Ep.13 Dr. Steve Hickman – Compassion in those who identify as men

Tune in to hear Dr. Steve Hickman and Gissele discuss compassion work with Men. In this interview, we talk about toxic masculinity, the messaging men have received about self-compassion and self-love.


Gissele: [00:00:00] Welcome to another episode of the Love and Compassion podcast with Gissele, if you’re listening on an audio podcast, don’t forget to write a review. And if you’re watching us on YouTube, don’t forget to like, and subscribe to our channel for more exciting content. Today, we’re going to be chatting about compassion and men.

So if you’re a man who’s interested in having more compassion for yourself, or if you’re a mom who’s interested in raising more compassionate boys stay tuned. Our guest is Executive Director of the not-for-profit Center for Mindful Self-Compassion and its director of professional training.

He is a clinical psychologist an associate clinical professor in the university of California at San Diego school of medicine, as well as the founding director of the UC San Diego center for mindfulness, Steve co-developed the mindful self-compassion teacher training program and has participated in training over 700 MSC teachers around the world.

He has co-taught the eight week and intensive MSC program, many times around the globe and is also a certified teacher of the mindfulness based stress reduction program.  He is married and has three adult children affording him ample opportunity to practice what he teaches.

Please join me in welcoming Dr. Steven Heckman. Hi Steve.

Steve: [00:01:09] Hi, thank you for having me.

Gissele: [00:01:10] Thank you for being here.  You were my teacher for the MSC, teacher training, um, and you know, it’s a very, very busy program, at least for me, it was really intensive and it was wonderful.  But I didn’t always get a chance to kind of, you know, chat with you or chat with the other teachers. So I was wondering if you could share a little bit with the audience as to what got you interested in the work, in compassion work.

Steve: [00:01:33] Um, yeah, uh, I, it was not part of a grand scheme that I had concocted at some point. And, uh, actually even as a clinical psychologist, um, I had, a late career change from being in an unrelated field of graphic design. So that’s a whole story in itself. But, uh, as a clinical psychologist, I was actually, working in a, in a hospital setting.

So mostly I was working with patients with medical challenges of various sorts and especially working with people with chronic pain and, uh, came upon the work of John Kabat-Zinn, around bringing mindfulness, uh, a mindfulness-based stress reduction program and how beneficial mindfulness was for people with pain.

And that was really my entrance into this whole field. And, uh, I won’t bore you with all the details, but I ultimately became a mindfulness based stress reduction teacher. MBSR is the acronym, um, and found that mindfulness was a key way in which I could actually help the people I was working with clinically.

So people struggling with chronic pain in particular, that mindfulness that, the capacity to, to come into the present moment to let go of the future in the past to let go of resistance, over feeling what we actually feel in a moment was a really powerful transformative process and, um, it’s okay if I make this a long answer.

Um, just a nice example. I think that leads into the compassion aspect is that I worked for, uh, quite a while with a gentleman who is in his mid sixties, had a ton of chronic neck and back pain from a couple of injuries he had sustained while working as a, as a salesman for selling boats, actually. Um, but as we got to work together, um, I, I talked him into taking the mindfulness course, the MBSR course, because I felt that it was something that would be helpful to him because he was having to come to terms with something that he couldn’t change chronic pain.

And there’s only so many sort of mind games one can play in contending with something that in the moment we can’t get rid of, we can pretend it’s not there. We can try to push it away. Neither of which works. Um, but mindfulness is around making space, around  the presence of that difficult thing. So anyway, to shorten that story, he, uh, took the course and about midway through, he had to his huge breakthrough and he said, what I realized, he says, I’m a fighter.

He says, I’m a tough guy. I grew up in Detroit as a kid. I got in fights all the time and that’s how I kind of got it. And then I joined the wrestling team and I fought my way to the top of my weight class. And I played football and I had a coach that told me to fight my way through every play and taught me to play hurt and push through and all of this, he said.

And then when I got out in the world, I’ve fought my way to the top of my profession. And then I had this injury and I’ve been fighting with this chronic pain for 15 years. Uh, and he said, what I realized in the practice of mindfulness was that it was possible for me to dance with it instead. So if you kind of feel the harmony or the rhythm of dancing with something versus fighting with it, that really, for me captured at the time mindfulness.

But now I see it in retrospect is also having some warmth to it, which is the compassion side of things. So this was really transformative for him. And for me, uh, fast forwarding, learning about the mindful self-compassion program through a dear colleague, Michelle Becker. Um, I saw that this was a, um, a further healing way of looking at things. I don’t want to say it was missing from MBSR or to take anything away from it program, but the possibility that not only could you be with challenges, but you can be with yourself in the midst of those challenges and actually comfort and soothe yourself the way you would for a dear friend who was going through something hard was really kind of, it’s kind of revolutionary.

It’s built in to mindfulness, to be kind that we have our, as our base nature to be, want to be happy and free from suffering that we are compassionate beings, but this, um, opportunity to help people connect with that capacity and to bring it to their experiences, their difficulties or challenges, their suffering, um, was really just inspiring.

