“Having compassion starts and ends with having compassion for all those unwanted parts of ourselves.” -Pema Chodron
Recently, I participated in a forgiveness meditation practice and was reminded of how difficult it can be for us to find compassion for ourselves when we feel we’ve done something that we need to ask forgiveness for.
(Spoiler alert!) None of us are perfect! We all make mistakes and have regrets about something we said or did to another person. Generally speaking, I believe that people are inherently “good” even if there are times when we might display “bad” behavior. Why would good people act badly?
Let’s look at an example using a 4-step process.
In this process we recognize our own unmet needs as indicated by our feelings in a given situation.
- Identify a situation or circumstance we need to ask forgiveness for.
- Identify the feelings present in the situation or circumstance.
- Identify the unmet need(s) that were behind the emotions.
- Identify an action to fulfill the unmet need(s).
Anger is a common feeling that arises in situations of conflict, so let’s start there. In our example, we will look at a situation where we blew up in anger at someone we love. One of the tools for finding more self-compassion that is available to each and every one of us at any given time is our emotions. Emotional education is a principle that helps us understand our internal world through our emotions. Feelings that we are embarrassed about or ashamed to admit are especially good indicators of a shadow, something we have either refused to acknowledge within ourselves or wouldn’t want anyone else to know about. Most of us have been taught that it is not okay to be angry. Again, recall that the feeling is an indicator of an unmet need. It’s tempting to get caught up in judgement and shame, but in this process, it is simply a piece of information, an indicator of an unmet need.
Great! Now that we have acknowledged our anger, the next step in the process is to uncover the unmet need. Perhaps the need was to be acknowledged, to be heard, or to be understood. Alternatively, it may have been a need for trust, honesty, or connection. There are many possibilities. There is no right or wrong answer.
If we understand that many of our unmet needs are born out of some early childhood event that created an emotional wound within ourselves, we can start to feel a little compassion for ourselves. Inner work helps us identify unmet needs we didn’t realize we had. They were buried; hidden away in the shadows of our unconscious minds. In order to get the attention they crave, they must force their way through the repressive defenses of our conscious minds. The inevitable consequence is the sideways nature of their expression that is hurtful to us and/or others, disconnects us from Source, alienates us from others, and diminishes our life force energy.
It is so tempting to beat ourselves up for our actions and wither inside with the pain of shame and regret, but if you were to look at it from the perspective of the wounded, inner child, would you allow them to punish themselves that way? I doubt it. According to A Course in Miracles, every action is either an act of love or a call for love. Now we can recognize the attempt to get our unmet needs met as a call for love, and it becomes a little easier to feel compassion first, for our wounded, inner child, and then, by extension ourselves. The last step is to become the parent and take some action that will fill this unmet need.
Becoming conscious of your own needs and developing the capacity to meet them yourself, greatly reduces the chance they will inappropriately rear their ugly heads and force a regrettable situation. Most importantly, it opens the door to self-compassion and takes you down a path of forgiveness and healing.
So, the answer to the question at the beginning of this article, “Why would good people act badly?”, is not that we are bad people. We just have unmet needs.
Here are some questions you can use to get you started on the path of finding self-compassion. I highly recommend journaling your thoughts on these questions followed by either meditation or contemplation in a quiet space.
Questions for Reflection:
1) What do you need to ask for forgiveness for?
Ex. Criticizing my partner because he/she didn’t do what I wanted.
2) What feelings were alive in you at that moment?
Ex. annoyed, angry, frustrated, powerless
3) What need were you trying to get met? (There may be more than one.)
Ex. to be heard, to be understood, connection
Now that you have discovered the unmet need(s), ask yourself what you can do to meet this need for yourself.
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