3 Ways to Practise Self-Compassion
After so many years of harsh self-judgment, the act of treating ourselves kindly can seem like a foreign concept. Below are three ways that you can develop a self-compassion practice.
Pausing to notice moments of suffering
To give ourselves compassion, we have to first acknowledge when we are suffering. We often overlook feelings of shame, loneliness, sadness and frustration as moments of suffering that can be met with compassion. When we experience these feelings, we often focus on the events and emotions that surround the feelings, ignoring the pain the experience is causing.
Whether or not the feelings have been caused by something we have done or not, we often launch into “fixing mode” and try to do everything we can to fix things. Albeit probably necessary, this fixing mode can also be emotionally and physically draining.
We need to pause and take a moment to recognise times when we are suffering and that even during our struggles we deserve a compassionate and soothing response. When we focus all our time and energy on trying to fix the external while simultaneously ignoring our need to recharge ourselves internally, we risk getting overwhelmed and burning out.
Softness can be defined in many different ways. Therapist and author Aundi Kober describes softness as paying compassionate attention to the wisdom our bodies hold. For those who have disconnected from their bodies, a common trauma response, reconnecting may take some time.
If you find focusing on a particular emotion difficult, go gently.
The following exercise shows us how to use the body as a pathway to work with difficult emotions directly. You will need to set aside around 20 minutes to go through the following process.
Settle into a comfortable seated or lying position. Try to sense where the difficult feeling is located in your body. Where is it focused? In your chest, in your stomach, in your temples? How would I describe this emotion? Tight, tingling, pulsing, pressure, burning? Unfortunately, the feelings that come with difficult emotions aren’t usually pleasant.
If all you’re experiencing is numbness, you can also bring your focus to this sensation.
After you have connected with the difficult emotion in your body, send it compassion. Acknowledge how uncomfortable it is to feel this emotion and tell yourself that you care about your wellbeing.
Imagine how you would soothe a child or a pet in their moment of suffering. Then apply that same method to soothe the area where the difficult emotion is located.
In her book Self Compassion, Dr Kristen Neff suggests repeating the words “soften, soothe, allow” throughout this process.
As you meet your difficult emotions with compassion, notice any changes in the sensations. Perhaps they feel less painful to sit with. See if you notice any shift in their intensity, tone or sensations. Regardless of what happens to the emotions, continue to give yourself compassion throughout the experience.
Once you feel ready to do so, end the process with some gentle stretches and return to your day.
Dr. Kristin Neff has a free guided meditation for this process here.
Being there for others without abandoning yourself
Many of us have been socialised to be “yes” people. If that sounds like you, practise giving yourself time to notice how it feels when someone asks something of you. Are you truly okay with this? Or is your “yes” coming from feeling too uncomfortable to say no?
A great way to create some space between being asked to do something and responding is to say something along the lines of, “That sounds interesting; let me think about it.”
Activity: Write out some automatic responses that you can use to create space for you to check in with yourself before saying yes.
Think of ways that allow you to deal with a stressful situation in a way that doesn’t require you to sacrifice your mental wellbeing or your most authentic self.
Abandoning yourself and being harsh with yourself comes at a cost. What would your life look like if you created the space for all the things that make you, you?
Below are some additional resources on self-compassion. Including Dr Neff’s website which was a great resource of information for this post.
Kaysha Thomas is a Registered Nutritional Therapist, Pilates Instructor and mental health blogger.
She writes about mental health, self-love, nutrition and mindful movement. You can read Kaysha’s blog at www.kayshathomas.com
Neff, K., 2011. Self-compassion: The proven power of being kind to yourself. Hachette UK.
Thompson, B. L., & Waltz, J. (2008). Self‐compassion and PTSD symptom severity. Journal of Traumatic Stress: Official Publication of the International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies, 21(6), 556-558.