Those of us who struggle with shame and self-criticism often believe that we are alone and different from others. We may also be more likely to be lonely and to have fewer close relationships, since shame and self-criticism can interfere with connection. In our groups for people who are highly self-critical, we have found that having the group extend wishes of lovingkindness to each group member using personalized lovingkindness phrases can be a powerful connecting experience and can help activate peoples’ social safety systems.
This practice of lovingkindness for everyone in the room can be used in conjunction with the exercise on establishing personalized lovingkindness phrases. We typically do the lovingkindness for everyone practice during the final meeting of our 9-week group for people who are highly self-critical, but it could also be done earlier on within most group contexts. Feel free to use the script and modify it to be most fitting for your particular context.
Go ahead and take a moment to get settled here in this room in your chair. I’d like you to turn your attention to the sensation in your heart. We don’t often take the time to check in with the state of our heart. Let’s take a moment to check in with yourself as you wrap up this course. Is there tension there? Is there sadness? Relief? Anxiety? Can you feel your heart? Just take a moment to really notice what’s there. Not to think about it, but to just feel it from the inside out. To be present to your heart [pause]
Now, I’d like you take a few moments to connect with the fact that there are xx other people with you here in this room. Notice each one is a person who experiences emotions, like you were just noticing inside yourself. [pause] Each of these people have felt happy at times, just like you. [pause] Each has been proud, just like you. [pause] Each of these people has been hurt, just like you. [pause] Each of these people has been felt unworthy or inadequate, just like you. [pause] Each of these people wants to be happy or content with their life or feel like their life has meaning, just like you. [pause] And each of them has found it hard to achieve these things...each of these people suffers more than they want to…just like you. See if you can connect with how hard it is to live a human life. Being human is not easy. [pause] There may be a sense of heartache or sadness as you contemplate this situation that we all find ourselves in. Here we are, each of us, faced with this situation of how to live a human life.
And now, we will do a short lovingkindness practice together for each of our tribe members here in this room. And in this practice, we will be silently offering kind wishes to each person, including the words they most need to hear in their lives. As you are offering phrases to each person, see if you can connect with the sensations and feelings in your heart and your kind intentions toward each person. And, when the time comes for you to receive the kind wishes of everyone else, see if you can practice letting it in with heart that is open wide. We’re going to start with the person to my left, ________, and continue that way around the room.
Now forming an image of _______ in your mind as best you can. While connecting with your warm and kind wishes toward this person, silently repeat to yourself:
May ____ be well
May ____ be joyful
May ____ be safe and at ease
May ____ [insert personal LKM phrase here]
[Repeat above instruction for each member of the group, inserting that person’s name and personal LKM phrase].
And now, once again, bringing to mind this group as a whole, the courage, care, and presence each of us has shown up with for ourselves and each other over and over, in the face of difficult emotions.
And, now repeating in the mind these words of lovingkindness once again, but this time directed toward this group as a whole.
May we all be well
May we all accept ourselves as we are
May we all be kind to ourselves
May we all feel safe and at ease
[repeat these phrases one more round for a total of two rounds]
Can you feel right now, in this moment, your belonging to something larger than your self-critical thoughts and feelings? The next time you notice self-criticism or shame, will you practice remembering our wish for you? Will you practice letting it in with an open heart?
Take a moment to sit with that question and just follow your breath.
And now we are about to bring our work together in this room to a close. Take a moment to recognize that you just did something skillful and kind. Notice your body being held by your chair. And when you are ready, bring your attention back into the room and gently allow your eyes to open if they have been closed.