Host Robert Strock and guest David Knapp discuss the continuing process of developing self-compassion. Difficult emotions elicit many predictable “normal” forms of self-rejection, such as withdrawing, anger, or fixing. However, normal doesn’t mean healthy. We can learn to accept challenging feelings as part of our human experience while learning to stop patterns of self-rejection. As we learn to recognize our forms of self-rejection, we can also learn to look deep inside ourselves and recognize the part, sometimes the small part, of ourselves that acknowledges that we don’t feel difficult feelings on purpose and that’s ready to provide self-compassion.
This is the ongoing path to self-acceptance, where we look for ways to meet our emotional needs and encourage thoughts that support us. This process of questioning and searching inside ourselves trains us to act as our own guide to a balanced inner life. Finally, the path toward self-acceptance and self-compassion is a process. The skills are developed over years, while we continually work toward recognizing, acknowledging, and empathizing with ourselves.
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Awareness That Heals, Episode 21.
Robert Strock: (00:06)
That you develop a trust, maybe at first it’s intellectual that you can shift a gear. And the shifting of the gear is toward some kind of caring, some kind of acceptance, some kind of tolerance. And if you wait too long, you can assume that your subconscious has shifted, shifted gears into self-rejection.
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: (01:15)
I liked to give you a warm welcome again, to Awareness That Heals, Bringing Heart and Wisdom to Life’s Challenges. We’re going to continue to talk again about something that is so very subtle. That is the most hidden kind of suffering, where unless we pay very, very close attention, it can own us. It’s really kind of insidious how we reject ourselves in ways that are so often unseen. And the theme that we’ll be expanding on today is how we can continue to move from self-rejection toward self-compassion. I’d like to start by introducing my partner at the Golden Bridge Foundation, a 50 year closest friend, Dave.
David Knapp: (02:13)
Great to be here, looking forward to continuing this conversation and, um, and getting to it.
Robert Strock: (02:22)
All right. So in the prior episodes, we’ve talked about how we first need to ground ourselves by discovering the challenging emotions or challenging situations. And a real key is asking ourselves the question, how can I move toward self-compassion with this challenging feeling? And that’s the first step of it, because we need to take care of our feeling. We can move beyond our feeling. We need to stay with whatever it is that’s most difficult at the time. And then that question continues with, and then beyond the challenging feeling, how can I move toward self-compassion? So if, for example, we’re anxious, we need to say anxiety, I see you, I see it’s really difficult. And how can I deal with this conversation I’m in right now? Or how can I carry both the kindness or the acceptance or the tolerance, or the attempt toward tolerance of the challenging emotion and then move into my life right after that. So in a certain way, it’s two steps. It’s relating to the emotion and then relating to what we need to focus on beyond the emotion.
Robert Strock: (04:05)
And we started to give examples and we’re going to today provide a lot more examples, but as I’ve spoken many, many times about that, as we give these examples, please, please look for your own examples. This is not a lecture. You know trying to have you relate and understand how this happens for someone else. This is about you superimposing your own challenges your ways and looking the best way you can for how underground you might be rejecting yourself emotionally. The whole point is you. And I don’t think I can say that enough because the tendency is just to listen and understand and thinking you’re understanding, but that understanding is not very helpful because it gives you the illusion that you can practice it. And the only real benefit that you’re going to have is starting to identify with your challenges and how you reject yourself and then how to move toward self-compassion.
Robert Strock: (05:22)
So let’s start off with a feeling of insecurity or anxiety being what you’re dealing with. My experience both professionally and personally, is the common way that we deal with that is to have a bare glimpse or no glimpse. And we bury it because we don’t particularly like it. So we, I won’t even say stuff and underground, I would say our unconscious, it makes it disappear. And we might, when we feel insecure, anxious, we might overcompensate or defend, but acting confident, changing the subject, being an expert, or blaming the other. And only by being honest and aware with ourselves, with the starting point of the challenge, do we have a chance to deal with the self-rejection? You can’t deal with self-rejection if you aren’t aware of what you’re rejecting yourself for, and certainly, you can’t even move towards self-acceptance as well. So one of the ways that’s really helpful to start to deal with moving towards self-acceptance or self-compassion is to talk about it with a friend or perhaps it’s a counselor, a therapist, or a religious or spiritual counselor, and explore how to deal with the difficult feelings and to look at, gee, do I have some constellation of feelings that comes after that?
