• Second Arrows and Self-Compassion

    “Talk to yourself as you would someone you love.” – Brené Brown


    Something that comes up time and again in my work with clients is self-criticism.  I’m sure you know what I’m talking about…that little voice inside of you that points out all the things that you’ve done wrong, all the things that you said that were “stupid”, all the times when you messed up.  Again.  That voice often gets louder and more insistent at night, keeping you up at 3 AM by pointing out not only everything that went wrong yesterday or last week, but everything that WILL go wrong tomorrow.  That little voice that says, “What’s wrong with you?  Can’t you do anything right?”

    And that’s the thing.  It doesn’t just say that what you DID was wrong or what HAPPENED was wrong, but it says that YOU are wrong.  It brings along its pet, Shame, to bite at your ankles, really driving the message home.  This little voice is the king of second arrows.  It can be the whole quiver!  The pain that we experience at its hand can be immense and long lasting, and yet it can seem like we can’t get away from it.  That little critical voice follows us, whispers to us, and it can be very believable.

    In therapy we work on this little voice in different ways.  The little voice is, after all, a series of thoughts, and we can identify them, write them down, deconstruct them, test them, and revamp them to be more helpful.  This can bring about relief, blunting the little voice’s arrows and even taking some of those arrows away so he can no longer shoot them at us.  We can also change our relationship to the messages of our little voices, learning to observe them as they come and go, refusing to buy into what the little voice is trying to sell to us.  After all, what is that little voice but just thoughts inside your head?  It only has the power that we give to it.  We can learn to watch as our little voice shoots arrow after arrow at us and see those arrows whiz past us understanding that its aim wasn’t really so good after all.

    Both of these approaches are helpful, and I certainly use them in my work with clients.  In addition to just working on the thoughts of our little voice itself, sometimes it is helpful to introduce a new voice.  A voice of self-compassion.

    Self-compassion is essentially bringing the tender thoughts and feelings that we may have for others and directing some of that back towards ourselves.  As Brené Brown says, “Talk to yourself as you would someone you love.”  Bringing our awareness to our own injury and pain (the first arrows), we greet our pain with kindness and ask ourselves, “What do I really need right now?”  Perhaps the answer we find is that we need a kind understanding word, a gentle touch, the support from someone who knows our struggles and says, “I’m here for you, no matter what.”  You can learn to do those things for yourself, bringing in the ways that you would talk to your friend, your spouse, or your child and saying to yourself, “I’m so sorry that you are hurting right now.  I’m right here by your side.”  It might seem a bit strange at first, but consider this:  that little voice that’s been causing you so much trouble?  That’s you tearing yourself down, wounding yourself with second arrows.  What might it be like to recruit the supportive side of you to be your own ally, to take the arrows out of your hand before you shoot them and to bring tenderness to the wounds that you already have?

    This may seem simple, and it is, but it is also very challenging at times, particularly if you find that kindness feels insincere or even suspicious or dangerous to you at times.  Learning to bring self-compassion to your own suffering is a process that we can work on together until it becomes more familiar.  Then, one day, you might hear that crabby little voice start to pick at you and you’ll notice your compassionate voice step in and shut it down!