Helping Nonprofit Leaders Transform Conflict

Leadership Coach and Mediator

Self-compassion and cockroaches

Cockroaches and Self-Compassion

My husband and I cherish our vegan household. We don’t eat animal products, we don’t buy leather shoes, we don’t spread poison to kill bugs.

As a result, we have our occasional cockroach visitor.

Since we don’t want to kill or harm them, we try to catch them and transition them to the compost pile in the backyard, hoping that’s nirvana to them.

It’s not easy. Cockroaches are fast, and have a magic ability to disappear between cracks I didn’t even know existed.

So when we spot them, we have to stealthily get a glass bowl from the drawer, put it over them, shove a piece of firm paper underneath the bowl, and run carefully to the compost pile.

My success rate is around 60%.

I am pleased with that, until a friend tells me it’s not difficult at all: you just pick them up and throw them outside.

Well, I don’t know which countries he has visited. Maybe Tibetan cockroaches have more equanimity and are happy to be picked up, but our Texan friends are fast, really fast.

Irritated at hearing his claim, I prove my point by acting out my catching strategy on the living room floor.


Exaggerating the speed in my demonstration, I land badly on my thumb. I can hear it pop. It’s extremely painful. I feel the blood drain from my head and I can barely get up. Still feeling the original irritation, I pretend as if nothing happened, waving him goodbye.

When he’s gone, I hear a roar of critical thoughts swell in my head: “You stupid idiot, you are unable to regulate your irritation! You made a fool of yourself by being caught up in your own self-righteousness! You deserve a sprained thumb!”

It takes a few hours, before these elements of self-compassion surface:

  1. Awareness. Just noticing my pain and suffering around these critical thoughts and my thumb. “Ouch, that hurts, that really hurts.” We cannot foster self-compassion, if we don’t acknowledge we’re suffering.
  2. Befriending myself, being on my own side. Just wanting myself to feel better, caring about my needs. Something like “I wished I didn’t suffer.”
  3. Shared humanity. I start thinking of all the other people who hurt themselves while trying to impress others. I breathe in their pain, heaviness, and suffering. I breathe out love, light, and relief to them. “May all beings be happy, peaceful, and light in body and spirit.” Myself included.

Working with these elements of self-compassion, I feel better. I see myself for who I truly am: an ordinary human being, whose behavior is sometimes a tragic expression of unmet needs. I don’t need to judge myself for that. I need to reaffirm that I am still unconditionally worthy of love, acceptance, and belonging.

How could these elements of self-compassion help you to accept your mistakes and learn from them?

Let me know. I would love to read from you.

Beginning Anew (2/3)

The second step of Beginning Anew is expressing regret.

Beginning Anew (2-3)The first step, appreciation, builds a context where you see the other person and yourself as human beings with the ability to contribute to life. Your appreciation conveys the message that you include yourself in the respect for your basic goodness. Regret isn’t an invitation to beat up on you, do the “you’re-a-bad-person” bashing or play a guilt trip. Regret is not about taking the blame for how the other person feels. Regret is about mourning what you did that contributed to needs being unmet.
An apology NVC-style is the same as any other NVC-expression: observations, feelings, needs: “I feel sad to see you feel upset over the way I expressed myself. I understand your needs for emotional safety, consideration and respect weren’t met. I wished I had taken three deep breaths to calm myself down and remind myself of my aspiration to show up with compassion and empathy.” Your regret can end with a connection request: “What did you hear me say?” or: “How does that land for you?” Or you can end with a solution request: “What can I say or do to restore connection and trust?”

When you express a regret, you want to keep in mind that what you did (or didn’t do) is not who you are. You are not a bad, disrespectful, inconsiderate, egoistic person, because you did something you regret in retrospect. When you made the choice you now regret, you tried to meet a precious, universal need. Perhaps you didn’t have enough resources and creativity to make a choice that included all needs: yours and those of other stakeholders. When you hold your actions as the tragic expression of unmet needs, you build a container of self-acceptance and self-compassion. This compassionate environment supports learning how to show up differently and honor your values.

Expressing regret is also an opportunity to learn about the other person, their sensitivities, vulnerabilities, and needs. Your regret is an acknowledgment of their pain. You convey that you are aware of how your actions contributed to the pain of their unmet needs and that you care enough about them and the relationship to express your mourning.

Once your regret is shared and understood, you both can brainstorm strategies that might have worked better. You can ask for input to expand the creativity and resources you were lacking in the first place.

The first step of “Beginning Anew” is appreciation. The second is regret. This is the basis for deeper understanding and compassion. For others. For ourselves.

You want to learn to Begin Anew? Contact me, 512-589-0482 for a free, discovery session.

Freedom and Choice

F. Dostoevsky

F. Dostoevsky Русский: Фёдор Михайлович Достоевский Suomi: Fjodor Mihailovitš Dostojevski (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Saturday was my day off. It is the day of the week that I have designated for “me” time. It is the day without schedule, without ‘have to’, without commitments. It is the day that I only do what I want.

Usually I love these days. I have time to read books, call friends, hang out with my husband. I play “Jesu, joy of men’s desire” over and over again. I go for long walks in the woods. It is my weekly mini-retreat.

Last Saturday I hated it. It was horrible.

Dostoyevsky writes about the burden of freedom and choice in the Brothers Karamazov. One of the three brothers, Ivan, tells his younger brother Alyosha the tale of Jesus and the Great Inquisitor.

Jesus returns to Sevilla, during the time of the great Inquisition. He shares His compassion, He listens, talks, helps and heals. People all over follow Him.

At the peak of His ‘popularity’ He is put in prison. He is sentenced to death by burning. The Great Inquisitor visits Him the night before His execution. He offers Him life in return for His willingness to perform a miracle, forsake God, and accept power over the kingdoms of the world. Jesus refuses.

I have always loved this story. I feel compassion in how Dostoyevsky writes about both.

The Great Inquisitor cares deeply for ‘his’ people. He blames Jesus for offering freedom. In this freedom people have nothing to hold on to, nothing to hide behind, no excuses for their choices. They are the only ones responsible for their thoughts, speech and actions. And for the results they create. If they fail, that’s their responsibility. If they succeed, that’s their responsibility. Jesus takes away their scapegoat, and the people are left naked in their vulnerability of ambiguous conscience.

The Great Inquisitor claims that he offers the people a more compassionate alternative. He presents himself as the authority and judge of good and evil. He tells the people how to live. As a result people are free from the burden of choosing. They are free from second guessing, doubts, and regrets. Within his constraints, they can live happily ever after.

In return, the Great Inquisitor carries the burden of choosing, and accepting responsibility and accountability for his choices. He thinks that better than Jesus’s alternative of letting people make their own choices and suffer from regret, doubt, self-blame and insecurity.

As I sit on the couch, wondering if I should participate in the teleconference, or not, if I should go to the Hanukkah celebration, or not, as I end up just sitting, I am reminded of Dostoyevsky‘s parable. I feel consoled. Making choices is tough. Dostoyevsky says so.