A post by the inspirational Dr Jenny Napier. She and Dr Thuli Whitehouse are running a weekend retreat for doctors on 11-13th November, offering ‘a space for stepping back, recharging your batteries and learning some new skills for maintaining your balance.’
What is the nature of your inner dialogue when you do something you regret? Is it anything like this:
“You idiot!”…“What’s wrong with you?”…”You should have known!”?
And what about when you find yourself drained of empathy towards patients and colleagues? Is it anything like this:
“Come on – try harder.”…”You’re so callous.”…”No wonder you don’t have a decent relationship with x.”
If so, you are not alone. We all have access to the blaming inner critic.
In the school of life, however, is the inner critic really our best guide towards fulfilment and health? From educational principles, we know that the atmosphere for learning is important. Filling our internal classroom with shame and guilt is less likely to lead to learning and growth, and certainly less likely to lead to happiness.
How, then, to embed our ongoing development in an intention to enrich life for ourselves and others? By moving from the language of moralistic judgment – of ‘good’, ‘bad, ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ – towards connection with our needs and those of others. Our inner dialogue might then proceed along these lines “I am not in harmony with my own needs”…”What needs are alive in me right now?”…”What need was I trying to address then?”.
This needs-based style of conversing with ourselves is more likely to connect us with the wellsprings of what inspires and moves us, and what brings passion and meaning into our lives. When assessing our career, working within a system that is at breaking point, being compassionate with ourselves, and in connection with our deepest needs is the best starting point for appraising what actions to take.
The sorts of feelings that will follow this evaluation are more likely to be frustration, sadness, disappointment or fear, rather than shame and guilt. Unlike shame and guilt – which sap energy – these feelings mobilise us to pursue and fulfil what we value and need. Therefore we can forgive ourselves for things we did by connecting with the need we were trying to fulfil at the time. Human beings are always acting in the service of needs and values, whether the action is successful in meeting the need or not. Self-compassion is being able to empathically hold both the part of ourselves that regrets the action, as well as the part that took the action in the first place. By being gentle with ourselves we can learn from experience, and continue to build a rich life.
This is adapted from the work of Marshall B. Rosenberg on Non-Violent Communication.
Jenny is a GP who has always been interested in promoting a holistic experience of wellbeing and flourishing. He quest led her to take up yoga as a teen, to research flourishing in GPs, to study psychoanalysis and group relations, as well as coaching. She now coaches, trains and consults to organisations to help create flourishing lives.