And, um, I kind of ended up being in on the ground floor of all of this work around self-compassion with Chris Germer and Kristin Neff and, uh, sort of the rest is history I guess.

Gissele: [00:06:19] It’s a great story.  As you were talking, I was thinking about the fact that compassion also requires a level of mindfulness. Does it  not?

Steve: [00:06:27] Yeah, absolutely. What mindfulness is actually, uh, one of the three core components of self-compassion. We can’t actually bring compassion to ourselves if we don’t actually notice we’re having a hard time. Right? So this is part and parcel.

They’re not really separate things. They’re kind of two sides of the same coin in a way.

Gissele: [00:06:46] Yeah, absolutely. So you mentioned being a parent, I was wondering how, raising your children has, uh, led you to practice more self-compassion.

Steve: [00:06:56] Good question. Parenting is, you know, I’ve often said, and I, I, I only raised one child. I inherited two more as teenagers. Um, so I don’t have a ton of experience, but I do think it’s the hardest job on the planet. And it’s the only one of the only jobs in the planet that you don’t really get any preparation for, except by whatever you have actually witnessed or experienced in others or in yourself.  I actually had an experience with my son. Who’s now 24 and, a wonderful adult who I can think of in, as a friend in many ways. And as a 15 year old. Uh, perhaps a different story. Uh, it was nothing unusual about his 15 year oldness, I accept that he was finding his way. And I remember having a particularly hard time with him when I was traveling, which I do have done a lot of in this work when I was away from home and he wasn’t happy about it.

Um, and without giving, getting into the gory details, what, what I noticed is that it’s easy for us, especially as parents, but in other situations to get so totally absorbed in a trial or tribulation or a challenge or a difficulty or an adolescent rebellion that we lose our perspective on everything.

You know, everything in a moment may feel like a huge catastrophe. You know, the fact that you know, that your child is not doing what you want them to do, whether it’s, you know, putting on their shoes or hanging out with, you know, unsavory friends feels like a catastrophe in the moment because we care so much and because we want the best for them, but we lose perspective.

And so when we lose perspective, we overreact, um, and then we get the opposite, the opposite results of what we were hoping for, because we’ve now, you know, for example, yelled at the child who wouldn’t put their shoes on fast enough, which just makes them want to curl up in a ball and cry and not put their shoes on.

Um, so, I’m sure people can relate to this. So the capacity to be able to see it happening, the mindfulness to see, Oh, this is actually a part of being a parent. This is a part of being a human, which is what we would call common humanity in the self-compassion world to see that everybody struggles with this.

And this was what helped me with that 15 year old um, Ben Hickman, um, was to see, this is a part of a process that happens when people are teenagers and this is how things go and it’s not a catastrophe it’s painful, it’s difficult. And then to just be kind to myself to say, wow, this, this sucks. You know, this is hard.

Um, is disentangling from that loss of perspective and allows you to still stay engaged, to still dance with what’s difficult. So we’re not pretending it’s not there or putting a pretty face on it, but it’s engaging with it with, with accents of grounding and reality and context that allows us to deal with that difficult situation in a more effective way.

Gissele: [00:10:07] Yeah, absolutely. Um, I’m a parent myself and, have been challenged in terms of some of the conversations, with my children around making sure that I don’t escalate things right. When they’re escalated, then I don’t contribute in it because you can get very easily get caught up in that, uh, emotion.  And then you, like you said, you do lose perspective.  Yeah. It can be very challenging

Steve: [00:10:29] yeah. Interestingly, I’m thinking, as you’re talking that, you know, when the kids get really reactive is sometimes what snaps us out of it. It’s like a spell almost that you get into as a parent. We all, I think we all have it.

I like to comfort myself to think that we all get like this. And then when your kid says, or does something really ridiculous, um, it actually kind of wakes you up to say, Oh yeah, like stoke, you know, I mean, there are more than a dozen times when my son said something like, I hate you. You know, or, you know, something along that line and like, that’s hurtful if, you know, if I took it personally, it would be hurtful, but it’s so sort of out of context that it, for me, it would kind of wake me up, say, okay, things have totally spiraled out of control here, which as soon as you know, it spiraled out of control, it’s no longer out of control.

I mean, that’s kind of the beauty of mindfulness is that, you know, you sit to meditate and your mind wanders. And when, as soon as you notice that your mind is wandered, you’re back, you’re back in it. So this is a bit like that, that we can find our way back into that, uh, equanimity we would call it that we all have within us.  It’s just that we lose track of it.

Gissele: [00:11:43] It’s so funny because my kids know that I, you know, practice mindful self-compassion, um, as well as that, I’m very interested in the whole concept of, of love and compassion and so they will call me on it and say, well, that’s not a very compassionate response.  And so it really kind of gets you out of that. Wow. Okay. So I got to practice what I’m preaching here. I got to kind of, you know, so that’s really interesting.

