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Fierce self-compassion

Sara Lobkovich
Sara Lobkovich
9 min read
Fierce self-compassion

The level of complexity in my world these days is high, and I'm moving through another round of overwhelm. This cycle is harder than the last few in some ways and easier in others.

Easier in that my world is so much more local these days – I'm not managing a large number of colleague and supervisor relationships and the complexity of relationship dynamics with an employer, and that shift suits my nervous system better.

The challenges of self-employment are a better fit for my nervous system than the challenges I have as an employee.

But harder in the sheer number of urgent and important items on my radar (and the huge number of non-urgent and important or chronic things adding background stress to my processing). And also harder in my energetic reserves.

We've been trading off sleep for performance between our two companies and I feel it. When my tank runs low my emotions run higher. And I've got an awesome toolkit of mindfulness practices that – when my tank runs low – I have a tough time deploying.

There is one particularly challenging relationship in my life right now that's occupies a disproportionate amount of my mental and emotional bandwidth. It's low-level hard for me – nothing dramatic or actually damaging – just a dynamic where I struggle to roll with the punches and am not always at my best.

And I know, in that situation, to look for my shadow in the relationship.

To ask: what is it about this person that so activates my emotions? That so pushes my buttons. And are those shadow-self things that I need to be aware of?

In what ways is this challenging relationship a teacher? In what ways can I practice compassion with this person and in what ways can I practice compassion with myself in this challenging dynamic?

What am I here to learn?

But occasionally a conflict pops up that so strongly violates my values and boundaries that I can't find compassion. It's a two-fer that's even worse than it sounds, because I can't find compassion for the person, and I can't find compassion for myself. I can't see the "shadow" in the exchange: the offense is so severe, the conflict or mismatch in worldview so strong I can't find my empathy for the other person's situation or worldview. And I struggle to be compassionate toward myself when I feel

the word I don't want to say but it's the only word I can think of to use


I'm not a person with what I would call a "healthy and normal" relationship with anger. I'm socialized to tread carefully – to walk on eggshells, and not provoke anger, and to not feel anger, because it's (vaguely, I can't describe why or how) unsafe. My socialized response to conflict is avoidance and accommodation. I've had to actively work and study and learn and practice my skills around collaboration (and even competition) in the face of conflict.

And however you want to characterize it – my needs, my boundaries, my professional standards – whatever it is that's violated, when the violation is a certain amount severe, my default response used to be frustration. Typically, frustration with myself for my feelings. What's wrong with me, that I feel this way? What can I do to feel differently?

Where these days, after years of healing and work, I know that thing I used to think of as frustration is sometimes anger.

And I had an episode of that recently where one of those challenging relationships in my life flared. And I got angry. And even in the moment I told myself: compassion, compassion, compassion

[string of expletives] compassion [more expletives] compassion

I should take a walk, take a breath (which I did, which was helpful)

and I should be compassionate for myself, and compassionate for this other person

and I could get as far as "I should be com....." and then I couldn't even finish the sentence in my own head. I felt too violated. Disrespected. Taken advantage of on top of being taken for granted. And like compassion was too far a bridge to even see off in the distance.

So I vented, angrily, to Chris (and he was present for me, and offered me a hug and I took it and that's when the tears started and they didn't stop for awhile – big, angry tears I couldn't explain but didn't care to dive too deeply into). And then I asked myself what I needed and my self said fresh air so I took Gibson for another walk. And while I was walking I asked myself what I needed and my self said "rest" so I laid down to rest and then my self needed to cry, so I alternated between the two for awhile.

And my tears were still angry.

But after a little rest (and partly, thanks to Chris's support and his affirmation that that there was nothing wrong with what I was feeling, and that my reaction was reasonable and safe and ok for me to have) I got up and washed my face and dusted myself off and focused on gently taking care of myself for the rest of the evening. And then I set my alarm for as late as possible and made sure I got a little extra sleep and that helped too. And today I'm resetting and managing my boundaries with that relationship (and also recruiting trusted others to help me on that front) so it'll be okay and is all headed in a better direction.

And because this is the way the universe works, I was running an errand today and the podcast shuffle put on an episode of Ten Percent Happier, featuring Kristin Neff.

Kristin is one of the world's foremost researchers on compassion and specifically self-compassion. Her book, Self-Compassion, is one of the books on my nightstand and my e-book reader so I always have it within arm's length, and her meditations (including loving-kindness meditation) are among my most frequently played when I need a guide during a meditation session.

While I was winding my way through my feelings this weekend, I beat myself up a little bit (I know, the irony) about not finding my place of compassion. What would Kristin do? I asked myself.

