Welcome to Loss Letters Season 2!
After a much-needed hiatus (how will we ever get perspective, rest and renewal without breaks?) I’m so happy to be back with you all. This second chapter of Loss Letters is all about resiliency. Grief can become a dark tunnel that sometimes seems endless. How have others made it out the other end? Where have they found light, hope and a new life that is singularly theirs? When do I let go and when do I hold on tight? This season will explore answers through the experience of our Loss Letters community.
My ever-thoughtful sister, C gifted me the book Option B co-authored by Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant. Sandberg and Grant mention the work of Dr. Kristin Neff, a social scientist researching self-compassion. I dove further into her work and want to share a little bit with you, Dear Reader.
Dr. Neff theorizes that self-compassion (not self-esteem) is a key to developing confidence and resiliency. Self-esteem helps us feel good about ourselves by being unique, different and better than average. But that can lead to putting others (or groups) down to feel good about ourselves; in its extreme it becomes narcissism.
Dr. Neff defines self-compassion by three components:
- Self-kindness Treating ourselves like we’d treat a good friend. Often, we are self-critical to the point of cruelty. We are harsher to ourselves than we’d be to a person we liked…sometimes we’re meaner than we’d be to a person we don’t like.
- Common Humanity Self-esteem tells us to be different and better; self-compassion asks us to recognize our shared human experience. Humans are flawed and failure is part of our universal experience. When we fail and condemn ourselves, we feel separate, isolated and wrong, when in truth failure connects us.
- Mindfulness Acceptance of our present moment’s experience. Open to our own suffering by first becoming aware of it! Meditation is a great practice to tap into the present.
We think we need self-criticism to motivate us, but it actually undermines our motivation by actively engaging the amygdala (simply put: the flight/fight/freeze part of our brain kicks into gear to defend us, against ourselves).
So, what does this have to do with grief?
Secondary loss is when grief impacts seemingly unrelated things in our life. At about the one year mark after Mom’s death, I had a major crisis of confidence.It was as if the foundation of my creative and work life suddenly fell out. I was extremely shy and unsure of myself. I second guessed every interaction and could (and did!) become paralyzed with fear in groups.
My instinct was to whip myself into shape – get over it – fake it ‘til I make it – berate myself until my sense of tenacity returned. When I read Dr. Neff’s work I realized I needed the exact opposite: compassion.
The tool Grant suggests to Sandberg is a nightly list of contributions. Write 3 things everyday that you did well. Those items can be so minor: smiled at a neighbor, walked the dog, made a client call without crying.
I’ve been doing this for about 8 weeks and it’s helping. My (still patchy!) confidence is returning. And my contributions lists are getting a little more robust. When I’m struggling I try to be extra sweet to myself, I act as if I were my own dearest, oldest friend. This goes directly against my instincts and takes practice.
Sandberg says even before the death of her husband, she would go to bed recounting the things she’d done wrong that day, or worry about the day ahead. I believe this is a common nightly ritual and I challenge us all to replace that thinking with a 3-item contribution list.
Write down 3 things you did well today before bed.
...or jot them down right this moment. Good job.