Robert Strock: (07:04)
Like we’re talking about with the insecurity and the anxiety, moving to inadequacy or depression, or maybe compensating toward anger and seeing that this is really the way that we can evolve in our lives. Because if we leave it to itself, we’re just going to stay insecure or anxious or whatever is your most challenging emotion. And we’ll die that way. There’s a very high likelihood that if we don’t pay close attention to this, we’ll spend our whole life feeling. The challenges unconsciously, rejecting ourselves unconsciously, not moving towards self, self-acceptance, or self-compassion consciously, and that’s pretty normal. But as we’ve talked about many times before, normal doesn’t mean healthy. So it’s so important that we communicate this with ourselves. We communicate this with our closest friend or allies or counselor, and there are so many different areas, but just to name a few, it may have to do with how we take care of our body, how we take care of our love life, how we take care of our relationship to money or psychology for our spiritual lives. For those that believe that’s a central part of life. So all of these examples that we’re going to be giving are designed to help you identify your patterns. So please change the facts. If you say, gee, that’s kind of like me and I, I go rambling on, stay with you, apply it to yourself. And I’m going to repeat that over and over again because that is the intention of this podcast.
David Knapp: (09:09)
Just want to say I’ve seen a transition in the pattern I have relative to health. As I look at it from the point of view of being 72, it makes sense to me, uh, it especially makes sense to me. And earlier in life, uh, feeling confident, uh, feeling immortal, feeling a sense of, uh, awareness that it’s not, this life is not going to last forever, but not really being in touch with it. And now having, uh, health issues to contend with, serious ones, two surgeries with my wife in the last six months. I now see that the anxiety that I, as you described before, put aside, I wasn’t aware of, uh, wasn’t even aware that I was unaware of it, really is now penetrated into me in a way that I can’t help but feel vulnerable and I can’t help but feel anxious, uh, which is vulnerable. Is that the, for me, the good side of my anxiety, which, which I worked to get to, but it’s really been hard, really been hard.
Robert Strock: (10:25)
Yeah. I mean, I, I think that that’s a great example. And certainly, as we get older, it’s a universal example. And I especially liked the way you said that. Not really looked at it. You know, we think we’re looking at it and say, oh yeah, I’m aware I’m going to die. Or I’m aware of that. I’m going to get sick like everybody else, but it’s the head that’s talking. It’s not really resonating or reverberating around the body, but as you’re dealing with the anxiety, the question is, is the tendency to just stay anxious? Or is there another voice or another part of you, that’s really your essential self that’s saying it’s perfectly natural to feel anxious. And maybe there’s a, I was going to say commercial interruption, but, but really as a healing interruption, they’re saying to you, it’s natural that you feel anxious.
Robert Strock: (11:30)
And at that moment, when you say that it may sound like it’s going to make it worse, but really it’s a kindness. It’s a relaxing with it without having the illusion that you can take it away. And clearly, the thing to watch for really with this is one withdrawing from the, or maybe as accurately said, removing your heart from yourself, forgetting that you can still care for yourself while you’re anxious. Like you may say, I still like you. You’re not a bad guy. You know, just because you’re anxious, you know, it could be really bold and say, I love you, but that’s probably a little grandiose while you’re feeling anxious, but you can say, hang in there. This is natural. And you’re still lovable while you’re there and ask how you can best deal with it and who you can communicate with about it. It’s going to be beneficial, which there aren’t many people that really know how to be with the feelings, not try to get over them, not reinforce them and look as well as to how we might be rejecting ourselves.
Robert Strock: (12:53)
So one of the ways of rejecting yourself is to withdraw from your heart or to withdraw from the anxiety. And the other one is compensating by just being more irritable, more agitated, getting in petty fights, exaggerating the fights. You’re in, thinking about how horrible the world is, how horrible, dark democracy is and just distracting from it. So we need to develop this relationship with wherever we are in a challenged sense, with a voice that is moving toward acceptance, to counteract the tendency, to have a chain reaction of bummed out feelings or angry feelings or contractions or withdrawals.
David Knapp: (13:44)
Just to amplify your point for me in my own personal life earlier. And we’re now talking 20, 22 years ago, uh, when in my family, I was the person that kind of took medical situations in my extended family, and researched them. I found that I had quickly moved through, there was an initial hit of real fear and anxiety that I, it was like running the bases in baseball, I kind of touched the base and moved on to how can I solve it? How can I deal with it? How can I help make this? Okay. Kind of, uh, almost in a, in a sense of this has a solution. This I don’t, I don’t have to have death or an end game or an outcome that is horrible and delusional, of course. Didn’t work out that way. Couldn’t have worked out that way, but that’s what I did. That’s how I coped with that. Anxiety is by almost, almost skipping it, almost like a, a glimpse and a move on a glimpse and a move on and trying to do something good, but a glimpse and a move on.
