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Marianne Ingheim: “This is all I deserve. This is as good as it gets”

It’s important to take time to check in with ourselves. We can get so busy doing, doing, doing. The danger is we wake up one day, realizing we weren’t doing what we really wanted to do, we weren’t living the life we wanted to live. Taking the time to check in with ourselves periodically — whether through […]

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It’s important to take time to check in with ourselves. We can get so busy doing, doing, doing. The danger is we wake up one day, realizing we weren’t doing what we really wanted to do, we weren’t living the life we wanted to live. Taking the time to check in with ourselves periodically — whether through journaling or by going for a quiet walk — is super important. We need time to reflect, and that’s hard to do if we’re never alone, if we’re constantly distracted by our gadgets or interacting with others. From this perspective, alone-time can be a gift you give to yourself.

Being alone with our thoughts and feelings can be scary, but it gets easier the more we practice, and self-compassion can definitely help. Researcher Kristin Neff defines self-compassion as containing three elements: self-kindness, mindfulness, and common humanity. When we’re alone, we can practice being mindful and kind to ourselves — watching our thoughts and feelings come and go without attachment or judgment, letting everything be as it is while giving ourselves the love and support we need. Our common humanity reminds us that we’re never truly alone, that we will always be connected to each other through our shared humanity. Self-compassion can help us to be alone without being lonely.


As a part of my series about “How To Learn To Finally Love Yourself” I had the pleasure to interview Marianne Ingheim.

Marianne is a Danish-Norwegian American writer, teacher, and Ph.D. student at California Institute of Integral Studies. She is the author of Out of Love: Finding Your Way Back to Self-Compassion, and she lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband and stepson. For more information, please visit her website: www.marianneingheim.com


Thank you so much for joining us! I’d love to begin by asking you to give us the backstory as to what brought you to this specific career path.

My interest in researching self-compassion and writing about it comes from my own struggle with harsh self-criticism. I grew up in a strict religious home, believing I was inherently flawed. From a young age, I learned — as many of us do — to be self-critical. The problem with self-criticism, besides the fact that it makes us feel bad and can lead to anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues, is that it keeps us from living our lives to our fullest potential. I ended up settling for a “small life”, thinking I didn’t deserve better.

Then I got cancer. Talk about a wake-up call! After a double mastectomy and a lot of souls searching, I realized I hadn’t been happy for a long time, and I needed to make some big changes in order to live a more meaningful life. One of those changes was to leave my husband for almost ten years. I agonized about how to tell him this. When I finally did, he committed suicide. I blamed myself for his death, of course. How could I not? What eventually helped me deal with the guilt was the practice of self-compassion.

A few years prior to these events, I’d read Kristin Neff’s book Self-Compassion. Conceptually, I understood the importance of being kind to myself, but it wasn’t until I experienced cancer and suicide loss that I began to practice it. I had to; it was the only way I was going to survive, and eventually, thrive.

After cancer and suicide loss, I went back to school to get my Ph.D. I wanted to study self-compassion and create a framework for how it can help people move through transitions, which is what it did for me. I also wrote a self-help book called Out of Love: Finding Your Way Back to Self-Compassion in order to share my story and inspire readers to unlearn their own self-critical patterns and live happier, more courageous lives.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you hope that they might help people along their path to self-understanding or a better sense of wellbeing in their relationships?

My book Out of Love came out on May 26, 2020. My next project is finishing my dissertation, which I hope to publish as a book as well. In the dissertation, I propose what I’m calling a Self-Compassion Narrative for creating growth-oriented meaning in the aftermath of an adverse event.

I believe the stories we tell ourselves play a key role in our sense of well-being and how we approach life circumstances. Many of us tell ourselves self-critical, limiting stories that hinder our personal growth. Adversity can be an opportunity to write new stories that are more growth-oriented. Self-compassion can greatly aid this process.

I hope to show that the Self-Compassion Narrative can help people survive and thrive, just as it helped me after cancer and suicide loss. Through self-compassionate storytelling, we can become more authentic and powerful versions of ourselves.

Do you have a personal story that you can share with our readers about your struggles or successes along your journey of self-understanding and self-love? Was there ever a tipping point that triggered a change regarding your feelings of self acceptance?

