Wayne Muller, a graduate of the Harvard Divinity School and a therapist, offers his view on the need for unconditional love and mercy – toward ourselves – in order to effect healing:
“Mercy is a quality of mind that lovingly accepts ourselves as we are, without judgment or violence. With a merciful heart, we are able to accept our successes and failures, our gifts and imperfections with love and compassion. We can touch our most tender places with kindness, gentleness, and nonviolence. With eyes of mercy, we are free to explore the sadness, the clumsiness, the joy, the playfulness, the confusion, the tightness, the hunger, the laughter, and to touch it all with unconditional love. The more we meet ourselves with love instead of violence and judgment, the more available and open we are to being seen, being known, and being intimately cared for by ourselves and others.
“When we are merciful, we accept the totality of who we are with unconditional love. We embrace ourselves without judgment, without condition, and with complete forgiveness … Before we can heal, before we can learn to love, we must first stop the war within ourselves.” Wayne Muller, Legacy of the Heart: The Spiritual Advantages of a Painful Childhood, pp. 66, 67
While it is not normally the first thing we think of doing after escaping a high-control situation, there seems to be a consensus among experienced therapists that one of the best places to begin our recovery is to make it a practice to offer mercy and loving kindness to ourselves. When we are at war with ourselves, when we judge ourselves harshly, when even, we hate ourselves – we create an inner environment where any kind of healing, repair or recovery is difficult, if not impossible.
Once out of a situation where our thoughts, behaviors and access to information are controlled, there are many things we have to do to regain equilibrium – to take back control – to make our way in a world where we no longer have to hide, fear and obey. First of all we have to make sure we (and any family who exits with us) are safe. We often have to find a new place to live. We may decide that we need to make a concerted effort to educate ourselves. We have to create a new social community for ourselves and any family. Therefore, demonstrating love and mercy to ourselves may not even appear on our new “To Do” list. It should, however, be at the top of that list.
Once on the list, how exactly does one demonstrate mercy and unconditional love toward one’s self, you may ask. Mercy and love are demonstrated by the most simple of acts – simple acts that are often not valued in society. Here are a few ways to demonstrate mercy and unconditional love toward one’s self that would make my list:
- Take care of basic needs for nourishment, rest, exercise, hydration and human connection.
- Learn to make time for moments of stillness, silence – presence to life as it unfolds around us.
- Be gentle and patient with yourself as you work to reclaim, rebuild and reorganize your life
- Reconnect with basic, ordinary things that bring you pleasure, and make time for them.
- Find self-help materials that inspire, encourage and affirm you and your choices.
- Monitor your self-talk and stop any disparaging, harsh, self-condemning, self-punitive thinking.
- When you catch yourself thinking unkind, shaming or harsh thoughts about yourself, stop and if possible, substitute the thought with a new thought that is merciful, gentle and supportive or, at the very least, neutral. Something as simple as “All will be well” or “I refuse to discourage myself with negative thoughts” or “I’m moving ahead one step at a time and must be patient with myself during these challenging times“.
- Do as teacher, Stephen Levine suggests and “treat yourself as if you are your only child“. Be tender and merciful with yourself. Encourage yourself. Nurture yourself. Soothe yourself.
- Forgive yourself for any failings. Concentrate on what you would do differently in the future.
- Give yourself positive feedback (praise) for the effort, savvy, and courage it took to leave the controlling, abusive situation, in spite of much interference to prevent you from so doing.
- Make an effort to build new, supportive relationships. Reaching out and making connections is a loving act toward the self which has an innate need to connect and belong.
- Spend time in nature. Nature is always available to us. Nature is welcoming. Nature does not judge. Nature does not turn its back on us. Nature’s offerings can be counted on to sooth the weary soul.
I’m sure you can think of many other ways to treat yourself with gentleness, loving-kindness, mercy and non-violence after being subjected to manipulation, control, exploitation, thought-control or abuse in high-control situations. What have you done to offer yourself unconditional love, mercy and kindness to yourself? Do share in the comment section below!
What do you think about this article? Do you agree? Have you read Bonnie’s book? Do you have a story about recovery that you’d like to share? We’d love to hear from you!