Self-compassion is the ability to notice our own suffering, to be kind to ourselves in response to this, and acknowledge that as a member of the human race we are not perfect.
How many of you hear an inner voice (or voices) that run like a commentary in your head whenever something goes wrong. For example you accidentally leave your mobile phone at work and you are already on your way home. What’s that inner voice saying “I’m so stupid, why can’t I remember things, now I’ve got to go back, it’s all my fault, what will people think of me, I’m going to look so stupid”.
Here is another example, you are talking to your closest loved one on the phone and they recount their day to you, part of which includes them forgetting to take their phone home with them and having to go back to work and collect it. What do you notice about your thoughts and responses then?
Consider the tones that your inner voice had in both of these examples, was it playful or mocking, caring or punishing.
This is where self-compassion comes in. So, if your response to your loved one goes something like “oh no, you must have been so worried, did you find it? Are you ok?” then your response to yourself should also recognise your feelings and concern “oh, for a minute I was really panicked, it’s such a relief to find it”. If your response towards your loved one was good enough for them then it must also be good enough for you, because that’s fair.
To improve self-compassion:
- Monitor your internal voice, what is it saying? What is the tone like? How do you feel in response to it? This is about noticing your own suffering, allowing yourself to acknowledge that maybe what you are hearing is hurting you and lowering your self-esteem.
- Consider whether you would say those things or react that way towards someone you love, if not, then why not? Acknowledging that you are able to be compassionate to others means you can care and be kind to them, you recognise their suffering. You have the relevant skills to be able to offer these things to yourself.
- Capture your own thoughts as they are happening, gently change your responses, don’t beat yourself up because you still have unhelpful voices. We are all human beings, we make mistakes, we feel, we hurt, we regret and life isn’t meant to be perfect, its messy and painful and we are all in the same boat.
This can be particularly difficult if you have spent time around people that also say mean things to you, especially if you were a child, often it is voices of those people that you might hear still going around your head. Does the voice in your head sound like anyone you know?
It is not okay for people to have said mean things and it only hurts you more when you keep hearing them from yourself. If your closest loved one had someone saying unkind things to them, what would you say? “It’s not true, you’re not like that, don’t listen to them, and I think you are great”.
In our busy lives a million different things can happen to us in a week, we don’t make time to monitor, let alone fully deal with all these experiences at the time. We just keep going, often because we think everyone else is, these things experiences aren’t bothering other people and just sometimes we avoid dealing with it because we know it feels bad. Each time we come up against moments that we ignore and don’t pause for, the voices get a chance to have their say and it chips away silently at our self-esteem. For some people this can lead to feelings of stress, anxiety, depression and a spiral of low self-esteem, often accompanied by feelings of isolation. We will perceive everyone else is doing okay, when in reality they are in the same boat.
By practising self-compassion (see above) it slows things down a little, and like mindfulness it requires you to pay attention to yourself. If you can notice your own suffering, be kind, nurturing, and sensitive in your own responses and acknowledge that you are only human just like everyone else then what happens over time is that you become your own advocate for simply being you. With You on your own side its less scary to make mistakes, you become braver in trying new things. You will have an awareness of your feelings and be able to sooth yourself through them, at the same time your resilience to difficult experiences will grow. Your acceptance of others will grow as you will begin to see them more as just other human beings and not people that you must be bigger or better than.
Self-esteem that is based on being better than another person isn’t helpful, it means that you’ll always need to have a person in a worse position than you, and of course there is inevitably the fear that someone maybe everyone is in a better position. So your self-esteem goes up and down depending on the people around you. How much better to be your own guide, if you succeed at something only you can truly know how that feels and the significance of that for you. If you fail at something, then you know how hard you tried, how that feels and how to encourage yourself to try again. Often it’s the difference between berating yourself for the things that go wrong or noticing your pain, taking the time to heal and having another go.
Self-compassion is like being your own best friend, acknowledging that as human beings we are all just trying our best, all struggling with different things. Instead of aiming to be better than others in the world, we are just growing in ourselves every day towards things that make us happier. We all have a natural instinct to grow towards things that make us happy. Just because you decide that you don’t need to be better than the person next door, doesn’t mean you will stop growing or your life improving, it just means that you are looking at your own journey and not everyone else’s.
When things in your life go wrong, it often feels like “Why me, why do bad things always happen to me” when really, if you consider life in itself is always full of ups and downs, good things and bad things, it is simply part of being human. It can then become something more like “Oh wow, this feels really difficult, I am so angry, it’s so unfair” then you can meet yourself with compassion, like you would meet a friend. If every day was full of perfect happiness, how quickly would it become boring and mundane. Often it’s only in the shadows of our darkest feelings that we truly appreciate the happier moments..
So, why not have a go at some self-compassion, it doesn’t happen overnight but it is worth absorbing into your life. If you struggle with it, be gentle.
This is a very straight forward way of explaining self-compassion however as human beings we are complex and as we’ve covered previously for some people this might be very difficult to do. If you want some help with it, why not come along to counselling.
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