Today I am just me; no masks and no excuses. Simply me!
One of the goals of this blog is to expose readers to some of the great thinkers and practitioners in the worlds of motivation, self-help, and personal development. Today I am pleased share an interview with Dr. Marcia Sirota MD FRCP (C).
Dr. Sirota is an author, speaker, and founder of the Ruthless Compassion Institute. This conversation was conducted by email between February 21 and March 1, 2010. I’d like to express my thanks to her for her generous attention and thoughtful responses to the questions posed and for sharing her wisdom and ideas with us.
I hope you will find Ruthless Compassion a useful tool in your journey. You will find contact information for Dr. Sirota at the conclusion of the interview.
TAS: Marcia, can you tell the readers a little about your background and what led you to the work you are doing now?
Dr. Marcia Sirota: I have a Bachelor’s Degree in Philosophy, having studied both Western and Eastern schools of thought. I also have a background in the arts; in particular drawing, writing and dance. I’m a board-certified psychiatrist currently doing individual and group psychotherapy with a focus on healing trauma, overcoming blocks to creativity and success, conquering addictions and improving relationships.
TAS: Ruthless Compassion is an attention-getting phrase. How do you define RC? How long have you been practicing and teaching it?
DMS: Ruthless Compassion is a synthesis of loving-kindness and empowerment. It’s a philosophy which promotes the unerring pursuit of the unvarnished truth tempered with an attitude of gentleness and respect toward ourselves and others. It also entails taking personal responsibility for the choices we make and the actions we take in life; recognizing that no-one can or should do these things for us. Finally, it’s an attitude of integrity, whereby we hold ourselves and others accountable for these choices and actions and don’t enable anyone to continue making bad choices.
TAS: I love the idea of a philosophy that combines loving-kindness and empowerment. Often in life one person holding another person accountable can create conflict. How do inexperienced practitioners hold others accountable without eliciting hostility? Do all involved parties have to be committed to the process for it succeed?
DMS: Holding someone accountable for their actions doesn’t always mean confronting them. Sometimes it’s necessary to be more direct and to let them know that their behavior is unacceptable, but often it’s preferable just to give the person the type of consequences that emerge out of you taking better care of yourself. Practicing RC isn’t about “teaching someone a lesson” or bashing them over the head to make a point. It’s about neither enabling someone to hurt you nor colluding with them when they try to hurt others.
If someone gets angry or hostile when you don’t let them get away with their bad behavior, it demonstrates that they are unreasonable, and unwilling to change their ways. It might be disappointing to see this about someone but it’s not a bad outcome. It provides you with crucial information about their character that you’ll need in order to asses whether you want to associate with them or not.
All parties don’t have to be aware of RC for it to succeed. When someone receives consequences for having made a bad choice, they are being presented (by the practitioner of RC) with an opportunity to learn from their mistakes. They have a further choice to make then: whether to take advantage of the opportunity to learn and grow or to reject it, and perhaps become angry.
If the person chooses to become upset about receiving a consequence, perhaps in the future other people will practice RC with them and eventually they’ll make the connection and learn something; maybe even changing their ways. On the other hand, if they immediately use the consequences to improve their behavior, two things will happen: they’ll make it possible for us to trust them and feel closer to them, and they’ll be learning at the same time how RC works and may choose to use it themselves in the future.
TAS: This may sound like a question for a musician, but who are your psychological influences? Whose work inspired your vision for RC?
DMS: My psychological influences are many and varied: They include all my teachers, whether in my personal life or the ones I’ve studied in books. I especially appreciate Freud and his division of the psyche into Id, Ego and Super-ego, and Transactional Analysis, developed by Eric Berne who translated these concepts into the child, adult and parent parts of the psyche. I’ve taken that idea and run with it in my theories and practice. I also appreciate Jungian archetypes, folk tales and mythology as bases for understanding the complexities of the human psyche and human relationships. I probably take a lot from various schools of Buddhism, as well.
Ruthless Compassion came to me as an evolving concept through my practice and my life. All the above influences as well as my life experiences combined into this new way of looking at things. In observing the suffering of my patients and of people in general, I saw that the old ways of dealing with relationships, work, the environment, money, addiction, creativity and even spirituality didn’t hold, and that a new approach was desperately needed. Ruthless Compassion was borne of this need.
TAS: On your website, you state, “The goal of the (Ruthless Compassion) institute is to enable you to live with greater freedom, empowerment and happiness, to be in constructive, meaningful relationships and to make a positive contribution to your family and community.” How does RC help people achieve these aspirations?
DMS: RC can help people live better lives in that it supports their becoming more conscious. The ruthlessness aspect spurs them ever onward in seeing and dealing with the truth of how things are, who they are, and what the people in their life are doing to them and around them. The compassion aspect allows them to face the truth without beating themselves up, either for the choices they’ve been making or for not having seen the truth sooner.
RC keeps people from being enablers to others’ bad behavior, thus preventing a lot of potential suffering. RC is empowering because it has people living in reality and this makes it more possible for them to achieve their goals. It has people taking responsibility for themselves, while also preventing them from criticizing themselves. This combination is a great motivator for positive action.
