Cultivating self compassion.

Compassion is the concern for pain and suffering, whether our own or someone else’s and, most importantly, the desire to relieve it. Compassion can be given to yourself or others. Generally we are very good at showing compassion towards other people but somehow find this more difficult in relation to ourselves

Research shows that being compassionate towards ourselves, having a kindly and encouraging attitude to our own pain and suffering, is not only beneficial to our own wellbeing but also the wellbeing of others. Self compassion helps us be more resilient and able to cope. Giving compassion to self or others lowers stress and calms the body.

With self-compassion, we give ourselves the same kindness and care we’d give to a good friend.                 Kristin Neff

When a friend or loved one comes to us feeling panicky, upset or in pain, we do our best to reassure them, express our understanding, be kindly and offer support. We don’t always extend the same courtesy to ourselves. Instead when we have the same feelings of distress, upset or shame, very often our response can be to criticise ourselves, or tell ourselves we shouldn’t be feeling this way and judge ourselves harshly. Being hard on ourselves in this way increases our distress and suffering, including symptoms like pain, anxiety, and physical agitation.

Sometimes we mistake compassion for weakness, self-pity or self-indulgence. Perhaps we feel we are ‘undeserving’ in some way, selfish, or dismiss it as ‘new age, hippy stuff’. Learning to be more compassionate towards ourselves can certainly be quite a challenge.

Self-kindness and compassion is learning to be a friend, to extend kindness and well-wishing, to ourselves. Fostering our inner helper rather than just listening to the inner critic or bully. If you notice you are being hard on yourself, it can be helpful to ask yourself: 

Would I treat a good friend the way I am treating myself right now?

Here are a few thoughts on how we can encourage compassion for ourselves in our daily lives.

A first step is to acknowledge the painful and difficult, recognise when we are under stress, and whether this is connected to our health or other challenges in our lives. It’s helpful to notice our responses, whether that’s in the body, mentally, or emotionally. We all have our automatic and habitual reactions that don’t always work in our favour, or we perhaps notice and blame ourselves for these and so increase our distress further. Perhaps learning new ways to observe our experience and respond with kindness could be a worthwhile new approach. Consider how you might care for yourself:

  • Physically this might mean softening, finding ways to release tension and soothe the body.
  • Mentally noticing the tone of voice in your thoughts. How are you speaking to yourself? Would you talk to someone else like that? Work on developing a friendly manner in your tone. Imagine someone you respect talking to you.
  • Emotionally being alongside and befriending your feelings. Reminding yourself of the ways you can comfort and soothe yourself. Is there anything you could add to the list or do more of?
  • Connecting with others. Loss, pain and suffering is part of the human experience and something we all have in common. Reaching out to others and sharing ourselves and our stories can be a real antidote to feeling isolated and alone (this goes both ways).
  • Spiritually through prayer, connecting with nature or nurturing the values which are important in your life.

Further exploration.

There has been much interesting research and development in this area in regard to supporting both our mental and physical health. If you would like to explore further explore the websites of Kristin Neff and Chris Germer who are two of the pioneers in this area.

In his book The Compassionate Mind, Professor Paul Gilbert outlines the latest findings about the value of compassion and how it works. He takes readers through basic mind training exercises to enhance the capacity for, and use of compassion.

Not only does compassion help to soothe distressing emotions, it actually increases feelings of contentment and wellbeing.                                                                                                                                      Paul Gilbert

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