In March of this year, in the early morning hours, insurgents from surrounding areas infiltrated the residents of a Kenyan village and committed heinous crimes – husbands and fathers were murdered, some beheaded; women and daughters were sexually violated. These offenses and attacks were provoked by greed and long term political disputes over land rights. In an effort to shield themselves from further violence, 300 women and their children sought refuge in the forest under the protection of local police, only to be further victimized by the very guards meant to protect them. After several weeks, mothers returned to their homes psychologically strained and depleted of the resources needed to care for their children. This politically motivated brutality left a village weakened and disgraced.
Many of us in western countries have never known the harsh conditions or devastation of living in a war torn country. We have the luxury of going to bed at night feeling safe. We can depend on the stability of our ordinary and even extraordinary lives. But when we are willing to look just beyond our borders, we can witness conditions that defy the laws of humanity. As human beings, we are deeply touched by the stories of human cruelty and despair. We may even experience empathic distress when we see images of war and feel the agony of hunger. But there are times in life when the suffering endured by others is so inhuman and unimaginable that we cannot help but be moved into action.
A self-appointed advocate and champion for these women, recounts how the traumatic events in March unfolded and impacted the stability and welfare of an entire community.
“These rebels perpetrated outrageous acts of violence against these women and their families. They feel so helpless and have such so much pain and anger; they cannot find peace. This anger is causing them to react in painful and even harmful ways toward their children. I believe self-compassion can help them find forgiveness; it can give them a calmness that will help to soothe their pain and their grief. These mothers and their children deserve to be free of suffering. ”
After attending a 5-day Mindful Self-Compassion (MSC) intensive in Nairobi and experiencing the deep and transformative quality of self-compassion, Lilian found herself reflecting on the potential of self-compassion training as a healing intervention for these women and girls caught in the crossfire of tribal conflicts. Research demonstrates that self-compassion has the potential to mitigate symptoms of PTSD. Higher levels of self-compassion have been shown to predict lower levels of PTSD symptoms in Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans (Hiraoka et al., 2015) and adolescents evacuated from a large forest fire (Zeller et al., 2014).