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Given a choice between strength and vulnerability … choose both.

I’m not sure when “duality” became a bad word. Yes, rigid binaries such as “good/bad” or “us/them” are toxic, but non-dualism can be equally dangerous. Would you like a non-dual surgeon to operate on you? Would you like a non-dual mechanic to fix your car? No. If there’s a problem, there has to be separation between healer and healed, subject and object, observer and observed, for things to get any better.

Compassion is all about embracing duality. People think compassion means merging with pain. A person’s in distress, so we take that energy on fully, which leads to burnout, blame, and eventually, turning away from those in need. Self-compassion is no different. When we identify with our pain too much, we aren’t treating ourselves with love. We’re just wearing our minds down and feeding self-blame and self-pity.

When we’re suffering, we need to identify two different parts of ourselves: a vulnerable part, which can be honest about the pain, and a strong part, which can be there for the vulnerable part while knowing everything’s going to be okay. These two parts tend to be out of balance. Sometimes, the vulnerable part dominates so much that it scares away the strong part, in which case despair sets in. Sometimes, the strong part tries to discipline or shame the vulnerable part, in which case there’s self-hatred. Neither situation is conducive to compassion.

When I work with clients, I try to create as much duality as I can between them and their pain. Sometimes we cast their pain as a movie character: perhaps a young child or a difficult monster. Then I ask, “Tell this character the words it most needs to hear.” This accesses a client’s strength. You can do this exercise on your own. Freely express your fears, doubts, and anxieties. But don’t forget to ask, “What words do I most need to hear right now?” and don’t withhold these from yourself. You are the one you’ve been waiting for.

Featured image by Laly Mille

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