Full show notes: https://www.adopteeson.com/listen/hsselfcompassion
Episode Transcription by Fayelle Ewuakye. Find her on Twitter at @FayelleEwuakye
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You’re listening to Adoptees On, the podcast where adoptees discuss the adoption experience. I’m your host Haley Radke. And this is a special episode in our Healing Series, where I interview therapists who are also adoptees themselves, so they know from personal experience what it feels like to be an adoptee. Today we are talking about self-compassion. Let’s listen in.
Haley - I’m so pleased to welcome to Adoptees On today, Kristin Jones. Welcome Kristin!
Kristin - Thank you Haley, it’s great to be here.
Haley - I’m so excited to talk with you, Kristin today, and since it’s the first time that you’re on the show, can you share just a little bit of your story with us?
Kristin - Sure! So, I was adopted in 1968, it was a closed adoption as so many were back then. And I went for a long time in my life with every once in awhile, I would have questions or wonder about my birth parents but I didn’t really pursue that too much. I was pretty sensitive to my adoptive parents and didn’t wanna hurt feelings. And then about 8 years ago, I had been toying with the idea for about maybe 15 years about you know, I’m gonna go search and see if I can find these people. But I didn't really have any good leads. And then about 8 years ago, my dad, my adoptive father was retiring. And he cleaned out a file cabinet and it had some paperwork from the hospital that they weren’t supposed to receive. And on this paperwork was my birth mother’s full name, and address at the time that she had me. And oh, and also my birth father’s name was on this paperwork too so –
Haley - Wow! That’s amazing!
Kristin - Oh, very much so. I feel very lucky, a lot of adoptees don’t have that kind of information to start with. And so we were able to use her address, my birth mother’s address to kind of, suss out what high school she may have attended back then. She was 18 when she had me. And we found her in the yearbook. And this high school a website for their reunion page and it had all these addresses and contact information for their graduates. So I was able to send her a letter. And she did respond, and she requested that I not contact her again, and that I not contact anyone in the family. And so I, you know, it was one of those secondary rejections that so many of us experience. And it was devastating. And so we haven’t had any contact for the last 8 years. And then my birth father, we kind of tracked him down in the same way. He went to a high school that was not the same high school as hers but nearby. And so we found him in the yearbook and then found an address for him and sent him a letter. And he responded and we have kind of one of those lukewarm reunions, you know? So we talk occasionally, we’ve met a few times. And that’s kind of the extent of it.
Haley - Okay. So you know what we go through. You are very much an adoptee that understands, I’m so sorry for the secondary rejection. I know that intimately.
Kristin - Yes.
Haley - Okay, well, you’re the perfect person to talk to us about today, about self-compassion. So you know that we’ve talked briefly about self-compassion before on this show, we’ve mentioned Kris Neff’s book about self-compassion and a few people have mentioned it here and there. And I feel like it’s kind of a buzz word online. But like, what is that? What is self-compassion? Sounds kind of elusive.
Kristin - Right yes. Completely. So I would say that self-compassion is the act of treating yourself in a kind way, much the way you would your best and dearest friend. A lot of us really struggle with that, we aren’t very kind to ourselves. The other element of self-compassion is that, it really is an action. It’s an active practice. And we can talk more about kind of, ways to do that as we go along. But when I was, so I’ve been incorporating self-compassion in a lot of my therapy work for about the past year and a half. I've really brought it into focus in my therapy work. And then I also teach yoga part time, and I was preparing a yoga and self-compassion workshop, and I read this quote by Tera Brach, and she says that when we feel held by a caring presence, by something that’s larger, our small frightened fragmented self, we can hold that in loving kindness and kind of repair those fragments. And when I read that, that’s a summary of that quote, and when I read that, it was almost this aha moment for me that really resonated in terms of adoption specifically. Because I think so many of us, that’s what we’re seeking, right? There’s a young part of us that wants to feel held and loved and cared for by a nurturing parent. And so it was kind of this, everything from then on, that I read about self-compassion, I would see through this lens of adoption.
