The following is a summary of a section of ‘The Lost Art of Compassion’ by Lorne Ladner, pages 203-324
[Being compassionate] towars yourself mean actively freeing yourself from the outer conditions and the inner, negative thought patterns and emotions that cause your suffering. Being compassionate towards yourself often entails being fierce or ruthless toward your own narcissism [false images, negative and positive, that you have about yourself] and toward your negative emotions in general. These are your true enemies, which hide in the recesses of your own mind. Your narcissism and metal afflictions only lead to sorrow, relationship problems, self-pity, anxiety, grief and exhaustion; they only harm you and others.
The roots of this next method… ‘battling one’s inner enemy’, can be found in many of the world’s … religious traditions, particularly in the life stories of their saints.
Part 1: Knowing the enemy within
Hatred and anger are obviously enemeies of compassion, but in daily life the simple tendency to cherish our own self-image, comfort, security, possesions and status [ourselves] more than we cherish others is the real enemy that chokes the very life of compassion.
The first challenge …. is to realize that we can live our whole lives without becoming aware that this inner enemy, our own self centred narcissism, even exists. Problems arise in our lives, and we don’t think deeply about the cause or we spontaneously blame other people or outer circumstances for our trouble. It never occurs … [that] the main cause …. is hiding within our own minds. …
[In] the midst of our normal, daily lives there may be something in our own minds and heats that cheats us, blocking our own and others’ happiness. And we may never see it because it seems so normal. …. [At some point in your life or while cultivating compassion, you] will reach a point at which [you] must search [your] own soul to find the enemy within who blocks [your] way. …
[I]f you wish to conqure you inner enemy, you must understand clearly how it functions in your life. Only [then] …. will you understand which of your thoughts, feelings, and behaviours should be abandoned and which should be increased. …. [I]t takes effort to get to knwo this enemy in your minds. …
[U]sually it’s in the little things that we can see how we cherish our self-image and comfort more than we cherish others. When we avoid difficult or annoying tasks, hoping that others will do them instead—leaving the garbage, the dishes, or the cat litter for somone else—this is a clear sign of our narcissism. Acting kind, friendly or charming in order to get others to do what we want indicates that we cherish ourselves mroe than others are willing to use them to our ends. When we look down or ignore those who are less intelligent, attractive, wealthy, or powerful than we are, or when we court the attention of those about us in a social or business hierarchy. ….
As we make progress in understanding narcissism as an inner enemy, we mus stop identifying with our superficial self-images and our narcissist defences. As long as we identify with our narcissism, feeling ’this is me’, ‘it’s who I am’, we cannot battle it effectively. If you don’t …. there’s a danger that your efforts …. will degenerate into a form of self-hatred …. [where] seing the faults … leads you to think ‘I’m so terrible’, ‘I’m so bad’. … [T]his is just another narcissistic slight of hand.
Part 2: Personifying the enemy (The face of my enemy)
When we imagine some previously unconscious inner quality as an enemy soildier, a cruel dictator or a malevolen deamon, we immediately gain the psychological benefit of disidentifying from that inner quality. By imagining it as a figure with a face and a name, we gain distance from that quality and become able to see it as separate from our identity or sense of self. ….
Personifying our inner qualities …. is a simple and practical method …..
[Example:] Erin always wanted other peopel to like her, and so she spent her waking hours continually trying to do what other people expected. …. One day Erin found an image for this quality. She said, “I’m like a human pinbal, bouncing from one demand to another. I’m so busy bouncing of bumpers that I never stop to think where I want to go or what I want to do”. …. Before, she ha simply identified with this as her way of being in the world—essentially who she was. Now, as Erin set aside time to think about the direction she wanted to take in her life, she sometimes caught herself: “Oh, I was busy last week, running around, and suddenly I thought, ‘I’m becoming the human pinabll again’. So I just stopped and took some breaths and got in touch with my own feelings. I thought about what I was doing and why.” ….
[Personifying negative traits can help counter unrealistic positive self-images]
[Personifiying one’s inner enemy] helps us decrease the extent to which we identify with negative qualities as aspects of ourselves. It also can serve to conterbalance an unrealistically positve assesment of our own thoughts and behaviors. Simply bringing the images to mind can serve as an immediate propt to change. As the process of posonifying is natural and often enjoyable, it’s also a way of bringing more spontaneous energy to our inner work. Towards this end, it’s important to use an image that feels personally intersting and meaninful. Finally, personifying such inner qualities is also a way of getting to know them more deeply and accurately ….
Part 3: A Battle Plan
[T]he next step … is to create and implement a battle plan. When we’re entering into an inner battle, we should work had to create plans for various contingencies, with a sense that victory is necessary and ultimate failure in unacceptable. ….
It’s … important to begin by taking on an enemy we can handle. By conquering one unhealthy tendency, we grow in the confidence, strength, and skill needed to battle others. This is much better than [taking on a big challenge] … only to feel defeated and give up. ….
In psychotherapy, I find that my patients are often content to take on one or two enemy soilders, winning themselves a bit mroe contentment and connectedness, and hen calling a cease-fire with narcissism and allow things to rest there. … Erin—- create a battle plan that involved spending a few minutes each morning thinking about what was most important for her day, say no to someone at least once per week, asking someone else for something each week, taking a day to herself each month, and catching (and stopping) when she started to feel like a pinball. …..
By contrast, religious practitioners of various traditions have been more likely to take on the inner dictator, narcisssim itself.
I often talk with people who have gained an absolutely clear insight that a current patter is their inner enemy, bring them and those around them only suffering, and yet they are terrified to change. Giving up their old appoach—letting go of that enemy—feels like losing part of themselves or losing their best friend. Moving into a new way of being seems terrifying, like stepping off a cliff. … At such moments, we must remind ourselves not only that our old appoach brings suffering but also that we have the capacity for something better. …
Many Western psychological researchers have boted that when narcissism begins experiencing a defeat, a temporary increase in negative feelings such as depression or anxiety often rises. … [W]e should not be discouraged by such feelings but should take them as signs that the battle is progressing well. …. D.W. Winnicott calls this sort of depression “disillusionment”; one feels sad because one is loosing certain grandiose illusions about one’s own importance. We feel sad or anxious when we lose the illusion that we’re more important than other people; that our life will or should always be easy and pleasant; that time won’t eventually take away all that we have; that others exist in large part to serve our needs; or that our interacting by being demading, manipulative, or enraged will lead to satisfactory results.
Example: Fracis of Assisi