Imagine that you approach a close friend with a problem. You’ve been struggling with a personal issue for some time and are struggling with negative thoughts and feelings about it. You tell them your story and they listen patiently. Once you have managed to open up to them and share with them your secret, they look you in the eye and respond as honestly as they can;
“What an idiot!!! I can’t believe you did that, what kind of a fool would do such a stupid thing. You are always making mistakes like this, when will you ever learn. No wonder no-one likes you, you make such a mess of your life!!!”
Chances are, that person wouldn’t remain a friend much longer. We trust in our friends to support us during our difficult times, to be understanding and caring. But think for minute about how we treat ourselves. The negative phrases we say to ourselves, the way we beat ourselves up for our own mistakes. The lack of compassion we show when we suffer or fail or don’t meet the high standards we set ourselves. We wouldn’t accept it from a friend, so why do we accept it from ourselves?
Developing self-compassion is a great way to to reduce feelings of stress, anxiety and depression and start to feel much better about yourself. As part of the hypnotherapy treatment I offer to clients I include positive hypnotic suggestions to start to develop an attitude of self-compassion. Many clients report that learning to accept themselves, warts and all, is the start of reducing their negative thoughts and feelings.
What is self-compassion?
Although the idea of self-compassion has been around for many years, particularly as part of Buddhist teachings, it has only recently been the subject of serious scientific research. Dr Kristen Neff, in particular, has conducted studies which show that increases in self-compassion were associated with increased psychological well-being as well as being a helpful “buffer” against anxiety.
A good definition for self-compassion comes from Dr Neff:
Instead of mercilessly judging and criticizing yourself for various inadequacies or shortcomings, self-compassion means you are kind and understanding when confronted with personal failings – after all, who ever said you were supposed to be perfect?
Self-compassion has 3 elements:
- Self-kindess – being warm and understanding to ourselves and accepting reality with sympathy and kindness
- Common humanity – recognizing that suffering and personal inadequacy is part of the shared human experience
- Mindfulness – learning to be more present, in a non-judgemental way. Learning to observe our thoughts and feelings without becoming attached to them
What self-compassion is not
Self-compassion isn’t the same as self-esteem. Self-esteem refers to how much we like or value ourselves – our general sense of self-worth. While increasing self-esteem is often seen as a solution to improving well-being, it can also be problematic. Self-esteem tends to fluctuate, based upon our latest successes and failures. Too much self-esteem can also lead to narcissistic behaviour or cause us to ignore or distort personal shortcomings. Self-compassion on the other hand focuses on being accepting of ourselves, regardless of our mistakes and failings.
Self-compassion also isn’t the same as self-pity. Whereas with self-pity we get wrapped up in our own problems, self-compassion is about recognising that other people are dealing with same problems. Self-compassion allows us to develop that “mental space” to understand our problems in a wider context and gain a much better perspective.
There are loads of really helpful resources at Dr Neff’s website www.self-compassion.org including a number of guided meditations that you can practice at home. Here are 3 simple exercises that you can also try:
How would you treat a friend?
- Write down what you would say to close friend who approached you with a problem or something they were struggling with.
- Write down what you say to yourself when you are struggling with a problem. Think about the words you say to yourself and how you say it.
- Identify and write down the differences and think about why it happens. Think about what factors or fears that lead you to treat yourself differently.
- Write down how you think things would change if you responded to your own needs the way to respond to helping others
- Practice speaking to yourself like a good friend and see what happens
- Think about a situation that is causing you stress in your life now. Let the feelings of stress come up.
- Say to yourself “This is a moment of suffering”
- Say to yourself “”Suffering is a part of life”
- Put your hand over your heart and say “May I be kind to myself”
- Ask yourself “What do I need to hear right now to express kindness to myself?”
- Create a phrase that will help such as “May I forgive myself” or “May I be strong”
Identify what you really want
- Think about the times and the ways that you use self-criticism to motivate yourself eg “I’m too lazy to exercise”
- Find a kinder, more caring way to motivate yourself to make that change. Think about what a friend or relative might say to encourage you to make that change
- Every time you catch yourself using the negative self-judgemental statements notice the pain it causes and give yourself compassion. Then reframe the words so they are more encouraging and supportive.