BY: LAURA WILLIAMS
Have you ever noticed a critical voice inside your head? Have you ever felt as if you are pretending? Ever get caught up in saving face, showing everyone that you are “okay,” responding “I’m fine” to every question directed toward you? Sometimes that feeling does not relent. Over time, self-loathing, disconnection, anxious pulling and pushing others away becomes a survival mechanism. We may yearn to be heard, to communicate the depth of our depression, anxiety, or pain of loss to others, but see no way out. Yearning to be seen and yet hiding our true emotion. All this emotional turmoil, and yet we continue to manage our behavior rather than emotionally maintaining our inner world.
There is a way out of this cycle. Dr. Kristin Neff developed the concept of self-compassion, (also derived from Buddhist thought) as a way for individuals to process their pain and suffering in a healthy, adaptive manner. Self compassion looks like recognizing your pain, validating it and holding it with open hands in a mindful experience. Knowing that my pain is common human experience (see the graphic below), I can come to my pain with compassion, and say “I see that I am allowed to feel this way, it is okay for me to be human, and in that humanness, I can join my peers and we can brave this experience together.”
So what? Does self-compassion actually change anything?
The short answer is yes. In research, in sessions with my clients, and in my daily living, I see the direct impact of compassion on increased well-being, decreased anxiety, depression, stable self-worth, and decreased shame, and anger (Barnard & Curry, 2011).
Self compassion boosts health and well-being and pushes individuals to uncover hope and meaning in life (Neff, Rude & Kirkpatrick, 2007). Individuals with self compassion are accountable for their failures without becoming emotionally distraught or defensive ( Leary, Tat, Adams, Batts Allen, & Hancock, 2007). Overall, people are more resilient when they adopt self-compassion into daily life.
“Perhaps most importantly, having compassion for yourself means that you honor and accept your humanness. Things will not always go the way you want them to. You will encounter frustrations, losses will occur, you will make mistakes, bump up against your limitations, fall short of your ideals. This is the human condition, a reality shared by all of us. The more you open your heart to this reality instead of constantly fighting against it, the more you will be able to feel compassion for yourself and all your fellow humans in the experience of life (Neff, 2018).
Questions to ask yourself:
How would a friend respond to me? And how can I take that and apply it to myself? Can I love myself enough to be brave and tell the critical voice inside my head (or the criticizing person in my life) to take a hike? What would my life look like if I could be kind, non-judgmental, and compassionate to myself? How might my perspective change on my darkest problems if I could take a step outside of that inner critic and learn self compassion?
Take this test to measure your level of self-compassion: http://self-compassion.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/Self_Compassion_Scale_for_researchers.pdf
Here is a simple exercise you can practice right now:
Self-Compassion Break (Neff, 2018).
*This practice can be used any time of day or night, and will help you remember to evoke the three aspects of self-compassion when you need it most.
- Think of a situation in your life that is difficult, that is causing you stress. Call the situation to mind, and see if you can actually feel the stress and emotional discomfort in your body.
Now, say to yourself:
This is a moment of suffering. This hurts. Ouch. This is stress.
- Common Humanity
Suffering is a part of life. Other people feel this way. I’m not alone. We all struggle in our lives.
- Now, put your hands over your heart, feel the warmth of your hands and the gentle touch of your hands on your chest. Or adopt the soothing touch you discovered felt right for you.
Say to yourself:
May I be kind to myself
You can also ask yourself, “What do I need to hear right now to express kindness to myself?” Is there a phrase that speaks to you in your particular situation, such as:
May I learn to accept myself as I am. May I forgive myself. May I be patient.
Find more mindful self compassion exercises at:
Thank you to Jo Byrne, firstname.lastname@example.org for allowing the use of her beautiful illustrated, graphic recording above.
Neff, K. D., (2018). Definition of Self-Compassion. Retrieved September 27, 2018, from https://self-compassion.org/
Neff, K. D., Rude, S.S., & Kirkpatrick, K.L. (2007). An examination of self-compassion in relation to positive psychological functioning and personality traits. Journal of Research in Personality, 41, 908-916.