How do you talk to yourself when you’re having a hard time?
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’s 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 stress 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 we don’t need to 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.
One of my favorite practices is the Self-Compassion Break. It’s a practice that you can do throughout the day when you’re feeling stressed or dealing with difficult emotions or experiences. You can learn the simple steps and listen to a 5-minute guided recording HERE.
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.
When you’re feeling stressed or you’re suffering practice RAIN.
In addition to the Self-Compassion Break, the following video with Tara Brach guides us through the sitting practice of RAIN (Recognize, Allow, Investigate, Nurture).
While RAIN is 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. We turn away from our suffering because we don’t know how to wisely be with it.
RAIN helps us to learn how to not just observe our thoughts and feelings that are very uncomfortable but also how to work with them. It gives us a way to be with the suffering that enables it to move through us.
We literally learn how to transform ourselves with kindness.
It’s a very powerful practice that really helps us to be present with ourselves and our lives in a healthy way.
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(Original post-Nov. 11, 2015; Updated post-Dec. 16, 2020)