Self Compassion and Healing from Divorce
A new study from researchers at the University of Arizona says that self-compassion is a key attribute in healing from the pain commonly felt by the newly divorced. The researchers concluded that a combination of kindness toward oneself, recognition of common humanity, and the ability to let painful emotions pass ‘can promote resilience and positive outcomes in the face of divorce.’
The study appears in an upcoming issue of the journal Psychological Science.
Study co-author David Sbarra said that when looking at a variety of personality traits, such as self-esteem, optimism, or ease with relationships, ‘this one characteristic — self-compassion — uniquely predicts good outcomes.’
This concept of ‘self-compassion’ is high on our radar, as I write about my recovery from a serious gym injury that has haunted me for almost two years and my good fortune of connecting with Philadelphia body psychotherapist and now good friend Elle Gayda.
Ellen cured my gym injury within a week, snapping my dislocated pubic bone into place. Unfortunately, my physical therapist didn’t go looking in my pubic bone zone, focusing instead on the sprained/strained muscle theory of gym injury. Many of the exercises I was doing to correct the problem only caused me more pain and suffering.
I would love to say that Ellen Gayda fixed my problem; I hopped off her massage table and was back on the treadmill at 4.7 mph or the elliptical machine for 60 minutes — 90 if I wanted to make a point to myself. My recovery from months of muscle degeneration and lack of exercise has been much more difficult, leaving me to feel like Rocky Balboa yesterday when I hit 3.5 and maintained the pace.
It was at that moment that I looked in the mirror and found the Anne I love again, after months of being angry, frustrated and judgmental with myself over my physical deterioration. Having lost 20 of the 30 pounds that I gained in the last two years, I’m ready again to explore again for all of us.
Being analyzed, an avid reader of psychology books for decades, and an adventurer at heart, I feel most days that I don’t have all that much to learn on the fundamentals of our relationship with our bodies. And yet, with Ellen I feel in deep water, on a new path to understanding the mind/body connection that so influences the lives of women.
Where we are going with this research, I do not know. But we have set sail in the open winds.
I mentioned to Ellen new research on a previously-posted AOC article Ballerinas Emotionally Detached from Bodies vs Meditation Practitioners AOC Body & Culture.
In research that comes perfectly timed for the size 0 body debate and the pursuit of ‘Black Swan’ bodies as the ideal beauty body in women, researchers found that ballet dancers who devote enormous focus and self discipline developing precise control over their bodies lack the mind-body connection in most other people.
The study published in the journal ‘Emotion’ December 2010 found that veteran practitioners of Vipassana or mindfulness meditation — a technique focused on observing thoughts, feelings, breathing and heartbeat, without judgment — showed the closest mind-body connection.
No Size 0 Salsa Lover
We all know that I’m not a size 0 ballet dancer, nor do I want that for myself. My self-photography project from 2003-2005 intensely, and sporadically after that, helped me develop a finely-attuned connection between mind and body — or so I thought — along with a size 8 body that made me deliriously happy.
Perhaps because the connection was new to me, it was more easily lost in what became a tumultuous period in my life the past couple years. And perhaps I still have my own bad habits when the subject is my relationship with my body.
Ellen has convinced me that there is much more to learn about why we treat ourselves in non-nurturing ways and why even wise-woman Anne refuses to listen up, when her body is talking.
‘Black Swan’ Women
‘Black Swan’ | George Balanchine | Battling BMI Beauty in Ballet AOC Body & Culture
Anne, thanks for the article. From a body psychotherapist perspective I can say that the “Mind Over Matter” mantra from the past has been long overdone. The truth is our bodies are the matter (of the earth) that needs our mindful consciousness to inhabit so we become enlivened. When a person learns mindfulness meditation one is awakened to the present moment and each feeling is aligned with a bodily response and experienced anew.
The body may respond free of emotion but not feeling. Feelings are different than emotions and are by nature capable of being free unlike emotions, that are more closely connected to past experiences.
Becoming numb to one’s feelings as is suggested in the research article is a form of disassociation from the self which likes to inhabit the body. It takes courage to inhabit our clay vessel bodies and remain open to the authentic communicative responses that our bodies express. When our responsive nature is considered an annoyance and inconvenience to our own will forces that want to override healthy bodily limitations we risk falling down a slippery slope of self abuse.
Learning how to train oneself to move within the body into masterful expression is a different story. A dear friend and Philadelphia based choreographer Kun-Yang Lin of Kun-Yang Lin /Dancers has spent the last three years training and retraining his dance troupe to move from the inside out by bringing in Eastern based disciplines into his weekly classes.
Our challenge of living in the twenty first century, as ever-evolving human beings, is not to transcend our bodies but to fully embody them with awareness. We are being invited to develop an intimate and exquisite relationship with our selves in our bodies as a living organism. This requires embracing an ecology of consciousness similar to becoming a steward of the earth. See my last Summer 2011 newsletter article “In Search of Healing” under What’s New” for more thoughts on the correlation between our Earth and our bodies.
I think that some people are confused on how to interpret the messages that come from the physical body, from those that come from the emotional body. Our emotions are always linked to past references so when fear, doubt, and resistances emerge one could automatically believe that it is the truth, because we have a physical sensation associated with it.
In reality, this is not necessarily the case. Sometimes, the reaction is just that . A reaction is not necessarily a true response.
Our autonomic nervous system is hardwired to respond to danger through the fight and flight response of the sympathetic system. If an individual is excessively over stimulated through stress and trauma then eventually one of two things happen. Either the individual is wired for an overactive response to every heightened trigger and will go into constant state of emotional arousal ie: anger or fear. Unfortunately, this essential survival instinct can no longer be trusted to distinguish between stress and true danger and such states become blurred.
(Note from Anne: physically and emotionally/mentally abused people live in a perpetual state of fight and flight response. We are always on guard and at great cost to our immune systems.)
The other way in which the ANS (automatic nervous system) can react from excessive stress is by becoming numb. It is a form of survival akin to an animal playing dead when in danger. Then, the parasympathetic part of the autonomic nervous system (ANS) which is naturally activated daily through relaxation and meditative states and brings about our feelings of wellbeing is not engaged.
An individual in this state can become extremely depressed, losing all inner sense of resilience to regain balance and harmony. Thus, one’s responses to life’s experiences and challenges all become expressions of reactions or lack thereof.
Only when the body’s nervous system has been repetitively abused, exhausted and all signals of pain ignored, will responses become replaced with reactivity or numbness, as the research article you make reference to implies.
Working with the support of a well trained body psychotherapist can help an individual reconnect with their true body wisdom, learn to reset their ANS and trust that staying present in the moment is the key to healthy interpretation of emotion, feeling and response. Ellen
These articles and Ellen’s words are our jumping off point on the road to finding self-compassion. To be continued … Anne
Ellen Gayda at BodyWord.com This video of Ellen reading is so well done. The sound is difficult but all words appear on the screen. This is a wonderful example of women’s stories.
Video | Her Body Cannot Tell A Lie by Ellen Gayda