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Accompanying vs. abandoning ourselves

Accompanying vs. abandoning ourselves

During these last months of addressing my stuck patterns and trauma responses, one piece that’s become increasingly important has been the idea of accompanying rather than abandoning ourselves. 

To discuss this one I brought together two sides of myself who used to wish to abandon – or even eradicate – each other, but who now form a pivotal friendship in my plural system: Max and Beastie. Check out this zine and this blog post if you want to know more about plural selves. Hopefully the content of the conversation is interesting regardless.

Beastie: You and me this time bestie, have we done this before?

Max: I don’t think so. Definitely makes sense to be the two of us given our background huh?

Beastie: It does. I guess the time that you befriended me was the first time that we determined to accompany a part of ourselves that we had previously tried to abandon. It’s formed something of a blueprint for subsequent times. And it helps us have faith that it’s always worth doing.

Max: I still remember it vividly. Around six months before I befriended you was the last time that I tried to eradicate you entirely. That was something I’d been trying to do our whole life: to get rid of the harsh critical voice that was always so loud in my mind. Something tough happened and you were saying such cruel things. I dragged you into the woods determined to be rid of you once and for all. I shouted at you out loud. It was the first time we’d ever talked. I would never talk aloud to myself normally, back then. But I screamed at you to be gone, and you just screamed back even louder.

Beastie: I gave as good as I got. This is a key point though isn’t it. You can’t eradicate parts of yourself, no matter how much you might want to. You might as well learn to accompany them, because abandoning them hurts you, and in the end it’s never going to work. You’d have loved to have abandoned me in those woods for good, but I followed you home.

Max: We listened to this song: Fighting with Myself, coming back out of the woods. At least it gave us a smile.

Beastie: Six months later, you decided to interview me, in your journal.

Max: You were pretty mean to me then too. But we got more curious. We started to journal with you more often, from all the different sides of us.

Beastie: And weirdly it was you and I who ended up forming one of the closest bonds.

Max: I’m so grateful for that. I’d read all those books about how, when embraced, the inner critic could become a fierce ally. But I was skeptical.

Beastie: You so often are.

Max: Yeah, yeah. They were right though. I consider you my best friend now, no question.

Beastie: And I you Max. You are the side of us who has been to the fore our whole life: battling hard to survive and feeling so alone in it. I’m so glad to be able to accompany you now, along with the rest of our motley crew.

Max: And I need a good friend, finally confronting the impact of all those times.

Beastie: Shall we start? 

Max: Let’s.

What does it mean to accompany yourself rather than abandoning yourself?

Max: Okay so the idea of accompanying yourself means that you commit to staying present with yourself through every mental or physical state that you might be in: every situation you encounter, every feeling you experience, every side of yourself that shows up, no matter what.

It’s a radical alternative to what most people usually do. Abandoning is a good word for that because it captures how we tend to reject the suffering part of us when we are hurting, and even kick them while they’re down. For example when we feel a physical or emotional pain we might try to ignore it or push through it, and even become angry and frustrated with ourselves about it.

Beastie:  This relates to what Ara and I recently discussed, about the gap. In practice our commitment to accompaniment rather than abandonment looks like returning to the gap each time a challenging situation, feeling, or thought comes up. Instead of going to the next item on our to-do list, scrolling through social media, or pressing ‘next episode’ on Netflix, we sit for a few minutes to check whether there’s anything there. If there is, we sit with that, or journal about it, or talk it through, before we go on to the next thing.

Why is this so necessary?

Max: Do you want to start on this one?

Beastie: Sure. I think a big part of what we’re doing when we accompany ourselves is to meet ourselves in a regulating rather than dysregulating way. Given the way our culture is around feelings, very few people have learnt to regulate their emotions, particularly when very strong emotions arise. Mostly we try to repress feelings by zoning out or distracting ourselves with busy-ness. Or we react out of feelings in ways that are dysregulating for ourselves, and often for others too.

