18 May, 2022

Self-Compassion

We all experience moments of self-doubt and uncertainty. 

Even the most confident and happy people have moments where they think, “I’m such a failure.” It’s a part of being human. However, if your child is having these kinds of negative thoughts frequently or is letting these feelings get in the way of living a healthy and happy life, it may be time to do something about it.

Luckily, there are many ways to increase your child’s sense of self-worth. It probably won’t be easy, but it can certainly be done.

One of the ways is practicing SELF-COMPASSION.

As Dalai Lama says:

“Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them humanity cannot survive. If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion”.

There are a lot of books and resources about self-compassion on the Internet and in bookstores (see below). I suggest we start from ourselves, practice for a while, and then introduce self-compassion to our children, after simplifying the language and exercises. The more we practice, the quicker we will see the results!

Here you will find a few exercises you can start from:

1. How Would You Treat a Friend?

Perhaps the single best way to provoke compassion for yourself is through this exercise: treating yourself like a good friend.

It’s easy to give our friends love, compassion, and understanding, even when they fail or make a mistake. It can be much harder to extend that same understanding and compassion to ourselves when we make a mistake.

Follow these instructions from self-compassion expert Dr. Kristin Neff to start showing yourself more compassion:

  1. First, think about times when a close friend feels really bad about him or herself or is really struggling in some way. How would you respond to your friend in this situation (especially when you’re at your best)? Please write down what you typically do, what you say, and note the tone in which you typically talk to your friends.
  2. Now think about times when you feel bad about yourself or are struggling. How do you typically respond to yourself in these situations? Please write down what you typically do, what you say, and note the tone in which you talk to yourself.
  3. Did you notice a difference? If so, ask yourself why. What factors or fears come into play that lead you to treat yourself and others so differently?
  4. Please write down how you think things might change if you responded to yourself in the same way you typically respond to a close friend when you’re suffering.

An exercise like this can be a first step towards treating yourself like a good friend – not just for a quick, 10-minute exercise, but for life.

2. Self-Compassion Break

Another good exercise to help you improve your understanding and love for yourself is the Self-Compassion Break. It will only take a few minutes, but it can make a big difference.

To begin, bring to mind a situation in your life that is causing you stress or pain. Think about this situation and how it makes you feel, both emotionally and physically.

When you have this situation in mind and get in touch with the feelings associated with it, say the following things to yourself:

  • “This is a moment of suffering.”
    This will activate mindfulness; other options include “This hurts,” “This is stress,” and, simply, “Ouch.”
  • “Suffering is a part of life.”
    Saying this helps you realize that you have this in common with all other human beings on the planet – suffering is an unavoidable part of life. You can follow this up by putting your hands over your heart or using whatever soothing self-touch feels right to you. Other options include “Other people feel this way,” “I’m not alone,” or “We all struggle in our lives.”
  • “May I be kind to myself.”
    Alternatively, you can use other phrases that may apply better in your current situation, such as “May I forgive myself” or “May I be patient.”

Great relief can come from simply affirming that you are experiencing suffering, a difficult but natural part of life, and stating your intention to be kind, patient, or accepting of yourself.

3. Exploring Self-Compassion Through Writing

This three-part exercise can be especially helpful for those who like to write or are particularly adept at expressing themselves via the written word. However, even if you’re not a proficient writer, this exercise is a great opportunity to practice some self-compassion.

Follow the instructions below to try your hand at self-compassion through writing.

Part One

First, think about the imperfections that make you feel inadequate – everyone has at least a few things they don’t like about themselves or makes them feel “not good enough.”

Consider these things that you feel insecure about. If there is one issue that is particularly salient for you in the moment, focus on this insecurity.

Take note of how you feel when you think about it. Notice the emotions that come up and let yourself experience them. We are so often desperate to avoid feeling anything negative, but negative feelings are an inherent part of life. Additionally, negative feelings can often provoke positive outcomes, like self-compassion.

Simply feel the emotions that thinking about your insecurity dredges up, then write about them.

Part Two

Once you have written about these emotions, you can move on to the second part of this exercise: writing a letter to yourself from the perspective of an unconditionally loving imaginary friend.

Similar to the first exercise (How Would You Treat a Friend?), this exercise will call upon your tendency to show compassion and understanding to your friends and encourage you to apply it to yourself as well.

Imagine a friend that is unconditionally loving, kind, compassionate, and accepting. Next, imagine they have all of your strengths and all of your weaknesses, including the feelings of inadequacy you just wrote about.

Think about how this friend feels about you: they love you, accept you, and act kindly towards you. Even when you make a mistake or do something hurtful, this friend is quick to forgive and understanding.

Not only is this friend completely understanding and compassionate, but he or she knows all about your life. They know how you got to where you are, they know about all the millions of little choices that you made along the way, and they understand that several factors have contributed to the person you are today.

Write a letter from the perspective of this imaginary, unconditionally loving friend. Focus the letter on the inadequacies you wrote about in part one. Think about what this all-compassionate friend would say to you.

Would they tell you that you must be perfect, and any weakness is unacceptable? Or would this friend tell you that he or she understands why you feel that way, but that we are all human and that we are all imperfect?

Would they berate you for your feelings of insecurity or inadequacy? Or would they encourage you to accept yourself as you are, and remind you of your strengths?

Write this letter with the friend’s feelings for you in mind; make sure that their love, compassion, and kindness are at the forefront of their message to you.

Part Three

Once you finish the letter, put it down and walk away for a while. Give yourself some space from the letter.

When you come back, read it again – but read it with the intention to really let the words sink in. Don’t read it as a note that you wrote a few minutes or hours ago; read it as if it is really from this unconditionally loving friend.

Open yourself up to their compassion and let yourself experience it, soothing and comforting you. Allow their compassion to sink into you and become your own compassion for yourself.

Books I recommend:

  1. The Self-Compassion Workbook for Teens: Mindfulness and Compassion Skills to Overcome Self-Criticism and Embrace Who You Are by Karen Bluth
  2. Listening with My Heart: A Story of Kindness and Self-Compassion by Ying Hui Tan and Gabi Garcia
  3. Kindness is My Superpower: A children's Book About Empathy, Kindness and Compassion: 1 by Alicia Ortego

 

Iza Banasikowska

School psychologist, CBT psychotherapist

[source: positivepsychology.com]