OCD and Self-Compassion, Part 2
Self-compassion is a key component required in the effective recovery of OCD.
In this week’s episode of Purely OCD, Lauren Rosen, LMFT, and Kelley Franke, LMFT, take a deeper dive into the role of self-compassion in the OCD recovery process with particular focus and attention on the practice of loving-kindness.
Loving Kindness Meditation
Lauren: The term loving kindness, according to Thich Naht Khan, is actually just love, right?
Kelley: It actually means self-love, not self-compassion. But because the word has been thrown around so loosely, people misuse it. So ‘self-love’ feels a little bit diluted in some way.
What he’s saying is that people use the word compassion instead because love is frivolous. So he’s saying, I’m going to call this self-love but you know this as self-compassion. And his first self-compassion practice is the practice of loving-kindness.
This is the difference between love as a feeling versus love as a verb, which is a really important segue into the discussion of metta or loving kindness meditation. Because it’s not going to feel good, right? It doesn’t feel like love as we know it. It may not even feel overly compassionate as you talk to yourself a certain way that feels alien. And you have to talk to yourself this way over and over again until you start to feel different.Lauren Rosen, LMFT
Kelley: And it’s also about sending love to other people, people that have harmed you, or people you’re neutral with, or people you love deeply. It does a full circle. It’s may this person be well, and may I be well.
Loving Kindness Meditation Phrases
Lauren: As Kelley was saying, in loving-kindness meditation, we tend to use these specific phrases. And these phrases become the focal point of the meditation. In formal meditation, we’re in a state of focused awareness. We may focus on the breath, for example. Within the loving-kindness practice, we’re using phrases such as, may I be peaceful. May I be filled with joy. May I be free from pain. May I be free from suffering. These kinds of well wishes.
I’m actually saying, ‘May I be…’ because we’re talking about self-compassion, but we usually start with somebody else. It’s usually easier to access through somebody else.
You close your eyes, you visualize this person, and really hold them in your mind. And then you do the well wishing. May you be well, and may I be well.Kelley Franke, LMFT (7.09)
Pick someone whose love you feel for them is uncomplicated
Lauren: When we start with somebody who’s really easy to practice with, and sometimes that’s an animal, one of the instructions in this form of meditation that I really like is – pick somebody whose love you feel for them is uncomplicated.
…Find somebody for whom you just unabashedly feel these feelings of warmth and love, and start practicing saying these phrases. And of course, just like with regular meditation, your mind is going to wander off. The idea is to use self-compassion in that moment to say, “Oh look, I caught myself. Okay, well done.”
…Then bring it back to these phrases. That’s where you can cultivate that and start to channel that back towards yourself in some way. In some traditions, you start to channel that towards somebody who’s either neutral or who you feel negative toward.
Kelley: Exactly. And that’s very hard to do. I’ve held a lot of anger in my life towards people. And so sending loving kindness toward someone who has harmed you is a painful process. It doesn’t abolish them of the deeds they’ve done but it offers a new perspective
At the end of the day, this person is in tremendous pain, and they’re actively trying to harm us. So if we send them loving kindness, and we say ‘may you be well’, and now you experience joy instead of anger. It lifts this burden that we’re carrying around and gives us space to feel positivity, and there’s just a lightness to it… The weight of it lifts and you feel like that is the healthy thing to do. This is the thing that feels good.Kelley Franke, LMFT (11.25)
Self-compassion over anger
Lauren: We don’t practice compassion because it’s some sort of moral high ground, we do it because… when we move into compassion, out of this sort of rumination around anger, it’s a more pleasant internal experience than constantly reliving how angry you are, and how much this other person sucks!
To your point, doesn’t absolve them of anything and it doesn’t mean we don’t need to set boundaries with another person. Anger may still pop up in the form of frustration but the question is how much energy do we even want to give to this person?
Kelley: It starts to degrade your own ability to have self-compassion when you hold that much anger towards others. It kind of becomes poison.
It’s funny because we’re talking about how difficult it is to practice compassion for somebody that you actively dislike. And sometimes it’s hardest for people to practice compassion toward themselves more than anybody else, even their enemies. So yes, it can be really tough and feel really counterintuitive when you first start.Lauren Rosen, LMFT (13.57)
How do I find self-compassion for my brain when it hurts me so much?
Lauren: I think when we talk about OCD and anxiety disorders, we’re quick to go to think that they’re the mean guy. They’re the bully. They’re so awful. And it’s a mischaracterization, even though I understand why we characterize it this way. But at its core anxiety or OCD, is about a deep, deep fear of being unsafe.
And so if we start to look at this part of us that’s constantly calling out all of the potential pitfalls in our environment as just being overly protective and misguided in the way that they’re trying to help us, that’s a more compassionate way to look at it.
What if something bad happens to your child? What if you do something well, that you never get better? Those are the what if thoughts, to clarify.Kelley Franke, LMFT (17.20)
Lauren: So if there are these what if’s coming up, you don’t need to see them as this demon that’s inhabiting your mind to torture you, because that’s not really what it’s after. What it’s after is your safety, your sense of safety. It just typically has a really poor way of getting a sense of that safety…
Kelley: It’s like this overprotective and deeply misguided uncle standing on the porch with a shotgun protecting you.
That being said, it comes back to sending loving-kindness to people who hurt you… And if you don’t do that, it’s actively going to continue to harm you and get in your way. So while we can certainly hold space for OCD, and the pain it’s causing, we can also set boundaries. You accept them and politely say, “We’re not doing this today. This isn’t happening. “ And I’m going to respond with loving kindness, and just allow the pain to be without judgment.
I often get stuck in those thoughts… I hate OCD. I hate anxiety. I, I hate all of this. But when we do that, we’re getting more and more stuck. We’re putting it on this negative pedestal like it has so much power over us now.Kelley Franke, LMFT (20.32)
How do I navigate feelings of guilt?
Kelley: Guilt is a very strong, distressing emotion. And just like anxiety, it doesn’t mean that because it’s there, it’s true. The protocol is the same. We’re going to have loving kindness for it, leave space for it, not judge it and not fall into it and wonder, “Oh, my gosh, this must mean I did something wrong.”
Lauren: Guilt tends to come up a lot in real event OCD, for instance… For people with real event OCD, there’s often one thing in the back of their minds from years and years ago that they can’t shake, and gives them this feeling of guilt. If you were that person’s brain, you would first practice mindfulness. Acknowledge having thoughts that you’re somehow inherently flawed or bad, verging on the shame category. And the second piece is common humanity. Recognizing that a lot of people with real event OCD have these feelings also.
How can you help your partner with self-compassion without feeding into reassurance seeking?
Lauren: We kind of talked about this last time. So it would definitely encourage you to go back and listen to the last episode in terms of how an individual can practice self-compassion without reassuring themselves. Ultimately, it’s really important that we’re not trying to resolve any sort of uncertainty with self-compassion. We want to take the approach of, I’ll be with you in the uncertainty rather than ‘let’s figure this out’. Once we get into figuring it out, things start to get messy.
Kelley: So how do we offer compassion toward a partner? Just acknowledge their pain. I see you’re in a lot of pain, I know you’re struggling, I believe in you, I know you can handle this. If I were going through this, I would feel the same. And I’m here for you.
RESOURCE (14:34) – Headspace app for loving kindness meditations
RESOURCE (15:11) – Dr. Kristen Neff website, loving kindness resources.