Max: Mmhm. Staying busy – or flight – has definitely been my go-to up until now. It’s been such a challenge for me these last months to continually drop that abandonment strategy and commit to staying present with myself and with whatever I was trying to distract from.

Beastie: We all have our go-to ways of avoiding experience Max. Mine – fight – has always been to get very noisy mentally about all the things we’re doing wrong, or lately more what other people are doing wrong. Either way it’s another way of not really being here now: getting caught up in critical and judgemental thoughts.

Max: From what we now know about trauma and shame, both result in people who very easily become dysregulated and reactive. Committing to accompany yourself increases your capacity for regulating yourself, through whatever life brings.

Beastie: I’ve also heard it described as increasing the ‘window of tolerance’ between zoning out and becoming activated. When we have a narrow window of tolerance, many experiences tend to result in us shutting down or distracting ourselves, or becoming overwhelmed by big feelings. Accompanying ourselves can expand that window to get gradually wider over time. More experiences become possible to tolerate without disappearing or disintegrating – two ways of abandoning ourselves. Pema Chödrön talks of the same thing as ‘refraining’ rather than repressing or reacting. 

Max: Refraining sounds like not really doing anything, but what we are doing when we refrain is to accompany ourselves.

Micro and macro accompaniment/abandonment

Beastie: It’s useful to think about how we abandon ourselves on every level – micro to macro – and how we might accompany ourselves at every level too.

Max: Right. So micro level might be a fleeting moment, and macro level our most challenging situations. 

Beastie: What are your macro abandonings Max-y?

Max: Oof you know very well what they are. I often abandon myself when I feel I might be getting sick: finding ways to blame myself for it, and worrying about cancelling things, instead of stopping and looking after myself. Hurting others and getting hurt by others are also big ones for me. When I realise I’ve hurt someone I can feel I don’t deserve to accompany myself, so I abandon myself into shame and self-blame and trying desperately to make it better. When others have hurt me I often go to shame too, assuming it must somehow be my fault, or getting lost in trying desperately to make sense of what happened.

Beastie: I’m hoping to write more about shame given that seems like one of the very hardest experiences to accompany ourselves through. Also I like the idea of a reformed inner critic becoming an expert on shame.

Max: Well you’re already helping me out with it, but it remains a tough one indeed for us.

Beastie: As with so many things it can be great to work your way up from the micro to the macro level. In working on the micro moments when we tend to abandon ourselves we can practice moving from abandoning into accompanying in those situations. Hopefully eventually it will be our go-to even in our more challenging situations.

Max: Practising regulation, or expanding the window of tolerance.

Beastie: Exactly. In the conversation James and Jonathan had about trauma they described how we’re picking up on little micro moments where we might’ve abandoned ourselves in the past, and deliberately accompanying ourselves instead.

Max: Oh yes, like if we stub our toe, or drop something, or cut our finger. In the past we might’ve thought ‘I’m so stupid’ and sped up to get on with whatever we were doing. Now we take such moments as an opportunity for accompaniment. We try to slow down rather than speeding up, to respond with kindness rather than harshness, and maybe even to make quite a ritual of looking after ourselves for at least as long as we need. We do a similar thing if we wake in the night from a bad dream.

Noticing abandonment

Beastie: That takes us nicely into how we even notice when we abandon ourselves. I guess many people abandon themselves a lot of the time without even realising they’re doing it, or naming it as such. We certainly did.

Max: Or rather I did, when I felt like it was just me rather than this plural system of seven. I would never have named overworking as abandonment. I wouldn’t have noticed that I was trying to crack on with something even when my body or feelings really needed my attention.

Beastie: Speeding up is a useful thing to notice. That’s often a sign of abandonment. Recently we were on a walk and got lost taking a path that petered out. In the past we would have sped up under those circumstances: trying to find a route from there to where we wanted to be, even if it meant going over barbed wire fences or through marshes, or something that got us even more lost.

Max: What a metaphor! The last time that happened, we deliberately slowed down and remembered that habit, and then went back the way we came.

Beastie: What other things are a sign that we’re abandoning ourselves, or at risk of it?

