How do you talk to yourself when you’re having a hard time? Are you as kind to yourself as you are to other people when they are struggling?
Being kind to ourselves isn’t something that comes naturally to many of us.
I used to think that self-compassion was about doing nice things for myself like getting a massage or going to a yoga class. But the truth is that doing these things for ourselves doesn’t automatically translate into being kinder and gentler with ourselves.
We can do these things and still have an inner voice that is quite nasty.
The fact is that many of us want to be kinder to ourselves but we don’t know how to do it or what it really means to be more self-compassionate.
What is self-compassion?
Self-compassion really boils down to being kind, gentle and accepting of ourselves when we’re going through a hard time.
This “suffering” or hurting isn’t just about the big things in our lives, it’s also about all the little things that happen in a day that trigger discomfort in us.
When we accept that all of the little, as well as the big challenges, are worthy of our kindness, it begins to shift the nature of the relationship that we have with ourselves.
Self-compassion is a self-soothing activity.
When we learn to soothe ourselves from the inside so we don’t turn to things like eating, drinking, shopping or busyness to make us feel better.
In the book, Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself, Kristin Neff, Ph.D., identifies that there are 3 elements of self-compassion:
Self-kindness entails being warm and understanding towards ourselves when we fail, suffer or feel inadequate.
Common humanity helps us to recognize that “I” am not the only person that suffers or makes mistakes and am not alone.
Mindfulness involves bringing a balanced and non-judging approach to our emotions so that our feelings are neither suppressed nor exaggerated.
How self-compassionate are you?
The saying that you can’t change what you don’t acknowledge really applies to learning how to be kinder to ourselves.
Becoming aware of that little voice in our head is the starting place for shifting some of our patterns of relating to ourselves.
I did an experiment and completed the self-compassion quiz that’s on Dr. Kristin Neff’s website.
I would highly recommend that you spend a few minutes and complete the quiz. By doing the quiz you’ll get a better idea about what self-compassion is and where you stand in terms of how kind you are to yourself.
I was surprised that even though I had been a Nurse for many years and prided myself in being compassionate, this quiz helped me to see that I wasn’t extending the same kindness towards myself.
Just doing the quiz made me more aware and then when I introduced a really simple practice into my life, the change was really remarkable.
When you’re feeling stressed or you’re suffering remember to “NOD”
I created the acronym “NOD” as a reminder about what we can do when we’re struggling instead of listening to the harsh inner critic that tells us: You should suck it up; You shouldn’t feel that way; You need to make this discomfort go away right now; You need to find someone to blame for how we’re feeling.
The self-kindness NOD practice includes:
N- Notice and Name what you’re feeling at the moment without judgement ie. I’m feeling frustrated, angry, impatient, sad, uncomfortable, lonely, hurt etc.
O- Observe and Offer Kindness by getting curious about how the above feeling is felt in your body. How intense is it? Where do you notice it? Does it travel around your body? Does it come and go? Then you offer kindness to yourself by telling yourself that you’re not alone and that everyone feels like this at times.
D- Do something to shift your body out of the fight/flight/freeze that goes along with feeling stressed and uncomfortable. A good place to start is by taking long, slow, deep breaths to stimulate the branch of your nervous system that is associated with rest and relaxation. Or you could try soothing yourself by giving yourself a hug.
This final step is really important so that the effects of the stress response don’t build up in your body. A book that I found was super helpful to learn more about this was, Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle, by Emily Nagoski, Ph.D. and Amelia Nagoski, DMA.
Here’s a short 6-minute recording to guide you through the NOD practice:
I did this NOD practice consistently during my little experiment every time that I noticed that something was bothering me.
For example, in the space of one hour, I became frustrated when my printer wasn’t working and I had a timeline for printing, my car got a flat tire and I started thinking about how I felt I had let a friend down. This is all the normal stuff that goes on in a day.
After a few days of doing the practice, I noticed that I was being kinder to myself. I started to feel a little lighter, more peaceful and had a sense that I was changing the relationship I had with the most important person in my life- myself!
While it’s a really helpful practice for the minor frustrations in life, it becomes pure gold when we’re going through the big stuff. When I say big stuff I mean things like major health issues, spiritual crises like “the dark night of the soul” or relationship issues that are bound to happen.
For many of us, when these little or big things happen we go to battle in our minds- without being consciously aware of it.
NOD helps us learn how to not just observe our thoughts and feelings that are very uncomfortable but also how to work with them.
We literally learn how to transform ourselves with kindness.
You can do this exercise anytime- day or night whether you’re in the grocery store, traffic, the airport or anywhere. You can mentally rehearse the steps any time, any place when you notice you’re hurting about something, are feeling stressed or uncomfortable. That’s the beauty of it. And, it WORKS.
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(Original post-Nov. 11, 2015; Updated post-Dec. 16, 2020)