Cancer was definitely a wake-up call for me. I realized I wasn’t living the life I felt I was meant to live — in other words, fulfilling my purpose — and I was letting this one, precious life slip away. We don’t get to live forever, and so how did I want to live?

After surviving cancer and suicide loss, I gained confidence in myself. I realized I was stronger than I’d ever thought I was, and that this strength comes from inside me. I’d always looked to someone or something outside myself to rescue me, which had led to a lot of codependent relationships and addictive behaviors. What I learned from my experience with cancer and suicide loss was that not only did I have the strength within me — it had to come from within me. I needed to find belonging within myself rather than search for it elsewhere. I needed to love myself first before I could love anyone else. And when I say “love myself”, I don’t mean bubble baths. I mean consciously choosing who I spend my time with, what I spend my energy on, and what behaviors I engage in. Are they in alignment with who I want to be in the world? That, to me, is what self-compassion is all about.

One of the ways this new confidence manifested itself was in my choice of partner. I started dating online, and here’s the key: I picked the guys I wanted to go out with! I didn’t settle for whoever would have me. I can now say that I’m happily married, which doesn’t mean there aren’t challenges, but the awesome thing about self-compassion is that I can be the container for myself, taking care of me even when the world around me seems to be falling apart. And that’s a much healthier place from which to create relationships.

According to a recent study cited in Cosmopolitan, in the US, only about 28 percent of men and 26 percent of women are “very satisfied with their appearance.” Could you talk about what some of the causes might be, as well as the consequences?

I think comparison has a lot to do with it. We compare ourselves to other people, whether it’s our friends or the beautiful people we see in the media, and we judge ourselves harshly. We don’t feel like we measure up. While the media does have a lot to do with it, I think more than anything it has to do with our natural tendency to compare ourselves to others. Why do we do that? It goes back to our hunter-gatherer days in which an isolated person was less likely to survive than someone who belonged to a group. So, we strive hard to belong — to fit in. We judge ourselves harshly to preempt criticism and rejection from others. In fact, self-criticism can be seen as a result of this longing to belong.

This self-criticism, or lack of self-acceptance, can lead to anxiety, eating disorders, depression, and a tendency to live in fear. Self-compassion is an antidote to self-criticism, and it can make a big difference in terms of our tendency to compare ourselves with others. Self-compassion isn’t based on the approval of others. It’s based on acceptance of ourselves exactly as we are.

As cheesy as it might sound to truly understand and “love yourself,” can you share with our readers a few reasons why it’s so important?

When we understand and love ourselves, we can be authentic, showing up in the world as our best selves, living life to our fullest potential. If you don’t love or understand yourself, how can you be yourself?

When we understand and love ourselves, we can create healthy relationships rather than codependent or in other ways unhealthy ones. We need to love ourselves first in order to truly love others. If we don’t know who we are, how can we expect anyone else to? If we don’t think we deserve kindness and give it to ourselves, how can we expect anyone else to?

Knowing, being, and loving ourselves are intrinsically linked to how we show up in the world and the kinds of relationships we co-create.

Why do you think people stay in mediocre relationships? What advice would you give to our readers regarding this?

Scarcity thinking. We think, “This is all I deserve. This is as good as it gets.” And we’re afraid of being alone. We don’t think we can handle being alone. So, we settle.

But love isn’t scarce! There’s so much love out there, and the fact of the matter is we can survive to be without a partner. Once we recognize our own strength and start to love ourselves enough to know what we want and deserve in a relationship, we can begin to make healthy relationship choices and surround ourselves with people who truly lift us up.

When I talk about self-love and understanding I don’t necessarily mean blindly loving and accepting ourselves the way we are. Many times self-understanding requires us to reflect and ask ourselves the tough questions, to realize perhaps where we need to make changes in ourselves to be better not only for ourselves but our relationships. What are some of those tough questions that will cut through the safe space of comfort we like to maintain, that our readers might want to ask themselves? Can you share an example of a time that you had to reflect and realize how you needed to make changes?

Well, first of all, I want to say that change can’t come until you’ve truly accepted yourself. It’s paradoxical, I know, but we have to accept before we can change.