Steve: [00:12:07] But, you know, just to build on that just a little bit, cause I think it’s important is, um, compassion and self-compassion, which are really. One in the same thing.  I probably should say something about that in a moment, but, um, isn’t always warm and fuzzy and what you want necessarily. Right? So the compassionate thing as a parent, for example, a great example is, you know, if your child comes down the stairs and says, I’d like to have ice cream for breakfast, and you say, well, no, I’m going to feed you a healthy breakfast.  That’s a compassionate response because you know, what’s best for them is the healthy breakfast. For them, they’re thinking well, that wasn’t very compassionate. You know, I don’t want that. What you’re going to give me, I want ice cream ice cream would make me happy. But compassion is something else that sometimes it means being strong and seeing the bigger picture.

And so the same thing is true about self-compassion. Sometimes people will think, Oh, self-compassion is the same as self care or self-indulgence, you know, like, Oh, self-compassion is me going to, you know, to the spa once a week and you know, doing this and that whatever. And those things can be self-compassionate.  But if they’re in the service of just indulging ourselves, just trying to feel good when we don’t feel good, they’re not actually compassionate. They’re nice. Maybe they’re pleasant, but they may not even be in our best interest in the long, long run. And they’re not compassion if there’s some aspect to them that isn’t good for our wellbeing in the long-term.

Steve: [00:13:41] Um, I really just wanted to say that it’s worthwhile sort of we’re tossing around this term compassion and I think it would be good to make sure we’re all clear on what that means.

And then what self-compassion is so. Compassion. Uh, the simplest way to define it is compassion is the deep awareness of the suffering of someone and coupled with the desire to relieve that suffering, it doesn’t mean we always can, but we always have that wish to relieve that suffering. So this is what compassion is.

Empathy on the other hand is really just half of that equation. Empathy is just feeling the pain of another person without that other component of wishing to relieve that pain and empathy is, um, it can wear us out. We can burn us out. But when we speaking about, uh, compassion, we’re saying it’s this awareness of suffering or struggle or stress or difficulty coupled with this warmhearted desire to relieve that suffering.

And, um, so when we see a homeless person on the street, in order for compassion to arise, we have to notice them. That’s the mindfulness part. We have to see that there, but for the grace of God or however you would frame it, go, I, in other words, this is another human being different circumstances, but it could be me, you know, and I can relate to that person because they are, we are both human and then the wish to be kind, you know, that kindness.

So self-compassion is not a separate thing from that. Compassion is only including yourself in that circle of compassion. It’s actually, uh, giving yourself the U-turn of your compassion and actually including yourself so that when you are struggling or suffering, that you can notice it, that you can see that this is a part of the human experience, like every human being and that you can be kind to you just because it’s happening and that’s.

So it’s not a rarefied skill. Most of us are pretty good at being compassionate to other people, but somehow or other, we leave ourselves out or we think that we’re not deserving or whatever it is. We treat ourselves poorly. A significant portion of us are in that boat. Uh, and so self-compassion is really just harnessing that natural sense of compassion and including ourselves in it.


Gissele: [00:16:11] Thank you for mentioning that. Um, it’s great to have the definition because people perceive compassion very differently. One of the things I was reading about in the research that has come out, um, around compassion for self versus compassion for others is that men tend to have a higher level of score higher on self-compassion than women do.

I was wondering, well, and also compared to, um, the level of compassion for others. I was wondering if you could comment a little bit about that, um, and why you think that might be.

Steve: [00:16:43] Um, I wasn’t aware of that. So I’m, I’m improvising here on the spot. Yeah. Um, I don’t mean to be cynical towards, uh, the other members of my gender, but I do wonder how, um, Oh, truly aware most men, many men are of their own struggle and suffering. And so we might feel that we’re more compassionate to ourselves than we actually are.

I don’t want to call into question again this research, but, um, yeah. Well, just in my experience of having worked, um, with men in particular, at least the ones that come for a self-compassion course, which is a subset of men. Um, they seem to be just as self-critical and hard on themselves in many ways, and in some ways more so than, than women and their struggles seem to be.

And I’m speaking stereotypically here, because it’s the only way to talk about this kind of stuff. Um, but what I’ve seen is really no different from what I’ve seen in, in the women that come to my self-compassion course, there’s a much smaller percentage of men who seek this out, and that’s a whole separate topic about, um, that really could go on for a long time about, but, um, who seeks this out.  But, um, I haven’t seen that to be true, I guess, is the short answer.

Gissele: [00:18:03] Thank you for mentioning that, because that was one of the things I wanted to talk about. Um, when we did the teacher training, I did not see as many men as women in the training. Um, and even based on the experiences that my children have had in school, I have one of each, I have a boy and a girl.

I do feel like the messages that boys receive in terms of a vulnerability in terms of their emotions, other than anger are not really as welcome as say, for example, my girl. And so I was wondering sort of maybe if you could go, if you feel comfortable a little bit about some of the messages you might have received as a kid, as being a boy or some of the messages that you feel men receive in society around vulnerability and, the ability to have compassion for yourself,

Steve: [00:18:49] Yeah. Um, I think I’ve been, I was lucky, so I can, I can say, Oh, I was lucky in certain ways. I mean, I guess it’s true of all of us, you know, I had, father who was a fairly sensitive person who was an artist and, um, but also guarded about his feelings. I also lost him when I was 12. Um, so formative years as an adolescent, I didn’t have a solid role model for how to be a man.