So, for her to pop up in my algorithm this morning was – of course – worthy of notice. I listened to a few minutes of Ten Percent Happier then hit the podcast search to see where else she's landing on her press tour and found an episode of Tara Brach's podcast also featuring Kristin and talking about her new book and am listening to it slowly and savoring the conversation.

Kristin's latest book is called Fierce Self-Compassion.

In it, she draws the distinction between tender and fierce self-compassion. The distinction is, quoted from her website:

Tender self-compassion involves “being with” ourselves in an accepting way: comforting ourselves, reassuring ourselves that we aren’t alone, and being present with our pain. Fierce self-compassion involves “acting in the world” to alleviate suffering. It tends to involve protecting, providing for, and motivating ourselves. Sometimes we need to stand tall and say no, draw boundaries, or fight injustice. Or we may need to say yes to ourselves, to do what’s needed to be happy rather than subordinating our needs to those of others. And if we’re stuck in a bad situation or habits that are harmful, it means doing something different. Not because we’re unacceptable as we are, but because we care.

It turns out, my compassion, compassion, compassion mantra, and my What would Kristin do were spot on. I just only had half the toolkit with tenderness when the other half of the toolkit I needed to acknowledge was my fierceness.

And this specific instance in this challenging relationship was an episode that called for fierce self-compassion. It was a situation that called for standing tall and saying no, drawing boundaries, and saying yes to myself – to do what I needed to take care of myself rather than subordinating my needs to those of others.

While writing this one of my race-wife friends messaged for a little bit of community around the challenge of the phases at home between rounds. When the race-spouse is focused on reclaiming what we can of our homes, yards and lives during the moments between travel and race rounds – and when our racer-partner is still urgently and exclusively focused only on the race season.

They are always racing.

The supportive spouses and partners are too.

It's just that, in addition to the actual always-racing of the urgent and important team and bike and never-ending race prep there's also the dishes and the laundry and the lawnmowing and the bills to pay and the phone calls to make and the travel to plan and the dogsitter to find and the vet visit to not miss and the fundraising to do,

and the kid stuff (Chris does more of that in our household but in some race families the kid stuff lands more on the non-racer)

and the thousand other operational and logistical things that are important for households to stay afloat that don't float up into the sphere of awareness of the partner who's exclusively focused on the urgency of the race program.

So we swapped a little bit of moral support around the reality of the between-round (which is, in a way, harder than the rounds themselves). And she asked, rhetorically, "Where is the laundry fairy!"

and I replied that the laundry fairy is your local dry cleaner who – in a pinch – can do wash and fold. It's not that expensive, and when I get resentful and overwhelmed, I drop off the laundry and pick it up the next day folded and it helps me look at my husband and the race program with more love and less resentment.

I don't do it often, but once in awhile, I need to pull that lever.

Some seasons, I shared with my friend, are about nurturing and tending the love in our relationships.

Others are about minimizing resentment however and wherever we can.

And that's okay. The years are long and made up of multiple seasons each, and the seasons change. (And the weather within each season changes remarkably quickly and for the better with even a tiny reduction in resentment.)

So when we're in these phases where everyone in the household has too much on their plate to carry, it's important to recognize that what we're doing (together and in our individual capacities) is hard. And sometimes we must make ease for ourselves any way we can.

(Also to be fair, this isn't a one-sided thing over here. I'm in a mode right now where I'm "always racing" in my business and writing.  My attention is about 50% on my own business, and 40% on my book and other writing & content creation projects and then everything else gets about 10% of my energy and focus. And I am (laughably) difficult to live with when I'm in writing mode. So that Chris was able to show up for me the last several days, with everything on his plate and mind, is a gift I'm grateful for.)

So after all this winding and happenstance I can note that

this is hard

this is hard for me. This is hard for Chris. And this is hard for the person who pushes my buttons.

We are each doing the best we can.

And I can find something like compassion for that fact.

On the professional front, I'm neck deep in a heavy load of content creation this month to build some support resources for OKR coaches and executive leaders leading through transformative change. I'm also working to close my (whoa!) Q4 contracts.

I do have a few slots still available on my professional roster between now and year end and would love to fill them with your referrals.

If you are connected with leaders facing transformative challenges and change who you think I may be able to help, I would love a low-key introduction.

I've also updated my website with more information about my services generally, and also, just added a deeper dive about my OKR Coaching and Consulting package options.

And over the next few days, I'll be sharing a little bit more about why I love what I do via social thanks to my friend and photographer Sung Park and would appreciate your amplification of those posts ( LinkedIn is live and ready to share)!

He interviewed me as part of an in-progress series of conversations he's having with changemakers about what they love about their work and is generously letting me share a couple of excerpts via my channels.

A short from Sung's interview. A slightly longer, more rebellious and subversive version is available on my website, here.

Be compassionate with yourself this week: tenderly and fiercely.

P.S. A reminder from @_the_open_space on Instagram: