicism that, yeah, well, that’s right. We’re going to adjust to a world. That’s crazy. We’re going to adjust to, uh, the world that’s really, at some level always been at war has always been dominantly self-centered and therapy has a tendency more often than not to be validating of the self, even the concept of self-esteem, which is a key core concept.
Robert Strock: (09:08)
Isn’t tied into giving that esteem to others in a significant way. And so it’s very important for the therapists that are listening, that we take a look at, especially at this time period, that mental health is tied to the health of the world. It does require educating again, as I’ve said, many times in prior episodes, healthy neurotics I’m not talking about severe depressives or severe anxiety, uh, conditions. Although I am talking about that relative to wisdom, but I’m saying that that the idea of adjusting to the world or the idea of self-esteem or the idea of validating the ego. So you have a better sense of self is doomed to reinforce the conditions of the world. Because I imagine two therapists, one saying the wife, one saying the husband, they’re both being validated. If their practice is significantly oriented towards validating and assuming the Goodwill and not closely checking out the truth, then if they ever came together, the therapist would have to be in a fight with each other because no, no, my client’s not that way.
Robert Strock: (10:39)
And so I’ve had a lot of experience with therapists of which now, probably I’ve had better than average experience. I think probably at least half the time it’s been great, but half the time they’re just on their client’s side and representing, oh no, they’re, they’re the ones that are more open with their emotions and et cetera, et cetera. And when we get concrete, okay, well, could you elaborate more what that is and, and, and trying to understand what their frame of reference is, but when you see that validation, self-esteem, adjusting to the world is by far the more dominant emphasis than compassion, interconnectedness, taking care of others, taking care of the world as a significant part of self-esteem, that is only a smaller percentage of therapists. So there are movements and there are therapists that are very different than that. And I could, I could list, I’ve already listed Viktor Frankl as, as one of my heroes, and there’s probably at least eight or 10 others that, that I overwhelmingly admire.
Robert Strock: (11:56)
But the general trend is when, when people ask me for a referral to a therapist, I tell them that my, my view of therapy in general is it doesn’t really help. The person become more fulfilled, inspired, or more in their hearts. It does frequently help them become more aware of their emotions and much too often encourages them to express their emotions, whether their partner’s ready for it or not. So yes, yes in these key ways, it’s very, very different.
David Knapp: (12:31)
And just to amplify that last point, because it’s so important. Feelings, feeling-centered therapy in so many different varieties is different, very different than what we’ve been talking about.
Robert Strock: (12:47)
I mean, if I was going to try to have a parallel name, it would be wisdom-centered therapy, and it would become clear that wisdom is by far more important than feelings by far, feelings are really important. And to be aware of feelings is really important. And to be, feeling the feelings, is very important then expressing them, not so much now, for someone that never expresses anger. Yeah. It’s important to learn how to express anger. Of course, it’s very important. Otherwise they’re going to become depressed, but as it, as a rule of thumb, the, the importance of learning, how to be with feelings, how to care for your own feelings, how to care for others feelings, not just feel them, not just express them, but how to go to that exact opposite level of self-rejection, but to move toward tolerance, toward acceptance, toward caring, toward empathy is so crucial.
Robert Strock: (13:51)
And I don’t think most therapists in theory would disagree with me that much, but in practice, the idea of moving toward containing feelings and, and working with them mostly within, I think in practice, that’s not very rule, that’s more the exception. So one of the things we talked about, which I just want to say again to emphasize, because it’s so important that medications, hormones, DNA, trauma, any kind of difficult conditioning is going to set a whole tidal wave of feelings inside us on an ongoing basis. Maybe not a hundred percent of the time, but the bulk of every day, that’s going to be running through us. We were, we were inadequate, we’re going to feel we were inadequate. We were told we were superior, we’re going to have, we’re going to feel that we’re superior. If we were abused, we’re going to feel abused. And so it’s important to be aware of our feelings, but then it’s so important to really look at how can I best deal with these feelings?