Um, but, and it’s, you know, as you kind of hinted at the opening to this is, um, how we parent, whether we’re man or woman as a parent plays a role, you know, what do we expect of our boys versus our girls? And how do we, you know, I think all of us responsible parents want to not burden our kids with stereotyped roles or expectations, and, and yet it’s hard to overcome it.  And so we do so. But I mean, you know, the traditional message that people get about a traditional male role model is the one that comes to mind for everyone. You know, the tough guy, the big boys don’t cry, you know, or if you’re going to cry, I’m going to give you something to cry about and be tough, suck it up, you know, all of these kinds of messages and some are cruder than that.

I don’t need to hit you with those. But, um, basically what happens for boys, um, there’s a wonderful documentary on Netflix. I believe it’s called The Mask you Live In, or the mask we live in that is fascinating that I can say more about in a moment. But, um, when we get these messages that essentially we are not supposed to have feelings.

And if we have them, we certainly shouldn’t show them. And that feelings are a sign of some kind of weakness. Um, in one form or another, we get men, get these boys, get these messages growing up, um, which is, um, you know, to say the least a challenge because we’re human and we have emotions. This is part of what it means to be human, is to react emotionally to the things that happened to us.

Happy, sad, fearful, whatever it may be. Um, so we get these messages and so we stuff down those emotions, you know, when you feel sad, you, you know, you’re afraid that if you cry, someone’s going to call you some unkind name, some other guy’s gonna, you know, cast dispersions on you in one way or another imply that you’re gay or weak or flawed or whatever, as if any of those necessarily is a bad thing.

That’s not the point. The point is that, um, so if we get all these messages, it’s not okay to have feelings. And yet we have feelings that sets up a real inner conflict and, it doesn’t allow us the opportunity to learn how to deal with those feelings. So, to a certain extent, girls have it easier from that perspective, in that they’re allowed, supposedly allowed stereotypically to have these emotions.

So they do start to sort out how to be with them in a certain way. There’s there are other problems there, but, but that’s kind of the kind of difference and, and where I’m going with all this is that, um, we are, we become like a pressure cooker of emotion as men. If we’re not allowed to express this, uh, in the, in the normal channels, the way a human would express them, it comes out in other ways.

And some bits, some of us can channel that into, you know, work, but that could turn into being a workaholic or being  a jerk as a boss or whatever, but like, and also lead to, as we see in society bad behavior when, when anybody, but especially men who are often in positions of power or authority, um, you know, they dominate the military, the police force though, whatever, just as some examples, when difficult emotions come up for them, they discharge them in ways that are hurtful, that are not good for anybody including them.

And so, you know, you could say that the bad behavior highlighted by the me too movement is another expression of a whole variety of men who couldn’t contend with the feelings they were feeling in an appropriate way instead and did it in a hurtful, inappropriate way. Um, and so the, the failure there that are, the problem is not so much, I mean, the bad behavior is, is bad, but the source of the problem is that person’s capacity, lack of capacity to hold their own emotional state and not act on it in ways that they know sort of logically they shouldn’t do.

Gissele: [00:23:33] I was thinking about the concept of toxic masculinity, which is what you were talking about. And I was thinking about how the systems that we have perpetuate that stereotype and perpetuate that, but the systems were also created by individuals. And so I was wondering how you thought that maybe systems aren’t contributing to compassion in men.

Steve: [00:23:54] Um, yeah, I mean, you know, no matter whatever sort of good intentions we have, we have, uh, we have, um, processes and procedures that have old roots, you know, they take a long time to change. I just, um, and this doesn’t just apply to gender kind of roles, but, you know, in terms of diversity and in all sorts of different ways and, and other sorts of social justice and all of that.

Um, so I mean, you have a culture, like I’m just, I happen to be, I have a brother and a sister who are both, um, well brother, who’s a former police officer and the sister, who’s a current police officer. And so I have a little glimpse into the law enforcement world and work closely with a colleague. Um, uh, Rich Girling is his name who does a lot of work with mindfulness in policing.

So it’s a culture. That’s got it. You know, old roots, um, mostly masculine roots, kind of a roots in almost in a militaristic kind of style because of variety of things. And frankly, just to kind of make it more current that in that one single profession, you’ve got people being asked to do a superhuman job, uh, asked to do not just law enforcement, that what it’s called, but to be psychologists and social workers and media and dispute mediators and you know, a half a dozen other roles that it’s not fair to ask them to do.

