Are you as kind to yourself as you are to others? Being kind to ourselves isn’t something that comes naturally to most of us.
I used to think that self-compassion was about doing nice things for myself like getting a message or going to a yoga class. Then I realized 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 most of us talk about being kinder to ourselves but we actually lack the skills to know HOW to do it.
Self-compassion really boils down to being kind to ourselves when we are 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.
I was recently visiting a hospice with my dog as part of a pet therapy program. There’s no doubt that those folks whose life was nearing the end had a reason to be “suffering.” Many of us come away from those situations and say to ourselves, “I have no right to suffer because my situation isn’t even close to that serious.” This belief is one of the biggest barriers to transforming our day-to-day struggles. When we don’t give ourselves permission to experience the little struggles that we have, they tend to stick with us. As Jung observed, “what you resist persists”.
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.
We begin to view self-compassion as an inside job.
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.
I did a little experiment and completed this self-compassion quiz before I practiced a number of simple techniques. I then retested myself after having had practiced them for a few days. The transformation was incredible.
I knew that I was talking kinder to myself and in a short few days I was feeling a little lighter.
In the book, Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself, Kristen 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 the third is mindfulness, which requires that we bring a balanced approach to our emotions so that feelings are neither suppressed nor exaggerated.
Neff describes a powerful practice called the Self-Compassion Break. I did this 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 difficult it was that my husband was in Phoenix and I’m in the snow in Calgary. This is all the normal stuff that goes on in a day.
For many of us, when these little but aggravating things happen we go to battle in our minds. We tell ourselves to keep it in perspective and it’s silly to feel this way. We have this emotional response that we often don’t know how to handle or desperately want to get rid of so we can feel more comfortable. We may resort to some of the “outside in” measures I described earlier like eating, drinking etc. to make the feeling go away.
That’s why I was beyond grateful when the Self-Compassion Break exercises that I tried actually worked. Wow, what an amazing transformation. All of the sudden I had the tools to not just observe my thoughts that were very uncomfortable but also how to work with them. I literally learned how to transform them with kindness. The mean spirited way I talked to myself, became loving as if my best friend was in my mind being kind and giving me a big hug.
HOW do you do a self-compassion break?
You can learn HOW to do it by listening to this guided 7-minute self-compassion break recording by Kristen Neff. 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.
On Kristin Neff’s website, there are a number of guided meditations, exercises and great information to help you become kinder to yourself.
Please share your experiences with self-compassion to inspire and encourage others.