London went into lockdown on March 23rd. Within a couple of days, I was reading articles on how to optimise my lockdown experience. How to use this time to tackle my self-improvement bucket list. Get fitter. Eat better. Meditate more. Start a juice cleanse. Do a 30 Day Yoga challenge. Start my own online business.
This might work really well for some people, but today I want to focus on the people for whom this doesn’t work. Who hear the above, and feel pressured, or guilty.
For these people, I want to offer an alternative to this approach, and the lockdown guilt that it may be leading to.
What is lockdown guilt?
Lockdown guilt is my phrase for what some of us are feeling, as the lockdown continues and our bucket-lists remain undone. And for the mental self-criticism that some of us may experience as a result of this.
The alternative that I want to offer is two-fold. Self-acceptance, and self-compassion. In this instance, self-acceptance is the belief that you are already okay the way you are. Taking up new hobbies, therefore, or a new exercise regime is just a cherry on top of an already perfect sundae. And so not doing them does not diminish your worth.
Self-compassion is the act of stepping out of your own mental reality, to speak to yourself as you would to a best friend, or someone you love and respect deeply. It is the ability to view your perceived failures as a blip in the landscape, rather than representative of the landscape itself. It is giving yourself a break, and cutting yourself some slack.
Why can this be so hard?
Exercising self-acceptance and self-compassion can be hard, and TA, or Transactional Analysis, provides one explanation for this.
According to TA, we have three voices in our heads — Adult, Parent and Child. When it comes to self-criticism, the Parent voice is often the source.
The Parent voice doesn’t have to come from your real parent. It can be a mixture of different authority-figures, or anyone who you looked up to.
It can be your real parent too, but, when this is the case, he or she is often stuck in time. For example, your real parent will often have changed — grown, matured, developed. But the Parent voice in your head will be stuck parroting a past version of them — a version that may no longer exist in reality.
The Parent voice does not, therefore, often represent our real opinions. It’s an internalised version of somebody else’s opinions.
Whatever the source of the voice, the result remains the same. The Parent voice is, in my opinion, the biggest obstacle to self-acceptance and self-compassion, because it is the voice of self-criticism. It is the voice that you hear when you don’t exercise for the fourth day in a row. It is the voice which points out to you that you haven’t exercised for a fourth day in a row.
While the Parent voice is in charge, it can be hard for us to really know ourselves, what we want to achieve, and how. And, because of it’s critical nature, the Parent voice can make it hard for us to be self-accepting and self-compassionate.
Overriding the Parent voice
In my experience, the key to overriding the Parent voice is becoming aware of it’s presence. And then recognising that it is just another opinion.
One way of doing this is to become familiar with the Parent voice’s bias. As with real people, the Parent voice has a particular lens through which it sees and presents the world.
This could be a lens of mistrust, fear, overprotectiveness, anger, self-hatred, shame or a combination of these. Either way, recognising the lens through which the Parent voice sees the world can be key to becoming aware of when it is speaking to you, or interpreting the world for you.
Another way to override the Parent voice is by starting to question it. I like to call this the “why” exercise. For example, I notice myself thinking that I’m a failure for not making the most of my time in lockdown. So I ask myself — why? I hear back: “Because you’re not exercising like you said you would”. Again — why? Why does this make me a failure?
If I keep going with this line of questioning, often I will either uncover the real root of what’s bothering me, or disarm the Parent voice enough to allow in some self-compassion and self-acceptance instead.
The Parent voice is not malicious and can definitely hold some value. But I believe that problems arise with when it is the dominant voice in our heads. So understanding its bias and being able to challenge it’s opinions is key to making space for self-compassion and self-acceptance.
Replacing lockdown guilt with self-compassion and self-acceptance
So what is the alternative to to-do lists and action plans during the lockdown? After all, these things are great distractions from the uncertainty of our times, and a good way of reclaiming a feeling in control.
I agree, those coping mechanisms definitely have a value. But only if they’re working for you i.e. if they are positively impacting your state and mood.
However, I believe that when these coping mechanisms make us feel guilty, insufficient, or lacking in some way, they are actually doing the opposite of working for us.
If this is your position, then I believe that a self-compassionate place from which to view the lockdown isn’t one of to-do lists and action plans. It’s an understanding that, sometimes, feeling okay is the best that we can do. And that this is more than good enough.
Buddhists believe that we live life from the inside out. In other words, it’s not our reality that influences our internal landscape. It’s our internal landscape that influences our reality.
If we take this to be true, then it makes sense to prioritise managing your state over managing your to-do list. NLP has some great tools for this, including a recent blog post on managing negative states during the lockdown. NLP School are also holding a free video session next week, for anyone who wants to learn and practice these tools in more depth.
For me, self-compassion has been a journey of learning to prioritise the voice which tells me what I want to do, over the voice telling me what I “should” do. Of choosing self-acceptance over self-criticism.
Recognising the difference between the Parent voice in my head, and my actual desires, beliefs and intuition has been invaluable for this. I have done this by learning to recognise my own voice, against the voice of my inner Parent, using some of the tools I have outlined for you above.
Ultimately, these are challenging times. There are great benefits to maintaining a sense of normality, by trying to achieve things that are within your control. But if not achieving these things makes you feel bad about yourself, then I hope this post has shown you that there is another way. You can choose to prioritise how you feel, over what you do and achieve.
After all, perhaps by learning how to manage our states, exercise self-compassion, and fully accept ourselves, we might even achieve more long-term good than anything that our to-do list has to offer.
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