THE PRACTICE OF SELF-COMPASSION
A few hints to help one's self
Dr. Kristin Neff, author of the recent book, Self-Compassion: Stop Beating Yourself Up and Leave Insecurity Behind, offers these three techniques to ease you into the practice of self-compassion.
Exploring Self-Compassion Through Letter Writing
Think about a particularly difficult aspect of your caregiving role, one you've been really struggling with lately. What feelings are coming up for you? Fear? Loneliness? Guilt? Resentment? Grief? Confusion? Try to non-judgmentally acknowledge all your emotions, whatever they may be. Now call to mind an ideally compassionate being that is infinitely wise, loving, accepting and kind (this may be a religious figure, an imaginary friend, a past teacher, even a beloved pet). Imagine that this compassionate being can see all your strengths and weaknesses, all your hopes and fears, and knows every detail of your current situation.
Then, write a letter to yourself from the perspective of this kind being. What words would be used to express the deep compassion he/she feels for you, especially for any pain you may be causing yourself through self-judgment. If you think this being would suggest any changes to how you're currently doing things, how would these suggestions be framed to embody his/her deep concern for the health and happiness of everyone involved. After writing the letter, put it down for a while. Then, when it feels right, come back and read the letter again, really letting the words sink in. Kindness, connection and acceptance are your birthright. To claim them you need only look within yourself.
The beneficial impact of self-compassion has physiological underpinnings. When we harshly criticize ourselves we activate our fight or flight response, being both the attacker and the attacked. Our body becomes flooded with the stress hormone cortisol. Self-compassion, in contrast, taps into our biological caregiving system-which all mammals share, because our young are born in such an immature state. Self-compassion releases the feel-good hormone oxytocin, thereby helping us feel calm, comforted and secure.
One easy way to soothe and comfort yourself is to give yourself a warm embrace, or to put your hands gently over your heart. It seems a bit silly at first, but your body doesn't know that. It just responds to the physical gesture of warmth and care, just as a baby responds to being held in its mother's arms. So why not try it? If other people are around, you can even fold your arms in a non-obvious way, gently squeezing yourself in a comforting manner. Notice how your body feels after receiving the physical gesture of affection. Does it feel warmer, softer, calmer? It's amazing how easy it is to tap into the caregiving system and change your bio-chemical experience. Hopefully you'll start to develop the habit of physically comforting yourself when needed, taking full advantage of this surprisingly simple and straightforward way to be kind to ourselves.
Developing A Self-Compassion Mantra
A self-compassion mantra is a set of memorized phrases that are repeated silently whenever you want to give yourself compassion. They are most useful in the heat of the moment; whenever strong feelings of distress arise (I used this practice constantly during Rowan's tantrums). The phrases I typically use are:
This is a moment of suffering.
Suffering is part of life.
May I be kind to myself in this moment.
May I give myself the compassion I need
The first phrase, "This is a moment of suffering" brings awareness to the fact that you're in pain. The second phrase, "Suffering is part of life" reminds you that imperfection is part of the shared human experience. The third phrase "May I be kind to myself in this moment" helps bring a sense of caring concern to your present moment experience. The final phrase, "May I give myself the compassion I need," firmly sets your intention to be self-compassionate. You might find these phrases work for you, but it's worth seeing if you can find wording that fits you better. Repeat the phrases until they're memorized. Then, the next time you judge yourself or have a difficult experience, you can use your mantra to remind yourself to be self-compassionate. It's a handy tool to help soothe and calm troubled states of mind.
Questioning Your Self-Compassion
After trying these techniques, see just how self-compassionate you are and CLICK HERE to take a simple test from Dr. Neff's website.