Haley - Oh my gosh, well when you say fragmented, I mean, of course. That’s how we feel.
Kristin - Right, exactly.
Haley - Wow, okay. So this sounds like, of course, adoptees need to have compassion for themselves, but what does that look like in practice, being kind to yourself?
Kristin - Yeah, so, maybe I can back up. You know, we all have experiences, all of us as humans, have early experiences that kind of shape our core beliefs about ourselves. And many times these experiences are even pre-verbal, you know so when we’re very, very young. And a lot of times, these experiences, these core beliefs are things about ourselves and then things about the world around us and others. So for example, through adoption, some of my core beliefs are that I’m unlovable, that people always leave me, that you know, I’m rejected. Like those are some of those core beliefs and those get triggered. You know, we talk about triggers a lot, another buzz word. And those beliefs often get triggered by experiences that are happening in the present moment that aren’t necessarily aren’t related to that belief. And so, through self-compassion, we can first recognize that those emotions are being triggered and those beliefs are being triggered.
Haley - Okay I know a lot of adoptees feel those ways and have those you know, core beliefs about ourselves. Like, we’re unwanted, and just feels like such a big huge thing to overcome and that yeah, we get triggered all the time. And so how does self-compassion this kind of fit into that?
Kristin - Yeah, so I think most of us are pretty aware when we get triggered, like we notice some kind of flare up of emotion. And that awareness, if we can step back from that with mindfulness and just observe ourselves experiencing that emotion. That’s the first step to being self-compassionate is you have to have that awareness, that mindful awareness, that you know, I’m having this emotion brought up, or this belief brought up. And to be curious about that, what is this really about, is this really what’s happening in the moment. Or is this something that’s you know, past. And then from there, we can take a moment to just remind ourselves that, pain and suffering are a part of everyday experience and many adoptees have a lot of pain that they deal with. And we don’t feel so alone and isolated in our pain. And then to continue that, is to take a breath, to talk to our self in a kind and caring way. So I might say to myself, this is a moment where I’m feeling some pain, I don’t feel lovable and that’s painful to me. And so I’m just gonna hold myself here, metaphorically speaking of course, and show myself a little love and compassion for my pain, and my suffering. And I might even say things to myself that I would want to hear from a parent like, I’m not gonna leave you, I’m right here for you. And really kind of trying to fill that need that we have. And then, we can go on to do activities that really help us kind of soothe ourselves in that escalated emotion.
Haley - Okay, it sounds like there is a big gap between the parts of ourselves that are really critical and very hard on ourselves, to getting to the point where we can just hold ourselves and speak kindly. So can you fill in, fill in the steps in between that? What’s a first step towards that? Okay, so we have awareness in the moment?
Kristin - Yep.
Haley - Then?
Kristin - So then the next step would be, okay, I’m aware that maybe this isn’t, how I’m feeling isn’t necessarily related to what’s happening right now. And then to kind of turn that lens, I think one great way to think about this is, if a dear friend were having this experience, this emotion, or this belief, if a friend was saying to you, Haley, I feel really unlovable right now. Like you probably wouldn’t say, suck it up. You probably wouldn’t say like, oh that’s no big deal that you feel that way. Like you would probably take some time with them and say things like, you know, but really, you are lovable and you’ve gone through hard things in your life and it’s understandable that you feel this way, I get it. ‘Cause I would feel unlovable too if I experienced that. But really that’s just an emotion that you’ll have that passes and just know that I’m never gonna leave you and that I’m here for you.
Haley - Well it’s a lot easier to think about saying that to someone else--
Kristin - Yes!
Haley - Than ourselves. Okay, so would you tell a client that? To like, practice talking to a friend if they were experiencing this?
