Mindful Self-compassion: How To Be Your Best Friend
Self-esteem, self-love and self-acceptance – all of them important for a joyful life. Today, I´d like to add one more to the list: Hello, self-compassion!
This is something I´ve been focusing on a lot lately.
What is Self-Compassion?
Perhaps the easiest way to describe self-compassion is to start by describing what it is not.
What an idiot!
Taking time for yourself is so selfish.
You´re smart enough to figure that out.
You don´t deserve better.
Is this the way you´d talk to a friend? Of course, it isn´t. We do our best to show our friends understanding and love when they´re struggling, treat them with respect and support them when they´re feeling bad, offer comfort and try to build them up when they are down.
Most of us are good at being kind, understanding, and compassionate with others. But when it comes to ourselves, our sense of compassion fades away to nothing.
Perhaps the statements above seem familiar to you…maybe you say (or think) them to yourself.
I know I have.
We often expect more from ourselves than we expect from others. When we strive to live up to unrealistically high standards, it´s easy to lose our patience, use a rougher tone and harsh words with ourselves when we fail to things “right”.
For whatever reason, we seldom have as much self-compassion and caring and we do others.
Self-compassion starts with a willingness to show yourself kindness and understanding when things are not going well. In those moments when you´re struggling, self-compassion means showing yourself the same love and care as you would someone else in a similar situation.
It has nothing to do with self-pity which has us believing no one else has it as hard as we do. Feeling like that often us withdrawing into ourselves and away from others.
Mindful self-compassion is a way of thinking and believing that stems from:
- A careful mindset
- A feeling of connection with others and
- Kindness for ourselves
Rather than ignoring how you feel, practicing mindful self-compassion helps you accept those feelings, acknowledge them, and explore both the physical and emotional effects of what you´re feeling.
Instead of giving into loneliness and self-doubt, it´s important to realize that everyone goes through difficult times and that it´s the ups and downs of everyday life that connect us.
Rather than beating yourself up, offer yourself the kind words and understanding you would a good friend.
There´s been a lot of research into self-compassion over the past ten years with experts finding a positive connection between self-compassion and the areas of self-esteem, improved health and stronger relationships.
How Does Mindful Self-Compassion Work?
While the concept itself is easy enough to understand, practicing it can be a challenge. You need to consciously listen to what you´re saying to yourself – both the good and the bad. Chances are you´ve been listening to the negative mental chatter inside your head for so long that it has become the norm rather than the exception.
When something goes wrong and you notice a shift in your mood, tune into what that voice in your head is saying – is it berating you for something you´ve done, something you haven´t done or just because it needs someone to blame?
Here´s an example of mindful self-compassion:
As you work on creating a more joyful life, let´s say you decide to add a short yoga session to your daily schedule.
Monday isn´t a problem at all, though you do wind up getting to bed much later than you thought. As a result, you have trouble getting up at your usual time on Tuesday. That night you´re exhausted and tell yourself you´ll get up early next morning and do it then but on Wednesday morning you oversleep and spend the whole day playing catch up. That evening the last thing you want to do is yoga, so you let it slide again.
How would that make you feel? And how do you think you´d react?
Possibly in one of three ways:
Putting yourself down as hopeless and a failure because you can´t manage to do what seems so easy for everyone else.
THE END RESULT: you give up.
Feeling sorry for yourself because you have it harder than everyone else.
THE END RESULT: you curl up on the sofa and binge on a bar of chocolate to console yourself.
Treating yourself with love and understanding because creating new habits always comes with challenges. The first week is a time of adjustment and what´s important now is that you give it your best and commit to improving as you go.
Won´t being too nice to myself cause me to become lazy, selfish or complacent?
Let me put your mind at ease…
Research led by experts like Dr. Kristin Neff, associate professor of educational psychology at the University of Texas, show that people are actually far more motivated by compassion than by self-criticism.
Self-compassion also boosts resilience. The more resilient you are and the more you can meet your own needs, the more able you to be there for others when they need you most.
And because I´ve learned just how important it is to take care of myself in this hustling, bustling world of ours, I want to share a few simple exercises so you can practice mindful self-compassion in your life as well.
The Soothing Touch Technique
Did you know that all it takes to calm yourself when things aren´t going well is a soothing touch? It´s as simple as hugging yourself gently, putting your face in your own hands, or laying your hands over your heart.
Give it a try.
Breathe in. Breathe out. Do this a few times. Then, gently place one hand and then the other hand over your heart. Focus on the soothing pressure and the loving warmth of your hands.
Sit like this until you feel calm and begin to relax.
The Compassion Break
Taking this “compassion break” is especially useful when you´re being overly critical and down on yourself. When you´re feeling stressed or overwhelmed, find a quiet place and follow this simple 3-step process. It doesn´t have to take long – 10 to 15 minutes should do.
1) Practice a mindful moment
Sit quietly for a moment and tune into your body. What are you feeling? Is it stress? Is it tension? Or is it fear?
Where in your body are you feeling it? Observe where that feeling is most noticeable and, then non-judgmentally state what you feel: ie. This is stress, or This is how fear feels.
2) Know you are not alone
We all experience suffering in our lives. You are not alone in this. Acknowledge this fact and embrace this element of connection by something like: Suffering is part of life, or We all go through difficult times, or I am not alone; other people feel like this too at times.
3) Give yourself a soothing touch
Now place your hands over your heart and feel the warmth of your touch. Comfort yourself as you would a loved one in your situation. Speak the supportive, caring words you would like to hear, right now: I care and love myself, or I give myself what I need, when I need it, or I accept myself as I am.
If you have trouble finding the right words, think of what you´d say to a friend or loved one in a similar situation. Use those words for yourself now.
Doing this exercise takes a little practice and it can feel awkward at first, but it can also be very, very comforting. My clients and I think it is. I hope you will, too.