So they’re outmatched, they’re drawn to the profession because of its history that looks sort of strong and stereotypically masculine and a place, where there’s some structure and discipline and that sort of thing. But then the job has all these demands on it. And so again, when you’re outmatched.  Or, you’re overwhelmed. The bad behavior emerges. Nobody goes into that field to be discriminatory or to, you know, harm people who are innocent or anything like that. Nobody has that intention. Um, but it happens because of those kinds of old and no matter how much a police department or a company or an organization wishes to have a more progressive, inclusive, supportive environment, it takes time.

Gissele: [00:26:13] Mmhmm and it’s interesting that you mentioned, uh, sort of policing.  I think I agree with you.  There’s not a lot of supports and the expectations are high. The role expectations are high, and there’s also a great deal of fear, right?

There’s huge risk that comes in those kinds of roles. And whenever you have fear, it’s hard to have compassion, uh, because you’re in self protection mode. Um, so it makes it, I think, a little bit challenging.

Steve: [00:26:39] Uh, I just want to say something about fear and then cause we still have our delay for some reason. Um, fear is a really, uh, interesting thing because. Uh, we don’t typically show our fear when we feel fear. Usually what we  the way we protect ourselves when we feel afraid or vulnerable is that we act out in a kind of angry sort of way.

So, so often when you see anger, when someone’s expressing anger, it’s really a self-protective thing, because something down deep has been hurt. Something, is feeling vulnerable or afraid. So the sweetest, nicest, little pussycat that gets cornered the back, goes up, the hair comes out, the claws come out and they get angry, but they are not angry beasts by nature.

So we as humans do the same thing. And so what we often see is anger acted out as if these people, whether it’s police officers or anybody else. Um, like you, you get the idea. These are angry people while they’re people who are afraid, like you said, um, who are. Who are acting out of anger to protect themselves.

So, um, this, just to loop this back to self-compassion that, uh, and it’s challenging in situations like being a police officer in the military or something like that. But if you have the capacity to create a space within you, that can hold the fear when it’s there, it doesn’t overwhelm you, but you don’t become absorbed by it either, but you can acknowledge it.

Then you don’t have to act out of anger. And so this is where self-compassion cultivates a safe, inner space over time.

Steve: [00:28:20] So someone in a, in a scary situation say a dangerous situation, a police officer, for example, to feel fear because it’s a dangerous situation, you’re supposed to feel fear. Uh, But it’s not beneficial if beyond feeling fear, you act, you react to that fear and anger that may not be what’s called for in that moment.

So if you had the capacity to read your own feelings and not react to them as if they were bad, but just allow them to be signals to be interpreted, um, then yeah, you can feel the fear and then choose a way forward that will resolve the situation. So that all sounds really logical and, reasonable, but it doesn’t happen if you can’t feel the fear, if you just react to it.

Right. So self-compassion helps us create this safe, inner space where when the fear comes up, we don’t push it away or say, Oh my God, I can’t feel fear. I have to push through it. But instead says, ah, fear. You know, and what am I going to do with this fear? So that’s a safe space, but it’s also, um, and I kind of came up with this and working with one particular man, uh, in the us coast guard.

So he said, I get this whole self-compassion thing about creating a safe, inner space, you know, being kinder to myself, not being so critical, perfectionistic, he said, but what about the, I can’t have this soft, squishy, soft, safe space inside of me when I’m dangling out of a helicopter, trying to pluck someone out of a sinking boat.

And so we had this conversation and he, and we kind of came to this conclusion that it was both a safe and a brave inner space that self-compassion, isn’t just about being soft and being able to feel the feelings and saying, Oh, poor dear, you’re feeling this, but also to feel the strength of that, to be able to acknowledge it and then act on it is, is, uh, an act of bravery.

Like we have to feel safe if we’re going to be brave and Brene Brown talks about this quite a bit. We have to create the safe, inner space that allows us to take brave action. And this is where I think that we can make some headway with men in particular, um, when we can, when men, and when anybody can see that self-compassion.

Is not just soft and squishy, but actually has a strong, resilient, motivating side to it as well, because that’s often what puts men off at self-compassion is that they think of it as this sort of soft, feminine, comforting, soothing, nurturing quality, which might be nice. But for men that doesn’t fit so well with their sense of themselves.

Gissele: [00:31:01] Very well said. Well, I was wondering if the experience of racialized men was different than non-racialized men in terms of compassion.

Steve: [00:31:13] Um, so I would say that I, while I don’t have direct experience that much in terms of, men specifically, you know, other diverse races, et cetera, um, I am pretty. Aware that, so I happen to be right, uh, writing, uh, what I think is the most ironic book in the series, a self-compassion for them dummies right now.

I am contracted and I’m about three-quarters or the way through writing it. And I happened to be writing a chapter on sort of how we can feel as if we belong in the practice of compassion, self-compassion, regardless of our identities. And when I say identities, it’s all of the different things that make up, um, a part of who we are.

So this can be things we’ve inherited, like, uh, you know, gender or body shape or, uh, you know, ancestry of various sorts, genetics, uh, and also our experiences like trauma or, discrimination or racism or, you know, any one of a number of things, health issues, chronic health problems, et cetera. And the reason I’m bringing all of this up is that so each of those identities carry some baggage with it, and it can be both, you know, positive baggage, so to speak and negative baggage that some identities afford some of us certain opportunities, but they’re also burdens as well.