Max: I would say noise is a big one: When our thoughts get noisy planning things, or worrying about whether we’ve done something wrong or might do, or judging other people.

Beastie: You, Jonathan, and me that is: flight, fawn, and fight. We can all get noisy.

Max: We often think of it as being stuck back in this huge chalkboard room trying to predict, control, and figure out everything. It’s noisy as hell in there.

Beastie: So then the freeze strategy of zoning out is another sign of abandoning, as is remaining busy. We might notice that we’ve been scrolling on our phone for ages, or moving quickly from one task to the next.

Max: Right. So speeding up, thoughts getting noisy, or feeling numb and disconnected from our feelings: Those are all signs that we’re abandoning ourselves, at the micro level.

Beastie: And at the macro level it’s much more of a plunge into extremely tough feelings: abject shame, or terror that others will invade us, or that we will disintegrate. That’s the emotional flashback

Max: It’s the worst. At those times the sense is that we deserve to be abandoned or punished, not to be accompanied or looked after.

Beastie: It’s certainly easier to notice at that level. Not so easy to accompany ourselves when it happens though.

Plurality and accompaniment/abandonment

Max: I think plurality has been a vital part of our way into accompaniment rather than abandonment. When I felt like I was a single person I just couldn’t feel kindly enough towards myself to do this. I didn’t value myself enough to feel I was worthy of accompanying rather than abandoning. And I guess I saw my value in what I did, rather than who I was, so I always tried to push through and do more.

Beastie: Hence all the speed and the noise.

Max: You were a big part of that noise if you remember, monster.

Beastie: If you hadn’t kept shutting me out… that’s all I’m saying.

Max: I really doubt that is all you’re saying.

Beastie: When a person has been cast out and alone for so many years they may have a tendency to verbosity.

Max: *chuckles*

Beastie: But yes, experiencing ourselves as more than one person has helped hugely in accompanying ourselves. For people who don’t have a vivid sense of themselves as plural, it may well still be helpful to cultivate a kind witnessing voice who can remind them when they are in danger of abandoning themselves, and accompany them through tough experiences present, or past (like when they go back over memories).

Max: Right. It doesn’t have to feel like a separate person, it can just be you talking as if you were supporting a friend in the same situation. The more you practice it the more familiar it can become.

Beastie: Because we have seven selves to draw upon we tend to locate ourselves in a conversation between whoever is struggling most, and whoever has most capacity to support them in that moment. Quite often we find it helpful to default to our parental parts supporting. That’s James and Ara who are generally good at being kind, protective, holding, and calm. But it’s nice to mix it up so we all get to see that we’re capable of accompanying, and practise doing it.

Max: The book we’re reading at the moment by Janina Fisher suggests that what it does – neurobiologically – is to connect up the more rational and emotional parts of the brain. It feels like – even when our nervous system is jangled – we can access a self that’s apart from that who can talk the jangled part of us into a more soothed state again.

Beastie: These seven parts of us may just be a really strong metaphor overlaid on that kind of embodied response. But it’s a metaphor that works well for us.

Max: My bestie the metaphor! It does feel like leaning back into a kind supportive friend who will talk you through it for as long as it takes.

Beastie: I’ve got you Max.

Max: I feel it.

Working with internal and external situations this way

Beastie: So something we’ve hit on recently is that it’s possible to work with both internal and external situations in this way: shifting from abandoning to accompanying.

Max: I guess we’ve already given a few examples of how the internal situations work. Let’s just pick a couple more though, to bring it to life. So last night Jonathan was at risk of abandoning himself: giving himself a hard time for having tough feelings, worrying he was bringing us all down.

Beastie: Something we can all do at times.

Max: What accompanying looked like then was that James encouraged Jonathan to sit down with him. He reminded him of everything we’re dealing with at the moment and how intense it is, how these feelings make sense. Then he encouraged Jonathan to recall what we’re trying to do now. Jonathan remembered how his difficult feelings were actually an opportunity to practise regulating: potentially expanding the window of tolerance. Finally James encouraged him to do one of his top soothing activities.