David Knapp: (15:01)
Yeah, I think that’s one of the most harmless, even though it’s harmful, uh, strategies that one can use. And for those that have listened to earlier episodes, that’s really the classic fixer. Um, uh, I’m going to fix this anxiety and I’m going to go to the doctor’s appointments. I’m going to do the research and I’m going to make it better, and I’m not going to have to feel this anymore. And it’s really not reconciling that there are many, especially existential issues in life that we don’t fix ever. We learn how to hopefully be with them, with our hearts and with our wisdom and with our ability to witness and accept where we are and then guide ourselves in the best way possible to move toward not only self-compassion, but it’s really goes into compassion too because we’re dealing with other people’s style is not just about ourselves.
Robert Strock: (16:08)
It may be a good time to take a look and pause for a minute and just ask yourself as you’ve been in your life, do you believe that you actually have paused to care about these feelings at all, or a teeny bit, a little bit maybe. And for most people, the answer is no most people haven’t even paused for two seconds to say, oh, I’m so sorry that you have to go through this anxiety for life or that you’re depressed, or that you’re going through anxiety during this situation that’s threatening or this loss or this helplessness that is really out of your control. I’m so sorry. You have to go through that. I am caring for you. And I’m going to reach out to people that are caring for me to see if that, even that first step is something that you really do in real life. And if you see that you don’t, or that you don’t very much, can you see how vital it is that we learn how to see? And, and the words I use to use are barely tolerated. What we’re experiencing and then gradually move, barely tolerate to tolerate, to accept, to be kinder, and then maybe, maybe to towards self-compassion.
Robert Strock: (17:45)
So hopefully you’re looking at this deeply enough where coming up with an actual answer that, oh, let’s see. When I feel my worst challenging feelings, is there anyone inside here that’s caring for me. This recognizing I’m not anxietying on purpose. Yeah, I know anxietying, isn’t a word, but I hope, you know what I mean. Now, in order to move toward self-acceptance, it’s really vital to see the options of what our needs are or the qualities or the thoughts are that are really supportive of us. Because if we don’t see it specifically, there’s a very good chance for lack of better words, we’ll vague out, we’ll just lose it in a generalization. And similarly, it’s very important that we see our challenging feelings very specifically makes a big difference. If we’re suffering from anxiety or jealousy or competition or superiority, there’s very different ways we need to work with each one of those.
Robert Strock: (19:07)
And so I highly encourage you to go to awarnessthatheals.org and download the free Introspective Guides, which identifies 75 of the most challenging feelings and 75 of the ways that we can support what we most need and guide us to the qualities in our heart that we most want to move toward. And it will enable us to track much more closely the source of all of these challenges because we can start to see a connection between when I’m feeling this challenging emotion. These are the three areas I need to focus on, and we can start to develop like a Pavlovian response, when we have a challenging emotion, instead of just being there and being fixated there, let alone going into self-rejection. We can start to guide ourselves, oh, this is that emotion where I have those few needs. What were those needs again? And you go back and look at the chart and you see, oh yeah, that’s right now. I remember. And for most people, it takes a year or two to really become literate about their own challenging emotions and their own challenging needs, if and only if they’re dedicated, because, for most people, it doesn’t happen.
David Knapp: (20:49)
I just want to amplify the importance of those lists in my life. And what I mean by that is, anxiety for me is, is a state that I have found myself being able to look at it, feel soft with myself, feel even a version of what I would call compassionate with myself. And then I find myself falling back into it. And then I look, and I look again, and, and they’re on that list as the word patience and perseverance, things, things that give me an understanding that this just isn’t, snap my fingers, look at something, and then it changes. It’s a, it’s a, it’s a process. And it’s so important and has been so important for me to see that.
Robert Strock: (21:44)
Yeah, I think one of the things you’re really pointing out is even when you’ve been doing this for decades, and I’m certainly including myself in this, you still forget. And for most of us, it’s daily or weekly or multiple times weekly, even if we’ve been working on ourselves for a long time. So we can’t underestimate the limited benefit of just intellectually understanding it. And you’re going a step further, you really understand it. And we can’t minimize the benefit or the lack of benefit of really being able to be self-compassionate in our great moments. And then we forget again when the anxiety rushes through our body or the anger or the depression or the helplessness or the jealousy, and we don’t think, oh, there’s another possibility, another gear we can move into another essential part of ourselves. It’s not just a theoretical part. It’s a part that can see clearly the challenge.
