Last week we started talking about Self Compassion – in Part 1, I shared what self compassion is and some signs you may need to incorporate a self compassion practice. You can read Part 1 here. In this week’s post, I’m going to share some of the benefits of incorporating self-compassion into your life and how to start practicing self compassion.
Benefits of Self Compassion
The work of self compassion is something that comes up with many of my clients at Fleurish Counselling. Our brains are hard-wired to notice the negative parts of the world around us and within ourselves. When we begin to consider what a compassionate relationship with our self might look like, we start to notice the frequency and heaviness of self-criticism and self-judgment.
Self compassion is a fairly new area of research but already, significant connections are being made to mental wellness and a number of other positive outcomes.
Researchers have been looking at the benefits of incorporating self-compassion into one’s life and a growing body of research has demonstrated a strong connection between self compassion and psychological health.
In looking at the research, some of the benefits I’ve encountered are:
“greater life satisfaction, emotional intelligence, social connectedness, learning goals, wisdom, personal initiative, curiosity, happiness, optimism, and positive affect, as well as less self-criticism, depression, anxiety, fear of failure, thought suppression, perfectionism, performance goals, and disordered eating behaviours” (quote taken from this article written by one of the leading researchers on self compassion, Kristin Neff).
How To Start Practicing Self Compassion Today: Three Exercises
When we begin to shift our self-talk to include self-compassionate thoughts, it takes time to become comfortable with it. Just like any new skill or mindset, it’s important to be intentional and mindful as we learn and grow.
Here are three self-compassion exercises if you’re interested in exploring this work. Each of them are adapted from Kristin Neff’s book Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind To Yourself.
Exercise One: Letter From A Friend
This exercise is one that I often introduce to clients as a gateway into self-compassion. First, I want you to bring to mind a trusted friend, someone who is kind, accepting, understanding and embodies compassion when you think of them. For the sake of this exercise, this friend is familiar with your background and history, they understand that you are not perfect but they love and accept you as you are.
Next, I want you to consider a circumstance or a recent instance in which you’re having a difficult time offering yourself kindness or compassion. It could be some way that you’re telling yourself that you are “not enough” or it could be something that leaves you feeling inadequate or bad about yourself or it could even be a recent mistake you made.
Now that you’re holding the instance and the friend in your mind, I want you to write yourself a letter as though that friend were writing to you.
Include the following as you write:
- What would this friend say to you about your “flaw” or your circumstance from a perspective of unlimited compassion?
- What would this friend write to remind you that you’re only human and that all humans struggle and have weaknesses?
- How would this friend convey the deep compassion they feel for you – for the difficult thing you’re experiencing and also for the discomfort you’re experiencing from judging yourself so harshly?
- How might this friend suggest possible changes you should make but in a kind and compassionate way?
- Infuse your letter with words of affection, terms of endearment and care.
Exercise Two: Self-Soothing Touch
Our bodies and nervous systems respond to the presence of kind touch. From infancy, we rely on others to be held or soothed. Part of developing healthy emotional regulation and coping skills is learning that you also have the ability to offer yourself soothing.
Self-soothing can be done in a number of ways. Here are two that I’d encourage you to try if this is a new concept to you:
- Place your hand on your chest, take a deep breath in and exhale slowly. Take note of the weight of your hand on your chest and speak a word of kindness over yourself. This allows you to be both the one who needs comfort and the comforter. Both roles can co-exist and you can lean into each one.
- Give yourself a hug. This sounds a bit funny, but it is powerful! Wrap your arms around yourself in a moment of need, stroking your own arms tenderly. You can even try rocking back and forth for a moment, as this sometimes stimulates the part of us that needs soothing. Take deep breaths in and out as you hold yourself. If you choose to engage in this exercise, notice how your body feels after. Does it feel warmer, calmer, more relaxed?
Exercise Three: Self Compassion Mantra
This exercise is one of the quickest and simplest to implement. A self compassion mantra is a set of memorized phrases that you repeat to yourself when you’re needing compassion. When trying this exercise, it’s important that the mantra includes all three elements of self-compassion: mindfulness, common humanity and self-kindness.
Mindfulness: noticing the feelings (and not judging them!) as they arise.
E.g “This feels really painful” or “I’m really struggling with this situation.”
Common humanity: reminding yourself that others struggle too.
E.g. “Everyone feels this way sometimes” or “what I’m feeling is part of what it means to be human”.
Self-kindness: speaking to yourself with gentleness and kindness.
E.g. “May I be kind to myself in this painful moment” or “may I hold myself with tenderness in this moment”.
Set an intention to offer yourself compassion and remind yourself that you are worthy of this.
E.g. “I am worth of receiving self-compassion” or “I will try to be as compassionate as possible today”.
Feel free to write your own phrase that encompasses each of the elements. Then memorize and speak it over yourself when you notice something you do not like about yourself or you find yourself in a situation that feels especially painful.
Self Compassion Mantra = Mindfulness + Common Humanity + Kindness to Self + An Intention To Be Self-Compassionate.