Beastie: Imagining a house we all live in and where each of us is in the house at that particular moment.

Max: Other times we do the 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 grounding technique. Both those seem to calm our nervous system well.

Beastie: What’s another recent example?

Max: This morning I got into a loop of whether we’re getting anywhere. It had been ages since we’d written anything. I was worrying whether creativity would ever come back; whether we’d ever work on bigger projects again. I wondered whether we’re really doing anything here or whether we’re just telling a cute story of progress around what is actually us spinning in a wheel like a hamster.

Beastie: Helpful. 

Max: I know, I know. Anyway how I went from abandoning to accompanying was I journaled with Ara: as a dialogue like this. Again that involved her helping me to remember why we’re doing this, why it is so tough, and what potential there is for helping others going through similar things having gone through it ourselves.

Beastie: But we have also used the accompany-not-abandon idea well when working with external situations, right?

Max: Yes. It reminds me of that thing Adrienne Maree Brown said that really sticks with us. How if you see something out in the world that you find yourself judging, find it in yourself and work with it there first, before you engage with it out there in the world.

Beastie: One recent example is that we were angry – okay I was angry – at somebody’s people-pleasing behaviour. By trying to be really even-handed and look after everybody they were actually in danger of hurting us. It made me think of that idea that’s circulating a lot at the moment about how being neutral or passive in a situation is to collaborate with what’s going on.

Max: You got beautifully firey and self-righteous as you do Beastie.

Beastie: I may have done a bit. And then I remembered. We have a people pleaser within us. Suddenly I was nearly in tears. To think about treating our Jonathan the way I was treating this person in my mind. Because we know Johnathan intimately we know precisely the terror of conflict he feels which leads to him desperately trying to please everyone, and the horrendous things he’s been through which explain where that comes from.

Max: We had a similar experience around somebody who overstretched themselves and didn’t have any energy left for us. I had a flicker of judgement around that, and then remembered that it’s exactly what I used to do all the time: so busy that I had no time to nurture important relationships including my relationship with myself. I could really connect with the pain that caused me, and those around me. Like I could connect with both sides of that situation now that we’ve experienced both.

Beastie: There’s a deep point here about the connection between separating self from other and separating self from self. When we judge people out there in the world we separate ourselves from them – us and them thinking – and it also leads to a kind of internal severing of ourselves from the part of us which is capable of doing the exact same thing. I realised profoundly how hating or trying to destroy something out there has the knock on impact of separating us from the part of ourselves who has that capacity. Often that part becomes distant internally after we do that.

Max: So accompanying every part of ourselves, and helping them to be really honest with themselves about their potentials and their impact, is a way of getting to the point where we could accompany anybody else in the world too.

Beastie: Yes. I see it as a potential plural superpower. Like if we can really accompany all of the sides of ourselves then we’d be able to see those aspects manifesting in others, and be with them in a regulating way too. I guess it’s what Pat DeYoung describes doing in therapy with her clients: because she can be with all of her own shame without disintegrating, she can be with all their parts’ shame too.

Max: If we could accompany every part of ourselves, even when we’re manifesting our worst capacities, then there’d be nothing we were projecting onto others. There’d be nothing to leak out – or lash out – because we’re not okay with it and trying to keep it down.

Beastie: Yeah but we’re not quite there yet!

Max: I wish. It’s like what Pema says though, about how the most difficult people in life should be our most valued teachers. They show us the bits we’re still abandoning in other people, because we haven’t managed to accompany it in ourselves yet.

Beastie: You spot it, you got it!

What does this mean for our relationships with others?

Max: So here’s a burning question I have for you Beastie. If we recognise that we have the capacity for everything in ourselves, and that the task is to learn how to accompany all of it…

Beastie: Yes?

Max: Doesn’t that mean that we end up allowing others’ abusive behaviour? Or never acting for social justice because we know that we have it in us to be the oppressor ourselves?

Beastie: Oh that’s a good one.

Max: I know you like the complex questions.