Kristin - Yes, absolutely. And there’s a lot of different writing, like journaling you can do about this. So you might take one of those beliefs that you know is a common belief of yours, like mine is I’m unlovable and that’s kind of a belief that gets triggered a lot for me. And then you might sit down and write a letter as if you are writing to a friend who told you they were unlovable. So you practice this way of you know, talking, and it really is easier when you think about it in terms of you know, something we would say to a friend. Because we really would never talk to our friends the way we talk to ourselves.
Haley - Yeah, no kidding. Or we would have no friends.
Kristin - Yes. Exactly right. And that’s actually something really interesting about a self-compassion practice, because when we’re triggered, what triggers is the fight, flight, or freeze response. And there’s research that shows that when we have self-compassion, that the reaction that’s triggered in us, is the system called the tend and befriend system. And that really is the system of attachment. So if you think about adoptees, we have severed attachments when we’re born. And, or sometimes later if you’re adopted at a later age. So we have these severed attachments, so our attachment system has been wounded in this way. And so when we engage in a practice of self-compassion, we’re really engaging that tend and befriend system. And in that way I think we can heal our own attachment wounds.
Haley - So over time, building this scale, your brain kind of retrains itself to not necessarily to go to be like, oh my gosh, I’m the worst.
Kristin - Right.
Haley - And then you learn to have a kind response to yourself.
Kristin - Yes.
Haley - And so if I say that over time, like, how long does it take to learn to do this? Like, to me, I mean I’m kind of laughing about it, but this sounds very stretching and very challenging, especially for people that are very wounded. And like, could very well like not believe any of these things about themselves. Like yes, I actually am unlovable. So it feels like a longer path than just okay, now I know this tool, I’m gonna write myself some letters and I’m good.
Kristin - Right, that does sound so easy, but it’s not easy. I really think of it as a practice and I think for a lot of us it’s a lifetime practice. You know, it gets easier as time goes on. But I think we’re always gonna have moments where that stuff gets triggered, where we can’t be kind to ourselves, where it just kind of, you know sometimes we go back after. After that period of self-loathing, or self-hatred, kind of is over, we can go back and readdress it. But I do think it’s a practice, I don’t think it’s ever something that, you know it’s not a checkbox that you can check off a list and say oh okay, now I’m always compassionate to myself, I’m always kind to myself, check. Did that. I like lists, so, I’m a big checklist person.
Haley - Me too! I’ve never thought of putting kindness and like my healing on a checklist.
Kristin - Well you’d never check it off fully, probably.
Haley - No, so why would I put it on a list if I know I’m not gonna get to it.
Kristin - But you’d work towards it. It’s a work in progress, we’re all works in progress.
Haley - Yes, very good. Okay, why don’t you just walk us through again, just another example of what this looks like? Like a, experience in your life maybe, that you had that you’re like okay, I used self-compassion and this is how this benefitted. Just to give us a picture of what this looks like in day to day life.
Kristin - Oh yeah, I have many of these experiences, they come up all the time. Last summer, my family and I, we were vacationing on the beach and my husband and the kids were down at the beach and I was walking down to meet them. And I sent my husband a text message and I said hey, where are you guys? I’m coming down, and he sent back a picture of the kids in front of the ocean.
Haley - With landmarks?
Kristin - No, landmarks, just ocean, right? It was a great picture, but I was like, okay, you know, just could not fathom where they were from this picture. And almost instantaneously I had this thought of, he’s sick of me. Like he doesn’t want me there. Like we’ve been on this vacation for 5 days now and he needs a break from me and so he’s being intentionally vague so that I can’t find him. And because I’ve worked on this issue for a long time, I kind of recognize, there was a part of me that was sort of observing this happen, that’s the mindfulness piece, when you can observe yourself kind of from a distance a little bit. And so there was part of me that was really feeling it, feeling rejected and like, oh he doesn’t want me here anymore, he’s sick of me. And then there was another part of me that was like, okay, wait a minute. Like, you know, he usually doesn’t handle that. If he needed a break, he would probably just tell you. Like, this is, so I’m noticing that I’m feeling this way. And I even, and this wouldn’t have gone this way, you know, 10 years before but, you know, I even said to myself, ugh, this feels like adoption stuff. Because anytime I have that thing of, oh people don’t wanna be around me, that’s that rejection. And so there was a part of me that kind of wondered if that’s what it was. And so I was able to take a few deep breaths and send him another text and I said, hey, like, did you mean to be vague? Because I really can’t tell where you are. And he said, oh no, like of course not. And then he sent me another picture of a building, which I think normally would have been a good landmark, but I just wasn’t aware of where this building was. And so I was still kind of like, clueless.