And in other places and it’s, and each of those things describes who we are, but it doesn’t have to define who we are. And that’s really the difference. So people may come into a, you know, a man might come into a self-compassion course and be carrying the scars and the wounds of, having been a person of color or having been, gay or having been a member of a religious group of some sort that been persecuted or mistreated or whatever it might be.

And, uh, the good news is that everybody belongs. That everybody is a human being deserves to be happy and free from suffering and deserves their own kindness. And, and this too is true, so that I am a human and I am worthy of self-compassion. And I am, you know, I also share the identity of being a person of color or being gay or being overweight, or, you know, whatever it may be.

And this is, this is a part of what describes me, and I can treat myself kindly, nonetheless, not to discount those identities. Or to dismiss the wounds that that may be, have come with them, but to include those things that, that each person is worthy quite often, people will feel like they’re not worthy as a result of experience or inheritance or whatever it may be.

And they may think, well, the self-compassion isn’t for me because my problems aren’t that big, or they might say my problems are so big, that self-compassionate can’t help me. You can go both ways. Um, and when we can realize it doesn’t matter what our identities are, there’s nothing here about deserving or not deserving.

Every human deserves their own kindness. And if you can see that self-compassion transcends those identities without dismissing them, then you’ve got some room to work and to meet yourself with kindness, regardless of what your identities happened to be and that includes, you know, men versus women, et cetera, et cetera. So.

Gissele: [00:34:40] I think the book sounds brilliant. I look forward to seeing it when it comes up, because I think what you said is so spot on, we get caught up in these identities and while some of them are helpful in terms of understanding our experiences, that can also be a hindrance to us in moving in and helping us move forward.

And so I do think that there are definitely barriers that we create around being kind and compassionate to ourselves.

Steve: [00:35:05] Yeah. Yeah. I just had one quick story about that. Cause I think it illustrates it. Well, I, when I was teaching a mindfulness course several years ago, I think it was in the second week towards the end of class, it was at the end of class, one of the members of the class.

Came up to me. And she said she had brought all of her materials with her and she said, you know, I love this class, but I really, I really don’t feel like I belong here. She said, you know, listening to everyone’s stories and, you know, especially this guy over here, John, you know, he has this tremendous chronic pain and she said, all I have is anxiety.

You know, I’ve lived with anxiety all my life. You know, I, I only have anxiety. He has chronic pain, that’s like real problems. And so I really feel like I deserve to be here. And I, I talked her back from the ledge and said, everyone belongs to be here. And, and, you know, anyway kind of got her involved. And so she said, okay, I’ll come back.

And she did the next week, the end of class, John came up to me. And said, you know, I really love this class, I’m getting so much out of it, but I don’t really feel like I deserve it. He said, you know, all I have is chronic pain. He says, there’s people here like Mary over here that has all that anxiety.

Like that’s a real problem. And I so wanted to put the two of them together and say, look what happened, but confidentiality, of course. Right. But, but it was stark example of how, when we identify, I mean, there’s nothing wrong with sort of saying, yes, you have anxiety or yes, you suffer from chronic pain.

But if it starts to define you in such a way that it excludes you from the human race, then something’s not working. And compassion includes you in there in the human race because of the common humanity and the peace. And everybody belongs regardless. And because of those identities, there is a place here.

And the same is true for men just to kind of talk about men versus women,

Gissele: [00:36:55] Um, as you, as you were talking, I was also thinking about, how, of course, like historically we have disadvantaged racialized folks and minorities, marginalized them, um, and how challenging it must be for white males at this time to understand their privilege in actually be able to look at the consequences of what they’ve been able to accomplish through to that privilege. And at the same time, hold some level of compassion for themselves when others might not feel as compassionate.

Steve: [00:37:25] Hmm. Yeah. You know, I, um, I had this moment just actually right before we got on this call, um, where I was realizing that that especially like older white men, you know, like me, um, really these, these days require a great deal of equanimity and humility of us.  Um, I was thinking about, um, this kind of sets this conversation in a certain context, but, but I was watching the inauguration of our new us president and, uh, listening to an amazing poet. I think her name was Amanda Gorman, give a really touching, um, recitation of a poem. And she’s an African-American young woman.  And then there was a person giving the benediction who was, who was a minister who was also African-American and they were, it was all beautiful. And I was thinking about how many of these events in the past have had older white men doing both of those roles. And I was wondering while I was wondering lots of things, but relevant to what we’re talking about was.

Could we watch that and have the humility to step back and just honor what’s happening here regardless of the color of the skin or the identity, these people hold and for us who have traditionally had all the power, how hard that could be, if you weren’t mindful, if you weren’t in touch with that compassion to be able to step back and to see the greater good in this.

So it’s, it is definitely a challenge and, and it doesn’t mean that anybody is individually to blame for any of the hardship or anything else. It’s just acknowledging the pain that’s in the room and being willing to engage. Nonetheless.