Beastie: My answer would be not at all. In fact it is quite the opposite: seeing this stuff in ourselves – and learning to accompany it – is in service of preventing abuse and acting against oppression. 

First when we accompany rather than abandoning ourselves through everything we are less likely to act in abusive, oppressive, and harmful ways. Seeing those capacities in ourselves, and knowing the parts of us who are capable of that kind of harm intimately, means that we are less likely to unconsciously act out of it. We’re able to be more intentional and less reactive. 

Secondly, knowing those capacities in ourselves intimately makes it way easier to see when others are acting from those places. When other people behave in reactive ways we can often feel very confused and gaslit. That’s true whether it is a ‘fight’ person claiming they’re not trying to control us, or a ‘flight’ person saying they can be here for us when clearly they can’t, or a ‘fawn’ person telling us what they think we want to hear but we can sense the inauthenticity. When we’re super familiar with those parts of ourselves, we more easily see it in others and can have both clarity and grief about what they are doing, and the impact that has on other people, and on themselves.

Max: So we’re less likely to be drawn into damaging dynamics with them.

Beastie: Right, we can more clearly see what we’re dealing with because we know that potential in ourselves. Pema would say that the aim is to prevent others from hurting you or anyone else. And when we can see what they’re doing that clearly – and with that much compassion – we’re more able to find the wisest strategy for preventing harm. No strategy is off limits.

Max: What about wider systemic and structural oppression, rather than interpersonal harm?

Beastie: I feel like again if we can address these things in our inner systems then we’re more likely to see, and to be able to address them, in outer systems. Obviously that requires collective rather than just individual work, but the individual work helps us to be able to join that struggle. We tend to collapse or close down in the areas where we abandon ourselves. We are more able to engage in the areas where we accompany ourselves. 

So we need to move towards the places where we tend to shut down and become a bystander, or act out and become a perpetrator. Like Laverne Cox said: 

‘Each and every one of us has the capacity to be an oppressor. I want to encourage each and every one of us to interrogate how we might be an oppressor and how we might be able to become liberators for ourselves and for each other.’

In some ways knowing that all these capacities are in here – in us – is a relief. There’s no more need for defenses or for pretending that they’re not. The outcome of such inner work could be to expand our capacity to value everyone, not matter what. That is desperately needed in a world where some people – some lives – are valued so much more highly than others.

Max: You take this very seriously don’t you?

Beastie: I contain our capacity to do the most damage, potentially. I’ve turned it in towards us our whole life, rather than out towards others, but I do hold rage, I hold fight instincts, I am capable of harm. I have harmed us after all. If accompanying myself means having more of a handle on that capacity, and potentially helping others who have the same capacity not to act out of it, I’m very much down with that. 

How to shift from abandonment to accompaniment

Max: Right, so let’s summarise, how can people do this work of shifting from abandoning themselves to accompanying themselves?

Beastie: Enough questions for me. Your turn bestie.

Max: But I thought I was meant to be swinging in a hammock somewhere trying to get over my flight tendency to do all of the work all of the time.

Beastie: You are, but this time you managed to wait until you really felt like having this conversation so I’m letting you have a pass. If I feel you starting to push it I’ll send you right back to the hammock, don’t worry.

Max: *grin* Okay well first I’m reminded of your excellent post about the master’s tools and mental health

Beastie: Why thankyou.

Max: You said that whatever we do, we can’t get out of our stuck patterns and harmful habits the same way we got into them. 

Beastie: How do you see that linking to abandonment and accompaniment? 

Max: Well first we could see abandonment as the thing that was done to us in the first place: we were taught – by those around us and wider culture – that parts of us were unacceptable, and that is why we split them off and abandoned them. Me and Tony covered that in the plural selves zine.

Beastie: You’ve both come a long way since then.

Max: I know right? So yes one way to remind ourselves to accompany rather than abandoning ourselves is to remember that abandoning any part of ourselves – or any experience – repeats the same kind of violence that was done to us in the first place, which may well have already have been repeated through our lives enough. Those of us who have been emotionally abandoned in various ways seem tragically more prone to abandoning ourselves, and to developing relationships where that same kind of abandonment occurs.

