Is that all there is? Self compassion and the imperfect life


Wickremasinghe, N. 2014. Is that all there is? Self compassion and the imperfect life. Thesis Middlesex University / Ashridge Business School Business School
TitleIs that all there is? Self compassion and the imperfect life
AuthorsWickremasinghe, N.

This thesis describes my slow journey towards self compassion and how the discovery, nurturing and manifestation of self compassion has informed and enhanced work with clients and my relationships with colleagues, friends and family. Self compassion - the presence, absence, longing for and fear of - is the golden thread that runs throughout my research although I have not always seen it. My research was motivated by a deep and pervasive ‘unease’. Unease about the purpose and impact of my consulting work, unease about the choices I made as a mother, partner and colleague and unease about the quality of relationships I was part of. I started this inquiry by trying to make sense of this ‘unease’ and associating it most strongly with my work. I wondered whether engagement in work that was truly fulfilling might lessen the unease. However, as my inquiry progressed I saw how this striving to achieve what I defined as ‘good work’ (or ‘good parenting’, or ‘good relating’) fed and was fuelled by a set of core beliefs about myself and the world that contributed to not lessened my problematic patterns of relating and experiencing. I started to call these patterns vicious idealisation loops and in its final stages my inquiry became a search to discover how to lift up and out of vicious loops that seemed hard wired and permanent. As I became more interested in vicious loops I started to notice that many of my clients were also caught in similar patterns of striving, self criticism, disappointment and more striving. They frequently described themselves as perfectionists who never felt entirely satisfied with their achievements or the achievements of others. Thus alongside my story is the story of James, a client and a self defined ‘perfectionist’ caught in vicious loops of his own. James represented for me the voices of many corporate clients with whom I worked. The coaching I offered him over the course of a year illustrated how powerful and essential the qualities of self compassion are for those people whose ideals are beginning to crack and whose loops are losing energy and impact. Furthermore, the work I did with James enabled me to experiment with new compassionate practices for working intentionally and explicitly with this form of vicious looping in other areas of my consulting practice. My research evolved in distinct phases broadly corresponding to the stages of an action research cycle. The first three years were dominated by an inner inquiry that centred around the purpose and intent of my research and I now understand that the consulting ‘experiments’ I carried out during that time were in the service of clarifying that intent. My Initial insights in to the phenomenon of vicious idealisation looping emerged from this mostly first person inquiry working with autobiographical material and informed by clinical/psychotherapeutic, philosophical and spiritual schools of thought. As I worked with this material I paid attention to how the boundaries between disciplines and ways of knowing influence each other, overlap and merge. I also stayed alert to how these disciplines could usefully inform my management consulting practice. For example, I learned about self compassion through exploring the biological, evolutionary, psychological, spiritual, philosophical and neurophysiologic research and practical applications. Then, drawing from my own experience of compassionate practice, I adapted the work to create and integrate a compassionate leadership session in my teaching programmes. The parameters of postmodern constructivist research (in particular the imaginal approaches of an alchemical hermeneutic method) gave me space to experiment with a variety of research methods and encouraged me to integrate ‘knowing’ from across disciplines. By the time I entered my fourth year I knew that my original question ‘what is good work?’ had floated downstream. When, as a result of burnout, I had to let go of what I believed was ‘good’ research I simultaneously experienced an opening out or surrendering to my work. I didn’t know how to proceed so I waited and listened and in doing so I encountered further upstream a different question concerning the role and nature of self compassion. The discovery of self compassion enabled me to enter in to the darkest realms of my experience, explore the conflicts between my selves and emerge with new insight and faith. Self compassion also guided me as I started to write this thesis and my criteria for considering both ethics and quality in my work is adapted from the three components of self compassion – kind, mindful and connected. I ask: is this work kind, respectful and tolerant towards my self and others? Is this work mindful – can it lift out of the personal and give voice to what is emerging without judgment? Is this work connected to, relevant and useful to others? Throughout the four years I wrote, recorded, transcribed and filed my inquiry data. I kept a reflective journal, used free fall writing and dream recording to work with unconscious thoughts and wrote papers for discussion in my doctorate supervision groups to make sense of and invite feedback on my emerging ideas. Added to this were my client notes, write ups from consulting assignments, notes from supervision groups, audio transcripts from my therapy sessions, doctorate supervision, coaching and teaching and thousands of underlined sentences, margin notes and post-it markers in the hundreds of books and articles I read during this period. In the final year of my research, as I moved out of my own burnout experience with new insights, I was inspired to take my inquiry further afield. I used my own experience of disintegration and recovery to guide my evolving coaching and consulting practice. I paid close attention to how self compassion might be introduced as a practice to support my clients lift out of their own vicious loops and I sought feedback and wrote about the impact and implications of this work for organisations seeking employee development. This thesis concludes with a chapter drawing attention to the challenges inherent in working with vicious loops. I consider how a compassionate approach to persistence, relapse and resistance can nurture the courage and patience required to enter in to and stay with the frustrating and often imperceptible process of change and growth.

Department nameBusiness School
Institution nameMiddlesex University / Ashridge Business School
Publication dates
Print06 Nov 2014
Publication process dates
Deposited06 Nov 2014
Output statusPublished
Accepted author manuscript
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