Gissele: [00:39:10] Yeah.

Steve: [00:39:10] That’s the hard part.

Gissele: [00:39:13] It’s the leaning in.

Steve: [00:39:15] Yeah. Yeah. I mean, that’s, you know, we call our, self-compassion shop for men.  I don’t know. We may change it at some point, but we’ve been calling it ultimate courage because it does take courage to lean into those, those wounds and those stereotypes and all of this stuff. And to lean into just our own human suffering, there’s courage involved in that man or woman. It doesn’t matter.

We even say in self-compassion that it has both, you know, what we would call a yin and a yang side, where yin would be the more stereotypically feminine side and the, and the yang would be more of the masculine side, the feminine side being soothing, comforting, nurturing side of self.

Because when we struggle, we would like, you know, we should be kind to ourselves the way we be kind to other people. But the other side is the protecting, providing and motivating side of self-compassion, which are quite active, quite stereotypically masculine and, and, and more often people don’t recognize that that’s actually compassion that to provide for yourself, to provide for your family, to give yourself what you need to protect your family or yourself, or to motivate yourself, to make change.

Those don’t sound at first glance, like compassion, they sound like something else, but they are actually self-compassionate actions. I think that’s the doorway. And for more men to find their way in is to see that that taking action can be self-compassionate.

Gissele: [00:40:51] Yeah. Thank you for that. Um, one of the things I was reflecting on as I was preparing for this podcast is that we have this conception of masculinity and at the same time, some of the greatest and most compassionate leaders have been men, Jesus, Martin, Luther King Gandhi, the Buddha.

And so I’m wondering why we have, you know, and you don’t have to answer this, but I was pondering as to why we have this perceptions of the masculine equating kind of that very different values or very different behaviors than the ones modeled by those individuals.

Steve: [00:41:28] Yeah, well, that was a big question. Uh, you know, what Springs to mind that could be totally off base, but I think, um, nonetheless, when we get these messages, like I said, when men get these messages that, that emotions are intolerable.

I think all those people you named were probably highly self-compassionate and compassionate, obviously compassionate people. So, but whenever we get these messages about, it’s not good to have feelings, um, we, we, we try to act really quickly to discharge them in whatever means by whatever means necessary.

Often it’s just reckless hurtful. You know, tragic behavior of various sorts. And so I feel like in our desire to do well, we get impatient. And when we get, you know, when I get impatient, usually what I do, I get tougher. You know, I hunker down, I react, I pushed through, I tried to, I tried to use strength. I mean, not always, but, um, but I think because we do that, we end up creating this image of the man who is forthright, direct, um, pushy, aggressive, you know, there’s a difference between aggressive and assertive, but a lot of people don’t know that ground anyway. Okay. I think there’s just something about in trying to do the right thing.

We go about trying to do it too quickly and it’s, it’s hurtful. It’s not sensitive to the needs of people and it just creates a kind of, uh, I don’t know, a deadly sort of circle of, negative feedback that causes us to be more that way. So,

Gissele: [00:43:10] Yeah.

Steve: [00:43:10] Yeah. I don’t know. So it’s, you know, it takes time and all those people, you mentioned became who they were through, slow, steady, patient, persistence.

Uh, and we also don’t live in a culture that really rewards that in the short term. Um, you know, turning the other cheek and all that sort of stuff is not rewarded these days.

Gissele: [00:43:31] That’s true.

Steve: [00:43:32] Oh yeah. If you’re going to get to the top, you push your way to the top, you know, are what I’m happy to say. Previous President, is a good working example of that without being political about it.

Steve: [00:43:44] And I don’t mean, I guess it’s pretty obvious how I feel, but I guess I would just say that a person who is as narcissistic as this person is. Uh, we understand this from psychology as stemming from a wound, a really deep wound and without kind of getting into the details of it.

Um, it’s a reaction to a wound of feeling not good enough. And so having to constantly need feedback to feed that beast to feel okay. So whatever the actual dialogue is, this is a deeply wounded individual. And this is actually the key to transcending these things is actually to be able to see the wound underneath the behavior, you, and just like the person who is scared, who is acting out in an angry way, seeing that that person is actually scared.

Um, that’s a huge challenge for any of us. When your partner is angry, it’s the same thing that’s happening, but nobody wants to kind of go, Oh, I see that you must be hurt or respond to them as if they’re hurt. We respond to the anger and then escalate up, you know,

Gissele: [00:44:50] Yeah, absolutely. And thank you for mentioning narcissism because I think people confuse that with self-love and it actually comes from lack.

And I think that was one of the, you know, you guys would talk about the myths of compassion or self-compassion that people think it’s indulgent or narcissistic when really narcissism again comes from lack it doesn’t come from self-love and Kindness.

Steve: [00:45:11] Exactly. And what we see is the outward behavior, because it’s constantly stress striving to fill that hole, you know?

Um, but we think it’s yeah. Like, you know, you, you said it fine. I don’t need to restate it. I think you’re right.