Beastie: Nice! And once we’re committed to accompanying not abandoning?

Max: Well these are the practices that we’ve been trying, plus some links to where we’ve explained them in more detail:

  • Practise noticing the particular signs that suggest you are abandoning yourself – these may be different for different people – and name that that is what’s happening. This is something like Babette Rothschild’s mindful gauges.
  • Commit to bringing yourself to the gap each time this happens. This could be anything from three deep breaths to show yourself that you noticed the abandonment and that you are committed to coming back to accompaniment, up to a long sit where you stay with the experience until you feel really present to yourself again. If you can’t do this on the spot when abandonment happens, promise yourself to do it as soon as you do have the capacity to do so: top priority.
  • Journal or talk aloud between the part who is feeling abandoned or is tempted to abandon themselves, and a kind supportive voice who can accompany them through whatever they’re going through.
  • Also notice where you are feeling like abandoning another person, or a way of behaving, out there in the world (e.g. by judging, criticising, or withdrawing) and use that as an opportunity to connect with the part of you who is capable of the same thing, through sitting with their feelings, journaling, or similar.
  • Personify aspects of yourself that you find hard to accompany and communicate with them that way.
  • Develop rituals for regretting moments of abandonment and re-committing to accompaniment.

What about the places where you can’t do it yet?

Beastie: So obviously this is a work in progress for everyone.

Max: Yeah we’ve reflected on being in process with this a couple of times lately. I like this idea from Pema. She says that if walking barefoot over the world hurts your bare feet you could try to cover the world with leather, or you could make yourself a pair of leather shoes. 

Learning to accompany ourselves feels like making that pair of shoes. It means that we are able to go towards more and more places because we know that we can accompany ourselves there. There’s no risk of abandonment, or of destruction by others, because we know that we have our own care and protection to bring to the situation. Also we can clearly see what others are up to and where they are coming from, rather than getting drawn into damaging dynamics with them, or taking on anything of theirs that they try to project onto us. 

There’s a sense that even death might not be so scary if we have learnt to accompany ourselves anywhere. We’ve thought recently that a lot of our fear of death is actually fear of abandonment because it brings up everything that we still haven’t come to terms with about ourselves. If we imagine that we had come to terms with all those things then death itself doesn’t feel so scary.

Beastie: But we’re not quite there yet with death.

Max: Heh no, although I can now get the flicker of feelings what that might be like. Still these days I can be tempted to abandon myself when I feel in pain or like I’m getting sick, so I probably have a way to go with death.

Beastie: What we’re learning is that there’ll always be places that we can’t yet go to, without abandoning ourselves. It’s about going the next step, not all of the way, and learning to be okay with the fact that we’re there in some situations and not in others. It’s not all or nothing. 

Pema has another metaphor about meeting our edges. Like a bunch of people are climbing a mountain and each will reach that place where they can’t go any further at a different point.

Max: The place where they can no longer manage to go on accompanying themselves. As someone with a big fear of heights I like that analogy.

Beastie: The thing is not to feel terrible for meeting our edge. We can get to know those edges really well, and eventually find the way to accompany ourselves across them.

Max: We actually have a kind of mental list of the situations where we can do accompaniment already, and the situations that are edges for us, that we keep gently moving towards. Checking in on those situations is helpful for recognising that what is an edge this week can become a place we’re able to accompany ourselves across next week.

Beastie: Or month, or year, for those of us who are not massive overachievers Max-y.

Max: Alright, alright. But we will have this whole thing sewn up by the end of this year right Beastie?

Beastie: Whatever you need to tell yourself love.

Accompanying yourself when you abandon yourself

Max: So what do we do when we find a situation where we still abandon ourselves?

Beastie: Well recently I realised that there’s a paradox here.

Max: I know you love a juicy paradox.

Beastie: Do you need to go back in the hammock? I think you’re getting tired.

Max: Meanie.

