Self-empathy is an essential ingredient in a thriving relationship. To have a loving and conscious relationship with another, you also need to have a loving and conscious relationship with yourself.
Self-empathy gives you relief from internal conflict, criticism, and doubt. You can learn to greet each part of your experience with compassion and acceptance, which gives you access to wise discernment and effective action.
Self-empathy means taking responsibility for your experience by gaining the skills to identify observations, thoughts, feelings, needs, and requests with compassion for yourself. Being able to identify your experience in this way opens the door to staying true to yourself and honest with another.
The first step in connecting to your experience is to ensure that you are located in an expansive perspective. This means that you can meet your experience with compassion and hold it in the larger frame of your life. When self-empathy begins with an attitude of self-criticism or an impulse to get rid of some experience, the process triggers reactivity and suffering.
Engaging an anchor is an essential step in stabilizing and anchoring your attention in this expansive perspective. You likely already have anchors but simply haven’t named them or focused explicitly on them. An anchor is something you turn your attention toward in order to interrupt reactivity and access a non-reactive perspective. It is specific and doable, has aliveness or meaning, is simple, and can be done anytime and anywhere. It could be physical, verbal, energetic, visual, or any combination. Most effective is a combination of two or more of these channels.
Essentially, an anchor wakes up the parts of you that can access a bigger perspective, begins to calm your physiology, and helps you to engage mindfulness and use your skills. Here are some examples of anchors:
Say inwardly: “My only purpose is to meet each moment with acceptance and love.” Next, relax your face and shoulders.
Put a hand on your heart as you bring to mind a special memory of someone smiling at you with love.
Bring to mind a moment during a peak experience. Hold your body the way you did in that experience. Repeat what you believed in the moment of that experience.
Recall a special place in nature: Hear the sounds, smell the scents, and see the colors.
As you breathe in, say “I am.” As you breathe out, say “love.” Repeat for three full inhales and exhales.
Bring your hands behind your head, open your shoulders and chest, and say to yourself: “I am bigger than this reaction. I can be with it.”
For a full minute, close your eyes and focus intently on hearing every sound in your environment.
Stand straight and tall and visualize roots extending from the soles of your feet into the earth.
Repeat a meaningful prayer as you soften the muscles around your heart.
Run your attention along your hara line, then slowly expand your attention out beyond the boundaries of your body.
When you use an anchor you take your attention away from the situation at hand, with the intention to come back to that situation with more groundedness, skill, and compassion. The intention to return to the situation is what makes anchoring different from distraction.
An anchor helps you get a little bit bigger than the reactivity you are experiencing. This doesn’t mean that reactivity goes away. It means you gain access to the choice to not behave from reactivity.
For an anchor to be useful, you have to maintain your attention on it until you feel an expansive shift and your attention has stabilized in that larger perspective. Signs of this include: a decrease in overall body tension, curiosity or desire to understand what’s happening, noticing and naming body sensations and emotions, an impulse to try something different in the situation, sadness that you are in reactivity again, and words or thoughts of acceptance like “I am going to be okay,” or “We’re disconnected now, but we can work this out.”
Anchors are strengthened when you practice them while things are going well. It is particularly effective to practice an anchor during meditation.
While an anchor ideally already has the power to ignite an expansive perspective, you also can cultivate one. This is like creating a positive habit of mind. For example, every time you make a mistake you relax your shoulders and face and say, “That’s okay. Everyone makes mistakes.” In doing so, you develop an anchor through practice.
Ideally, you have several anchors. Anchors are most effective when they match the challenge you face. For example, fear or doubt about others liking or accepting you could be met with an anchor that helps you access a sense of your own lovability. One student’s anchor for lovability is a memory of walking into her grandmother’s house and seeing her grandma’s face light up with love for her. As you identify and become familiar with patterns of reactivity in yourself, you can begin to connect anchors to each pattern.
Because reactivity often is chronic and pervasive, it’s helpful to return to an anchor several times a day. This consistent yet quick practice builds resilience and helps you interrupt reactivity sooner. When reactivity has less time in your system, its hold on you weakens. With practice, it becomes an old friend, familiar and nonthreatening.
Take a moment now to name at least one anchor you already use. Is there something you might add to help it become more effective? Check in with these guidelines: It is specific and doable, has aliveness or meaning, is simple, and can be done anytime and anywhere. It could be physical, verbal, energetic, visual, or any combination. Most effective is a combination of two or more of these channels.