Practicing Self-Compassion

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Practicing Self-Compassion

Have you ever said to yourself, “I shouldn’t be so mad about this”, “I should be able to handle this and it’s pathetic that I can’t,” or “I can’t handle feeling so lost”, “or “I should be able to just get over this and move on.” These statements may be all too familiar if you are someone who feels upset, scared or angry when you have negative or painful feelings (i.e., when you suffer).

Unfortunately, when your harsh internal critic charges after you during times of vulnerability or suffering, it tends to amplify the pain associated with living life. And the increased pain can create an even stronger desire to avoid your pain and suffering all together. It’s not uncommon for people turn to drugs, alcohol, food, spending, sex, isolating and a variety of other strategies in an attempt to get away from emotional or physical pain. The reality is that these strategies bring problems of their own (physical dependency, poor health, debt, loneliness etc), leading to a spiral of suffering that can seem never ending.

Suffering as an aspect of life experienced by all humans, and when you embrace this concept, you can start to find some self-compassion instead of judgement or criticism (something you don’t really need when you are suffering!!). Self-compassion involves noticing your suffering (e.g., becoming aware of shame, sadness, stress, anger, etc.) and practicing self-kindness during these painful moments.

By practicing self-compassion when experiencing suffering, you can learn to be with it and care for yourself instead of potentially causing yourself even more suffering. Practicing kindness toward oneself is an important element of self-care. It contributes to the “oxygen” you need to manage difficult situations and to deal with the pains of life in a healthier manner.

The following exercises are borrowed from the work of one of the leading researchers on the benefits of self-compassion, psychologist Dr. Kristin Neff (see the links below to gain access to all that she offers). As you engage in these exercises notice any judgments that may arise (e.g., “What’s the point of this?” “This is not going to work”, “This is silly”, etc.). As with any other new skill we try for the first time, the practice of self-compassion may feel strange at first. With practice, these exercises will begin to feel more natural. Hang in there and practice despite the initial awkwardness because your effort will likely be rewarded. Research demonstrates self-compassion to be associated with higher levels of wellbeing. The more you practice the better. Begin incorporating these skills into your daily life so that you feel more fully prepared to practice them when you are in the midst of a difficult situation.

Self-Compassion through words.

Mantra: Create and memorize 3 statements that reflect an attitude of self-compassion. Practice reciting these thoughts during difficult moments.

Sample Mantra:

  • I’m having a really hard time right now.
  • This is part of being human.
  • May I be kind to myself in this moment.

Work to recognize the presence of suffering.

Choose one of the following or create your own

  • This is a moment of suffering.
  • I’m having a really hard time right now.
  • It’s painful for me to feel this now.

Remind yourself that we all face painful experiences.

Choose one of the following or create your own

  • Suffering is a part of life.
  • Everyone feels this way sometimes.
  • This is part of being human.

Express intention of kindness toward yourself.

Choose one of the following or create your own

  • May I be kind to myself in this moment.
  • May I hold my pain with tenderness.
  • May I be gentle and understanding with myself.

Dr. Neff has generously put up a variety of different self-compassion strategies on her website and her research shows how much it can improve your self-esteem, self-care and overall well being.

About the Author:

Carrie Wilkens, PhD

Carrie Wilkens, PhD, is the Co-Founder and Clinical Director of the Center for Motivation and Change in NYC and in the Berkshires. She co-authored an award-winning book, Beyond Addiction: How Science and Kindness Help People Change with Drs. Foote and Kosanke. Together they also contributed to a user-friendly workbook for parents: The 20 Minute Guide: A Guide for Parents about How to Help their Child Change their Substance Use. In collaboration with the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids, Dr. Wilkens and the CMC team is developing a national parent training program (the Parent Support Network) to provide parent coaches to families in need of support through a free hotline. Prior to these ventures, Dr. Wilkens was the Project Director on a large federally-funded Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) grant examining the effectiveness of motivational interventions in addressing the problems associated with binge drinking among college students. She is regularly sought out by the media to discuss issues related to substance use disorders and has been on the CBS Morning Show, Katie Couric Show, and Fox News as well as a variety of radio shows including frequent NPR segments such as the People’s Pharmacy and The Diane Rehm Show.