Haley - So I walk left or right? Just give me a direction.
Kristin - Yeah. So but I could tell that I was still really worked up. So in the past, what I would have done in that situation, because my way to handle triggers in the past was to kind of get passive aggressive. I think a lot of us can relate to that. And so for me what I would have done in the past is I would have just been, I would have text something like, oh forget it. And then I would have gone back to the house and I would have started cooking dinner for my family but with a lot of like, cupboard slamming and like, you know.
Haley - I don’t know anyone that does that. I don’t know anyone else that does that. Yeah.
Kristin - Yeah, and you know, and then probably our old pattern would have been, he would have come home and said hey, like, is everything okay. And I would have been oh yeah, it’s fine. And then I wouldn’t have spoken to him for the rest of the night. So that’s you know, 10 years ago, maybe even, 2 years ago sometimes. But you know, because I’ve been working on this, there’s a part of me that said, and in this moment I said, oh, I’m still feeling really awful. Like I just feel icky. Like I had that triggered feeling so I really felt, I still felt kind of abandoned and alone. And I didn’t think it would be good for me to join them because I thought I might stay in that dis-regulated state. And so I text him and I said, hey like, and I had told him that I was feeling kind of triggered. And I said I’m just gonna go back to the house, and I’ll see you when you get back. And so as I was walking about to the house, I was saying to myself like, this is just a moment where you’re experiencing some pain. And you know, it’s okay to feel this way. But I need to also take care of myself in a way that’s going to make me feel better. And so I was able to go back to the house and do some things that I do for self-care, you know I journaled and I do meditation and so by the time they got back and I had started cooking dinner. I wasn’t slamming cupboards anymore, and I was able to reconnect with my family. Which is kind of where that attachment system piece comes in, right, that tend and befriend. Because I showed myself kindness, and took care of my needs, I was able to be in that place of relationship. And you know, that helps to foster these relationships with my family. Whereas before I wouldn’t have been in that place of relationship and I would have behaved in a way that no one really would have wanted to be around me. I would have made my own belief come true because I, you know, they wouldn’t want to be around me when I’m slamming cupboards and I’m saying oh I’m fine.
Haley - Right, ‘cause you were like, oh they don’t even want me there. And later you act like it and then they literally don’t want you there.
Kristin - Exactly. And I think that’s how we sabotage ourselves as adoptees all the time.
Haley - Yeah, okay. Guilty.
Kristin - Right? Me too, clearly.
Haley - Okay, yep. Well I love that example. It’s a whole picture of that. Is there anything else that you just want adopted people to know about this? How it can benefit them or how they can put this into practice? How beneficial it is? Anything that you wanna say to us?
Kristin - I’d actually love to do, just kind of a really quick self-compassion exercise. Your listeners could do it at home, and you could do it. If you’re up for it.
Haley - Okay! It’s an experiment for me. I’m ready.
Kristin - You’re the guinea pig for everybody.
Haley - Yes I am. I’m okay with it.