Robert Strock: (15:13)
Are these feelings, ones that down deep underneath them are part of a chain reaction that leads me to either act out or to withdraw inside myself and to have my heart be less a part of my life. So it’s, it’s crucial. It’s really crucial that we both become aware of our feelings as an equal part of our life and how to care for our feelings much more frequently than rejecting them by caring for our feelings. I don’t mean it’s really good that you dumped your anger. I don’t mean that it’s really good that you feel depressed. It’s really good that you feel anxious. I mean, it’s really hard that you feel those things. It’s going to require, which actually reminds me of another thing, it’s going to require you to really be a legitimate hero, to have terribly difficult feelings, to ask that question of how can I be my best self, that is a true act of courage, a true act of wisdom, a true act of heart, whether you can feel it or not.
Robert Strock: (16:37)
And that is something that should be a trademark, I wish could be a trademark of good therapy that what you feel is not the key it’s how you respond to what you feel and your thoughts, your actions, and your attitudes. I want to encourage you as you’re listening to this, to please use yourself and your feelings that are hardest for you. Don’t just listen to what I’m talking about. The whole point is to drop into yourself and to scan what are those feelings and go to the very bottom and the sides, in the middle of those feelings and recognize from that place. It’s very hard not to instinctively reject yourself. Now, if you were here, I would ask you to raise your hand. If you think that’s not true for you, which I’ve done in workshops.
Robert Strock: (17:42)
And invariably it gets a laugh because everyone realizes when you’re in your worst feelings, it’s really hard not to reject yourself. And that key question of how do I best take care of myself, or how do I best ask others to take care of me? Or how do I best take care of others when they’re feeling difficult feelings that is the process or the guidance to put you in a pointer to really look for your best self. Because the key thing of what, whether you call it, following your wisdom, or following your best self, or listening to what God is guiding you towards, or letting your spiritual silence guide you, I don’t care what kind of words you use. What I do care about is that you listening to your reality and in your own words, you’re guiding yourself to your best self. So maybe even as we’re doing this right now, just take a look and ask what feelings do you have that are challenging, that repeat in your life that you least like, and just give yourself a minute to feel whether it’s anxiety or inadequacy or shame or guilt or anger, and just allow that feeling to be uncontrived, as much as possible, if it’s not in the moment. Recognizing that, even though it’s a little contrived to go out of the moment, let it come from a sincere intention to want to navigate from that place as best you can.
Speaker 1: (19:34)
And then to ask that question, how much do I tolerate? How much do I even ask the question? Have I ever asked the question? Am I ever gonna ask the question of “How do I bring myself to be my best self, given I’m in this very challenging state that would be difficult for everyone? How can I care for my feelings and beyond them? What would my thoughts be?” It’s natural that you feel this way now let’s go have the best conversation we can have with X person or return the emails right now, even though you feel like burying your head in the sand or lie down, lie down, give yourself the freedom to lie down and put your hand on your heart and breathe as rhythmically as you can. That will help you, just put your hand on your heart. See if you can understand that gradually falling in love with the question of how I best take care of myself and all the different ways that that goes on, whether it’s toward others or others towards you, that you, the question itself is a form of self-love.
Robert Strock: (20:59)
It is self-compassionate itself. And especially if you trust the sincerity, if you, if you aren’t in a terrible place, if you can feel some love, if you’re in a terrible place, really terrible place, that you can somehow trust the wisdom enough to keep asking the question and that combination of those two things, including looking at the self-rejection component is gold. It’s real gold. Gold is fool’s gold. Another example in a general way of moving from self-rejection toward self-acceptance, let’s just assume that anxiety has been your demon since your childhood. Well let’s, let’s include anxiety and depression, either one of those two, and you didn’t do anything to cause it particularly, you might think you did. You might have told yourself a story that started when I was eight years old because of so-and-so and so-and-so, but actually very likely if it started in your single digit years is genetic and it really isn’t who you are.
Robert Strock: (22:15)
It’s what your inheritance was on an emotional level, on a neurological level, on a DNA level and, and see that you really didn’t do anything worse than the person that was born next door, who actually was just born in a happy state. And that doesn’t mean they are more worthy. It certainly doesn’t mean they’re more wise. It may mean they’re more happy, but that shows how superficial happiness is for most people when it’s not associated with their intentions in life. And really being there for the world for the country, for our friends, for our loved ones, that’s the real source of happiness. Whereas the genetic component is what we inherited. And again, it’s important that you say to yourself, this is my neurology and I don’t deserve to reject myself. I don’t deserve to reject myself. I’m not doing, uh, not feeling this way and I’m not in this state on purpose.