The question I think we should all be asking ourselves is this: Am I living the life I feel I was meant to live? If not, what’s holding me back? Whatever’s holding me back is the thing I need to change.

I’ve had to change beliefs, behaviors, and relationships because they were keeping me from being my best self. It wasn’t easy — leaving my husband of almost ten years, rejecting fundamentalist beliefs, and leaving the church I grew up in, quitting my addictive pattern of drinking.

Humans tend to be change-averse and prefer the status quo. We’re comfortable with what we know. This is where self-compassion can make a difference, giving us the courage we need to make changes without beating ourselves up when we fail. Because we will fail, but we don’t need to give up. We can keep going in spite of failure.

Self-compassion doesn’t mean self-indulgence. In fact, the inner critic can be a self-sabotaging, smooth talker, making me do things I don’t want to do — like a drink too much — or keeping me from doing what I want to do — like finish writing a book. To me, self-compassion is what gives me the clarity and courage to change.

So many don’t really know how to be alone, or are afraid of it. How important is it for us to have, and practice, that capacity to truly be with ourselves and be alone (literally or metaphorically)?

It’s important to take time to check in with ourselves. We can get so busy doing, doing, doing. The danger is we wake up one day, realizing we weren’t doing what we really wanted to do, we weren’t living the life we wanted to live. Taking the time to check in with ourselves periodically — whether through journaling or by going for a quiet walk — is super important. We need time to reflect, and that’s hard to do if we’re never alone, if we’re constantly distracted by our gadgets or interacting with others. From this perspective, alone-time can be a gift you give to yourself.

Being alone with our thoughts and feelings can be scary, but it gets easier the more we practice, and self-compassion can definitely help. Researcher Kristin Neff defines self-compassion as containing three elements: self-kindness, mindfulness, and common humanity. When we’re alone, we can practice being mindful and kind to ourselves — watching our thoughts and feelings come and go without attachment or judgment, letting everything be as it is while giving ourselves the love and support we need. Our common humanity reminds us that we’re never truly alone, that we will always be connected to each other through our shared humanity. Self-compassion can help us to be alone without being lonely.

How does achieving a certain level of self-understanding and self-love then affect your ability to connect with and deepen your relationships with others?

When we know and love who we are, we can show up authentically for others. We’re not playing any relationship games, trying to be someone we’re not, pleasing other people, proving ourselves. We’re not trying to rescue someone or be rescued by them. We’re already whole, and from this place of wholeness, we can make true connections with others. That doesn’t mean everyone will like us. In fact, that’s part of the point. We’re not trying to get others to like us; we’re trying to create honest relationships. If someone can’t accept us for who we are, we need to really consider whether we want them to be a part of our lives.

In your experience, what should a) individuals and b) society, do to help people better understand themselves and accept themselves?

We need to teach our children self-compassion rather than self-criticism. This is easier said than done because self-criticism is so ingrained in us. Even if we aren’t particularly critical of our children, if we’re critical with ourselves — if we model that behavior — that’s what our kids learn.

From a young age, we learn to be self-critical — from our parents, teachers, church, the media, and other elements of our environment. Our parents learned it from their parents who learned it from their parents and so on. It’s a widespread myth that self-criticism helps motivate us to do better and be better. Research shows quite the opposite. It’s compassion, not criticism that motivates us.

Another cultural myth we need to let go of here in the West is the Judeo-Christian idea that we are “born bad” — born evil and sinful. Even though many of us no longer believe that to be true, it still resides in our “collective unconscious”, as Carl Jung would say, and it will continue to live there until we deal with its harmful legacy.

We also need to teach our children what psychology professor Carol Dweck calls the “growth mindset”, instead of encouraging the “fixed mindset”, which, unfortunately, is what many of our educational systems do. When we adopt a fixed mindset, we are concerned with doing things well from the start and avoiding criticism or failure. When we adopt the growth mindset, we are more concerned with learning and less discouraged by criticism and failure.

Self-compassion can help us be more motivated by a desire to grow than to avoid criticism. It can help us be gentler with ourselves when we fail and give us more courage to try new things because we’re not motivated by fear of criticism from ourselves or others.