Beastie: What I realised – as you well know – is that one of the times we most often abandoned ourselves was when we abandoned ourselves.

Max: Totally. 

Beastie: So one we get a lot is first thing in the morning. We often find the noisy thoughts kick in before we’re fully awake, and we lie there and let them churn for a while before we realise that’s what we’re doing. 

Max: And what was happening was that we were then getting frustrated with ourselves for abandoning ourselves, and therefore abandoning ourselves more.

Beastie: Now we try to just notice that it has happened and get curious as to what it might be like to accompany ourselves around having just abandoned ourselves. In that case it looks like bringing kindness in around those thoughts as soon as we do notice them, and using them a bit like a dream: as something to get curious about but not take too seriously. We might use the content of the noisy thoughts as a jumping off point for journaling, or try to access the underlying feeling and sit with that, for example.

Max: I definitely felt the shift when we moved to accompanying around abandoning. The noisy thoughts didn’t go away, but we didn’t have that extra layer of suffering that we had when we struggled against them and abandoned ourselves around them.

Beastie: There’s probably a lot of those paradoxes right? How to love yourself when you’re not loving yourself, how to befriend yourself when you’re being unfriendly towards yourself…

Max: We’re not going to run short of blog posts any time soon are we?

Beastie: You have a problem and the hammock is right there.

Max: Moving on, another situation we’ve come up against is when one of those big flashback moments hit and we just can’t accompany ourselves through it. We feel like we’re disintegrating. We’re totally abandoned.

Beastie: Right and what we now try to do is to return to basic self-care, setting up the conditions under which the capacity to accompany ourselves is most likely to come back.

Max: In practice what that looks like is allowing ourselves to finish whatever we were doing – because in abandonment we often just can’t allow ourselves to pause or stop. Then we get ourselves set up in our chair with our journal, perhaps a hot water bottle and a hot chocolate.

Beastie: The July hot water bottle is a real thing around here.

Max: And so far we’ve found that we can find our way back to each other at that point. The abandonment is usually only for the twenty or thirty minutes that it takes us to get there.

Beastie: That’s pretty impressive given how it used to often last for days or longer. Although of course it’ll also be fine to find ourselves in longer periods of abandonment when really hard stuff hits. The process is to commit to finding our way back to accompaniment, however long it takes.

Max: Is there anything else?

Beastie: It’s probably a whole further blog post, but I’m struck by how accompanying ourselves looks something like treating ourselves the way people are encouraged to treat romantic partners. Think about the marriage vows: ‘I take thee to have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death us do part.’ What does it mean to make such a commitment to ourselves? To have and hold ourselves no matter what? That’s real accompanying. Maybe people need to commit that to themselves first and foremost in order to be in good relation with others? 

Max: It connects with what we often talk about on the podcast, about the importance of self-love. I’m also reminded of that bit from the TV show Normal People where Connell protects his love Marianne.

Beastie: He says:

Look at me a second… No-one is ever going to hurt you like that again. Everything’s going to be alright, trust me. Because I love you. And I’m not going to let anything like that happen to you again.

Max: When we heard that we imagined you saying that to me, rather than hearing it from an external person.

Beastie: There may have been one or two tears shed at that moment.

Max: *smiles*

Beastie: I think I’m going to leave the last word to Pema:

The practice is compassionate inquiry into our moods, our emotions, our thoughts. We are encouraged to be curious about the neurosis that’s bound to kick in when our coping mechanisms start falling apart. This is how we get to the place where we stop believing in our personal myths, the place where we are not always divided against ourselves, always resisting our own energy. This is how we learn to abide…in groundlessness.

The Places That Scare You, chapter 19.

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Plural tag: This post was by Beastie and Max.


Meg-John Barker is the author of a number of popular books on sex, gender, and relationships, including Queer: A Graphic History, How To Understand Your Gender, Enjoy Sex (How, When, and IF You Want To), Rewriting the Rules, The Psychology of Sex, and The Secrets of Enduring Love. They have also written a number of books for scholars and counsellors on these topics, drawing on their own research and therapeutic practice.

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