TAS: What differentiates RC from other forms therapy or self-development techniques? Are there similarities with some other techniques?
DMS: RC is different in that it’s reality-based. There’s no magical thinking involved that tells people to think the right thoughts and then they’ll achieve their goals, or that if they buy into this quick and easy solution, they’ll fix their problem(s). RC tells you that good things come from working toward realistic goals in a meaningful way.
RC doesn’t promise to change your life or that it will bring you amazing riches, fabulous success or brilliant romance. What it does do is enable you to let go of a lot of the unnecessary suffering in your life that has come from making poor choices – the choices that were based on false hope, inappropriate expectations or erroneous beliefs. It allows you to improve your relationships by owning your part in them and letting go of the part that doesn’t belong to you; it frees you to pursue real goals, both of personal growth and outer success, based on your real efforts.
RC is also different because it doesn’t ask you to change who you are to practice it. It’s not a dogma, and therefore anyone can benefit from it. It doesn’t require you to change your diet, your religion or your lifestyle. What you do have to change is your attitude and your old ways of looking at yourself, others and the world.
I imagine that RC has similarities with a number of techniques or tools for living, but I also think that it is a unique philosophy in and of itself.
TAS: You mentioned magical thinking and false hope. Of course, there are some very popular “systems” that have come out in recent years giving people the impression that their thoughts are a kind of cosmic ATM card. You think the right thoughts, the claims go, and anything can be yours.
Unfortunately, those ideas have caused damage to the demonstrated benefits of positive thinking and positive visualization. How do you differentiate magical thinking from positive thinking and what role, if any, does positive affirmation play in RC? How does one differentiate false hope from real hope?
DMS: Magical thinking is deciding that something is so, just because you want it to be. It has no basis in reality. Positive thinking is seeing the reality of a situation and maximizing its potential.
False hope is the hope for something that could never be; for example that if you try hard enough you could get someone who doesn’t like you to love you. Real hope is grounded in what is actually possible, like the hope that you could become a happier, healthier person.
There is definitely a role for positive affirmation in RC but for it to be meaningful, it must be reality-based. This means we recognize our own limitations and the limitations of reality, and instead of trying to affirm the impossible (which renders our affirmations absurd) we affirm our inherent qualities and strengths.
Positive affirmations should remind us that we’re entitled to be happy and free; that we’re lovable and valuable as we are, and that we’re more likely (although not guaranteed) to succeed if we give something our best effort.
When affirmations are disconnected from reality, they are ridiculous at best and destructive at worst. When they are reality-based, they encourage us and support us in pursuing and achieving our goals.
TAS: What kinds of results have you witnessed? Are you able to share any anonymous success stories that really demonstrate the power of RC?
DMS: Practicing RC is a very effective way of improving your life. I’ve seen many example of people making positive changes in their relationships, at work, in overcoming addictions and in developing self-esteem. I’ve had a few patients whose marriages were in crisis and through the practice of RC, they are now in a much better place.
I had one patient who was being exploited and disrespected at work, even though they were an excellent employee. Through the practice of RC they’ve become a lot more strategic in the workplace, and while they continue to do excellent work, they are now setting appropriate limits on what is asked of them as well as commanding respect from supervisors and colleagues.
TAS: Where does RC go from here? Do you feel like the concept is fully developed or ever-evolving?
DMS: I see RC as an ever-evolving way of thinking and being. As I evolve as a person, and as the people who are using it evolve, we’ll be able to see where we can take this philosophy of empowerment, personal responsibility, self-accountability and integrity.
Rigid ideology tends to devolve into dogma; even fanaticism. I want RC to be a living, breathing philosophy that can grow and develop as we do. In order to be valid, it must be able to tolerate questioning and be amenable to change.
TAS: Yes. We have seen dogma and fanaticism result from many well-meaning philosophies in the past. Does RC have a future beyond this generation? Do you see it as a movement or philosophy that will transcend your current work? Are there other teachers learning and teaching it? Does someone need to be in counseling or a group to practice it or can someone practice on his or her own?
DMS: RC is in its nacent form, and it’s my hope that more and more people will begin to embrace it and experience the benefit of practicing it. Like any new movement, people need to find out about it and I plan on giving seminars (webinars) and workshops in the near future to teach people how to apply the principles of RC in their daily lives.
I don’t think that RC needs to be learned or taught in a therapeutic setting, but I do believe that whoever teaches it must be very well-versed in the theory and practice, in order that they neither dilute nor distort the message. Along the same lines, those who want to learn it must be sincere, open-minded and well-taught, so that they don’t go off with a partial or confused understanding of the principles of RC.
TAS: If TAS readers are interested in learning more about RC or your work, how can they do that?
DMS: TAS readers are welcome to visit my website: http://www.ruthlesscompassioninstitute.com where they can view videos and read articles about the practice of RC. The “About” section of the site also discusses the meaning and purpose of RC. I am on Twitter: @rcinstitute, where I regularly tweet original content that represents my philosophical point of view.
TAS: Marcia, thank you so much. We look forward to hearing more about RC in the future.