Robert Strock: (22:54)
It’s a part that can clearly see the needs that would most support us and then recognize this is for life. This is not an exercise or a workshop I did. And I got it. All right. Yeah, I understand it. I’ve had a number of people that said they read the book and they really understand it. And my normal response is a question of like, how long did it take you to read it? And they’d say, oh, it took me about a week. And I, I say, as sensitively and sincerely as I can, that leaves me concerned because I don’t think that anybody can, frankly, in any of the chapters, get it on a practice level without years and years practice. It doesn’t mean you can’t get it for a moment. I think everybody’s capable of having a great moment, but to stably have a response to challenging emotions that is really moving in a direction that’s going to benefit us that’s really subtle. And then as we dive deeper into seeing the constellation of self-rejections, we’re getting even more subtle. So again, hopefully, this is leading you to look at where do I do that? And if you think you don’t do that, I will just say that leaves me concerned that you’re diluting yourself.
David Knapp: (24:35)
I just want to talk about what you just said. And when you said the word, shifting gears, and I don’t know how much of our audience, uh, grew up at a time when they used cars that had stick shifts and, and gear shifts. Uh, so you, you would put it in first and accelerate kind of go up through neutral into second gear. And that’s, that’s kind of how I experience it. I experienced it that in a way each shift is a, it goes through a starting over. And sometimes it’s because, uh, whatever, whatever, sometimes it’s very traumatic situations hit me in a place I’ve never been hit before. Uh, and I expect that I expect, um, that life is going to provide me interesting challenges regardless of what I want or think is going to happen. And some of them are going to be, uh, very, you know, ultimately unsolvable, unsolvable, totally.
Robert Strock: (25:42)
I think it is a metaphor that is very, very helpful. If we can keep that in mind and then maybe many other metaphors you’d prefer to use. But the idea that whether it’s first gear or neutral, probably it’s first gear, that is your challenging emotions and that you develop a trust. Maybe at first it’s intellectual that you can shift a gear. And the shifting of the gear is toward some kind of caring, some kind of acceptance, some kind of tolerance. And if you wait too long, you can assume that your subconscious has shift, shifted gears into self-rejection. So there’s almost like two levels of shifting gears. One is where you have an awareness and you have your heart open to yourself. And the other one is I hate that emotion. And if we don’t have an awareness, our unconscious is going to keep shifting gears.
Robert Strock: (26:46)
We may find ourselves in fourth gear, by the time we are looking. And frankly, that’s not the bad news, the worst news, the real bad news is we never look. If we find ourselves in fourth gear, that means we have the most to gain. We can actually unravel fourth gear, third gear, second gear, and we can now move into a different first gear. So it’s very, very important to not be critical of ourselves. If we’ve been unconscious for a week, two weeks, three months, a lifetime in a way, the more unconscious you’ve been, the more amazing. And the more miraculous is the potential to really shift the way you live your inner life. And of course, that will lead to how you live your outer life. So the big question is, are you now glimpsing, and we’ll spend the last couple of minutes really focusing on you. What are your one or two or three greatest challenging emotions? And what are the most common constellation of feelings that are a reflection of? I don’t like this. I’m ashamed of this. I’m embarrassed. I have to hide. I’ve run away forever.
Robert Strock: (28:22)
Can you identify them specifically? If you can’t, then I’ve already given you the suggestion as to where you can look to help be more precise. And if you can, can you track that constellation of self-rejections? And then if the answer is yes, how much have you upgraded your shifting of the conscious first gear that we just talked about, where you say, I see you, and I really recognize that I can’t find anybody that this would be easy for. And, gee, staying curious, did it stop here? Or where else did I go? Or did I, did I knock somebody out emotionally by contracting? Cause I was just feeling so bad being in that state for so long that it made me uptight, or maybe I’ve withdrawn from my lover, or maybe I’ve withdrawn from sex. Can you see the patterns of what they were? And can you feel that longing or that yearning to really want to dedicate this as a practice? My deep, most sincere longing, yearning and whole point of the podcast for this episode is to stoke the fire of that part of yourself. That wants to take a look deeply at the challenges and the self-rejections, and then be able to morph that into something that’s going to serve your life and by extension serve the lives of the people around you and the people around them. So thank you very much for your hopefully rapt attention and dedication to take this to heart.
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