Kim Fredrickson, MFT and author of Give Yourself a Break: Turning Your Inner Critic into a Compassionate Friend, spoke to parents, therapists and counselors this morning at a symposium in Carmichael on Taming Cyber-Powered Shame organized by Core Connectivity, a Roseville non-profit dedicated to strengthening family bonds in a hyper-connected world.
Fredrickson explains how our inner critic can keep us in a state of shame, (painful isolation and aloneness) by casting aside the thoughts that come from the mind of God to bring comfort and experience grace. “Adolescents are more susceptible to absorbing shame and inflicting shame on others,” she said. “Their response to shame is to engage in harmful behaviors like gossip, bullying, and sex. Basically using others in an attempt to make themselves feel better. And the motivation comes from feeling alone, as if they are not enough. And so they are also more vulnerable to drug and alcohol abuse.”
According to Frederickson, adolescents need adults to help them feel connected to others and ease the pain, which requires the teen to vulnerable. “And vulnerability is often construed as weakness,” she said. She further explained that in order to be vulnerable you must cultivate self-compassion, so you have a friend in your inner world that is not impacted by other people’s opinions about you.
Fredrickson offers the following tips for teaching self-compassion to your teen:
- Listen. One of the most important things youth need in order to experience a measure of compassion is to have their feelings validated without judgment. “Train yourself to listen,” Fredrickson said. “Just acknowledge the pain they are experiencing – especially if they are experiencing consequences from their own choices.”
- Model self-compassion. “You cannot teach what you do not know,” Fredrickson said. She encourages parents to learn how to formulate self-compassionate statements that strike a balance so you can hold two opposing thoughts in your mind at one time.” So if you are responding to a situation that inspires a critical thought, like “I am stupid”, come up with an opposing thought to strike a balance, such as: “Yes, that was not a smart thing to do, and on the other hand I did handle this other situation very well. So I am not perfect but I can do better next time.”
- Prepare responses to shame messages. One of the biggest problems youth face today in their cyber social realms is constant comparisons to others on social media feeds who are more beautiful, rich, and popular. “Help your child handle the pressure to make comparisons to others,” she said. Youth need to understand that assessing your import based upon how you measure up to others who have more of what you think you should have serves no real purpose other than to make yourself feel bad. “Shame hurts our relationship with God,” she said, “and then we can’t take in the love He offers freely.”
To that end, Fredrickson encourages parents to help youth understand that self-compassion, is having the same concern for our own pain as we would have for another. “Out of self-compassion flow self-care and protection from harm, and this is resilience,” she said. “It is striking a balance between truth (yes I messed up or feel bad about what happened) and grace (this feeling does not define me).”