Kristin - Okay, good. We’ll carry on. Okay Haley, I’d like you to just take a minute and close your eyes. And take a couple of slow deep breaths. And everyone at home can do the same, close your eyes and take a few slow, deep breaths. And then call to mind a time when you felt triggered. Where you felt a very painful thought, belief, or emotion come up. And notice how that feels in your body, when you’re feeling that pain. And notice any other thoughts that might bring up, without judgement, just notice them. Now, take your hands and rub them together, generate some heat between your hands. Rub them fast. And then take your hands and you can place them over your heart or over your, on your cheeks. And then, just allow that warmth to permeate into your skin. And say to yourself, this is a moment I’m hurting. And I care about this pain that I’m experiencing. I’m not alone in my pain. I’m here, and I love myself. And I’m not ever leaving. Now notice if anything has changed in your body. Has anything changed with the thoughts that you’re feeling, or the emotions that you’re having. And take one more deep long inhale and exhale. And then you can slowly blink open your eyes.
Haley - Okay. I, okay, so here’s my full disclosure. I think that’s gonna be a very powerful moment for people to work through that. And I feel like I had it halfway, ‘cause my brain is still like, in podcaster mode and thinking like, okay, what am I gonna say to her right after. So I was having like, half the experience and then half, so I’m torn. I’m gonna replay this to myself ‘cause I have the recording. And I’ll do it after. But I did notice a shift in my body, which I just thought was so funny because I wasn’t totally paying attention. So I got half the effort but I still felt the shift.
Kristin - You know, Haley, that’s an example of something that you can do for yourself in any moment. Sometimes now I’ll just place a hand over my heart, as I’m going through my day. And just kind of take a moment to say like, I care about myself. I love myself. And it definitely is a practice, it’s not something I’m great at all the time. But it’s also something that a therapist could do in a therapy session for you, something that could last a little longer. That was really brief. But I think sometimes that can be really powerful experience. But you’re right, sometimes when we’re half in and half out.
Haley - I’m pretty sure I would have cried had I been all the way in. so in case you’re waiting for tears, I think that’s why there weren’t any. But yeah, there’s just something about literally, for me, it’s saying that you love yourself is hard. That I would say I love myself. Like even though word choice I used right away, putting it in the third person, right?
Kristin - Right.
Haley - Thank you. That was very special. Anything else that you wanna leave us with?
Kristin - I think my heart goes out to all of us as adoptees. It can be really hard sometimes and we really do sit and carry so much pain. But I do take comfort in the fact that we aren’t alone, that we’re kinda in this together, you know? And so, yeah.
Haley - And I mentioned it before, but you wanna just tell us a little bit about Kris Neff’s book?
Kristin - Yes! So her book is called Self-Compassion, the Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself. And it’s a wonderful book, it’s filled with exercises that you can do, which I think are great and it kind of outlines these three steps in more detail of you know, how to be mindful. How to recognize that this is, that we all, humanity, we all experience pain. And then how to kind of treat yourself in a kind and caring way. So, it really is a great book. It’s pretty easy to read and not too technical or stuffy. So I love anything with a practical exercise and it’s just filled with those.
Haley - Same. I totally love the practical, so I often, in the Healing Series, I’m like, okay, you have to tell us something helpful, that we can do ourselves. So I love that little, I keep wanting to say meditation. It was kind of like a meditation.
Kristin - Yeah.
Haley - Yeah, that you shared with us, so thank you. Okay, how can we connect with you online, Kristin?
Kristin - I have a website, professional website. It’s tradewindscounseling.com. and then on Facebook I’m just Kristin Jones, my personal Facebook, but I love to connect with adoptees. So that’s something really great for me. And I have an Instagram that’s Adoptees Connect Salt Lake City, actually the handle is @adopteesconnectslc, and anyone’s welcome to follow that. It’s specific to our Adoptees Connect group for Salt Lake, but I post on there about adoption.
Haley - Fantastic. I love Adoptees Connect, of course.
Kristin - Yes.
Haley - Perfect, thank you so much. Thanks for sharing with us today and I’m just so grateful for you, for your wisdom in this area. I think it’ll be really helpful for a lot of us.
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