Self-compassion and a growth mindset are key to self-acceptance and continued growth as individuals and as a society.

What are 5 strategies that you implement to maintain your connection with and love for yourself, that our readers might learn from? Could you please give a story or example for each?

I’m an introvert and require a lot of alone time, so being a Ph.D. student and a writer are perfect occupations for me! I also have a strong desire to be creative and independent, so being stuck in a job with a rigid structure doesn’t suit me. I think it’s important to honor who you are in your occupation as well as your relationships. How you spend your time, as well as who you spend it with, should reflect your needs and wants. That’s self-love.

My solitary preferences are evident in the strategies I use to stay connected to myself. I point this out because I want to make clear that these are things that work for me: journaling or other writing; exercising at the gym, hiking in nature, or taking a ten-minute break from work and walking around the neighborhood; singing or playing the piano; reading poetry or other inspiring books.

A journaling exercise that always helps me get in touch with myself is dialoguing with different parts of myself. I dialogue with my body when it’s in pain, with my inner critic when it’s giving me a hard time, with my inner wisdom when I need to make a difficult decision. It may sound strange, but it’s been a very effective tool for me.

What are your favorite books, podcasts, or resources for self-psychology, intimacy, or relationships? What do you love about each one and how does it resonate with you?

I mentioned Kristin Neff’s book Self-Compassion earlier. That book really changed my life, both personally and professionally.

I love Mark Nepo’s work. It’s profound, poetic, down-to-earth, spiritual, uplifting, all at the same time. It’s the kind of thing I read and go, “Yes!” His The Book of Awakening is especially dear to me because it sustained and inspired me during my cancer journey.

Other books that have played key roles in my journey to healing, self-understanding, and self-compassion include: Brene Brown’s The Gifts of Imperfection, Tara Brach’s Radical Acceptance, John Bradshaw’s Healing the Shame that Binds You, and Mark Wolynn’s It Didn’t Start with You. These books helped me see where my self-criticism comes from.

Another book I love is Danielle LaPorte’s The Desire Map, which changed my perspective on goals and helped me get clear on what it is I truly want from my life: to feel that I’m being creative.

Speaking of creativity, here are two books that helped me along the way: Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way and Deena Metzger’s Writing for Your Life. My creativity is also inspired by the poetry of Mary Oliver, David Whyte, and Rumi. Oh, and I have to mention Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet. All of these books influenced not only my creativity but also my spirituality and relationship to myself. It’s all connected!

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? Maybe we’ll inspire our readers to start it…

Self-compassion! Think about it: if everyone had compassion for themselves, how different would our world be? We wouldn’t have people trying to prove who’s the tougher guy, or people putting each other down in order to elevate themselves. Self-compassion and compassion for others are intrinsically linked. If we all had more compassion for ourselves, I think there would be more compassion and peace in the world.

Furthermore, if we think of the world as one entity, then kindness for self and kindness for others becomes the same thing. If we are all parts of the same living organism, then what I do to you, I’m also doing to myself. From this perspective, kindness is the only thing that makes sense.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote” that you use to guide yourself by? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life and how our readers might learn to live by it in theirs?

Since we’ve been talking about learning to love yourself, I’m going to quote a phrase from my book, Out of Love: Finding Your Way Back to Self-Compassion, which has come to be a mantra of mine: “I’m not here to be perfect; I’m here to grow.” It’s something I’ve had to learn the hard way; I’m a recovering perfectionist. More and more, I choose to focus on what I’m learning rather than how well I’m performing. It ties in with the growth mindset I talked about earlier.

When I’m focused on performing perfectly, I stick to what’s safe, what I’m already good at. My creativity is stifled, and I don’t try anything new, even if it’s something I’m passionate about. Perfectionism is a hard habit to break, but I continue to remind myself, “I’m here to grow”. I make the conscious decision to follow my passion rather than my fear of failure. Self-compassion helps. Every time my inner critic in the form of the perfectionist comes along and says I’m not good enough, I reply, “But I’m learning, and I’m learning because I want to.” It really doesn’t have a come-back to that!

Thank you so much for your time and for your inspiring insights!

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