Robert Strock: (23:48)
So it’s developing enough trust to be able to stay aware of these feelings and then asking yourself, what is my core intention. Now you may have actually had an altered core intention because you’re feeling so angry about feeling so lousy for so long. And even that isn’t your real self. So take a look at the fact that you may have developed some of your wants just to get out of people’s contact, just to avoid feeling worse. So you might’ve been an isolate. But, if you start to see you don’t deserve it, you, you weren’t feeling this way. You aren’t feeling this way on purpose. Then you have a chance to re-establish your original innocence that you may never have had a chance to start right out of the gate. Maybe even, when your first breath, you might’ve been depressed or anxious. So how can anyone let’s just imagine that this is God speaking. How can any God judge somebody when they’re coming out of the mother’s womb and they’re feeling lousy or they’re feeling good? Oh, this is a good one. This is a bad one.
Robert Strock: (25:04)
Somehow being able to see that develops the ability to ask yourself, what do I want to be my core intention in life? Our core predominating intentions are who we are, not our feelings, not even our reactive intentions. We may want to hurt somebody because we’re off, because we can’t tolerate being so anxious or depressed, but it might be rooted in self-rejection making us so contracted and uptight that we’re just angry. But if we start to develop the ability to say to ourselves, I didn’t do this on purpose. This would be hard for anyone. What do I really intuitively believe for myself matters in life and we see, and we know from our wisdom or our truest sense of self, that we want to be a caring person and that caring might have to be developed, developed through our mind.
Robert Strock: (26:07)
It might have to be developed through our actions. We may need to be more open and say, you know what? That was the depression speaking. That was my anxiety speaking. Let me come back. Cause I want to, I want to come from a, a place that really is what matters to me because it might have to be an intuitive knowing that knows that you love your wife or your husband, cause you might be feeling that lousy and they may not be able to understand that. So you may have to keep that private because it may be insulting. You don’t love me. What are you talking about? But you can know that. And just knowing that allows another level of ease, or maybe it’s in the form of reducing self-condemnation. I know of a lot of couples where one partner was going through this experience where they told me in private, I don’t think I really love my wife because this is how I feel this and that and this and that.
Robert Strock: (27:07)
And we track it down and they felt this way since they were a child. And they’ve never loved anyone in traditional terms because they’ve always had that painting from birth from early childhood, early trauma. And they identified with the feelings. The key is to identify the feelings and then gradually disidentify with the feelings from your wisdom, from your best self. So do you identify with even a more minor version of, well, I’m saying that you speak from your feelings, but you know, it’s not your core best intention and that you want to guide yourself back to your core, best intention. And that, you know, that’s more who you really are. It’s just that sometimes those feelings get the best of you. Who doesn’t that happen to? And you might very well be someone who’s been given a dose of a hundred times the intensity of those feelings and never have known it.
Robert Strock: (28:13)
So all of us need to do that inquiry of what is my core predominant intention. Do I really want to be more toward the good or more toward the bad? Now my experience is when I really ask somebody that, and I tell them, don’t tell me what you feel, tell me what your real intention is in life, in what you consider to be your most true self or your best self. I haven’t met anyone yet. They say, well, this is what I feel. So this is what, this is what I think. Now I’m not talking about that. So when you take the time to go back to your predominating intention and you recognize that your feelings have gotten the best of you, it can allow you to move toward self-acceptance and lessen the self-rejection. And if you haven’t gotten anything else from what’s been said, let yourself get that.
Robert Strock: (29:17)
You want to keep asking yourself, “What is my core intention in life? What do I really believe from my best self matters most to me, even though I haven’t acted that way, even though I haven’t expressed those feelings, how do I wish I could have manifested those feelings?” That’s your wisdom. That’s your true identity. Now that’s not meant to be an excuse that oh, okay, means it doesn’t matter, I can just keep reacting off my feelings. No, it becomes an aspiration to dedicate yourself, to ask that question more and more often, what is my truest set of intentions and how can I help myself to go there to develop more compassion and self-compassion for my benefit and for the benefit of those around me. Thanks so much.
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