Gissele: [00:45:25] I was wondering, if you could share like two or three things that, you know, especially men could do to start to increase their level of self-compassion.

Steve: [00:45:34] Take a mindful self-compassion course would be a good thing, but I’ll try to pick something a little bit easier, uh, in the short term, I think introducing the, the concept of being able to meet your own emotional state, you have to change it. Well, this is the thing. When we feel emotions, we’re all human.

We all feel emotions, um, if we can slowly make the room for those emotions to arise in whatever form usually comes from the form of contemplation of pausing. You don’t have to sit cross legged on a cushion for 45 minutes necessarily, although I highly recommend it. Um, but to be able to bring yourself present in a moment of difficulty, this is it.

Like if you think back on the last situation that you handled poorly, like an interpersonal situation. So this, you know, this is a great example for men. And if you think about, wow, Yeah. You know, I,that could have gotten a lot better. Um, as you’re sitting here calmly thinking about it, you can see, Oh yeah.

Well, I, you know, that person said such and such, and that really pushed my buttons. And I’m always sensitive to that. And no wonder I said such and such, but it would’ve been way wiser if I had noticed that and respond to it in this other way.  What happened is you calm down that you weren’t in that reactive fight or flight mode. And then from a place of equanimity, of being relatively relaxed and open, you can see the exact same situation, but you see it with a whole different perspective. Now you may not be able to manage changing behavior in that situation again, in the future, but at each time that you do that, that you can bring a certain calm and attention to your experience.

Even the difficult ones, you’ll be able to access your own tool box for contending, with that situation in different, in a different way. So just doing that now in a moment of difficulty, take two minutes to breathe, to just bring your, ask yourself, where am I on my feet in this moment? That’s like the shortest mindfulness practice there is to settle yourself enough to come out of reactivity.

You could come out of fighters flight long enough to see with wiser eyes what’s going on. You’ll see that there’s some benefit. And so that’s one way. Another thing is if you are someone who hasn’t or critic like that inner critical voice that hammers at you all the time, lots of us have that. when you can start to pause, like I just described, can I also begin to see that, that inner critic as painful as it is, is actually, when you look a little closer, actually trying to keep you safe.  So yeah, I guess the bottom line is, start to be curious about the inner world. Uh, you don’t have to fix everything. You don’t have to change anything, just tuning into it. Isn’t enough for you to start to see where the patterns that are holding you back, where are you beating yourself up where it’s really, you’re beating yourself up for being, human.

You know, if you made a mistake, uh, well, welcome to the human race. We all make mistakes. This is part of what binds us together rather than pulls us apart. So, so any step towards opening up to what’s going on inside is a step in the direction of self-compassion.

Gissele: [00:48:45] Thank you very much. That was fabulous.

I was wondering, um, as we’re coming to a close, I’m wondering if you could share the many exciting things that are going on at the center right now.

Steve: [00:48:57] Oh yeah. So many things. So yes, the center for mindful, self-compassion (www.msc.org), um, in case you wanted to look it up. Um, so we exist in the world to make it a more self-compassionate and compassionate place.

That’s our vision. And, uh, and we go about that through the mindful self-compassion program. Um, that is this eight week long program developed by the founders, Chris Germer and Kristin Neff that you’ve made reference to, that you’ve been trained to teach. Um, and we offer a lot of programs, uh, we’re also offering some kind of advanced workshops coming up on, uh, fierce self-compassion, um, which is, uh, Kristin Neff’s, uh, upcoming book is on this topic, this idea of especially empowering women to see self-compassion as empowering and not just, uh, comforting and soothing.

And then another workshop by Chris Germer on self-compassion and shame, which is a whole topic for another podcast as well. Um, we also are launching us a self-compassion in psychotherapy, um, 30 week training program certification program for those who are psychotherapists who are wanting to integrate self-compassion into their work, not teaching mindful self-compassion, but bringing self-compassion into psychotherapy, which is a been super popular, a lot of interest in that, in that program.

Um, but we also have, you know, we offer sort of lighter programs to get people started, you know, shorter workshops and even online, um, free drop in meditations that people can learn about on their website. So those are a few of the things in addition to, I just will have to sort of say that over the last two and a half to three years, we’ve made a really significant push to address issues of diversity, equity, inclusion, belonging, um, reaching out to larger, um, community, you know, Into the larger community, making our programs as accessible as we possibly can affordable as we can reaching the unreached, the underserved, that sort of thing.

And, uh, and finally. We are doing live online teacher training for people who want to become teachers in mindful self-compassion.

Gissele: [00:51:17] That’s a great program. Thank you very much, Steve, for being with us today and sharing all your great wisdom. Please check out the center for mindful self-compassion and tune in for another episode of the love and compassion podcast with Gissele, for copies of this transcript, or to subscribe to our newsletter visit our website, http://www.maitricentre.com. Take care, everyone have a great day.

(c) Music: Mission Ready by Ketsa, 2019. No changes made. https://freemusicarchive.org/music/Ketsa/Raising_Frequecy/Mission_Ready

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