“There is no need for temples, no need for complicated philosophies. My brain and my heart are my temples; my philosophy is kindness” -Dalai Lama
Compassion is the ability to show empathy, love, and concern to people who are in difficulty.
So, self-compassion is simply the ability to direct these same emotions within, and accept oneself, particularly in the face of failure.
But why is it so hard to treat ourselves kindly when we experience great pain?!
Whether it be anger, frustration, failure, anxiety, fear, financial issues, health issues, sadness, grief, work issues, relationship woes - we all suffer, regularly!
Self-compassion involves acknowledging your own suffering and responding kindly. I personally think it’s very engrained into our ‘kiwi way’ to be harsh to ourselves, and I am going to fight the good fight to change it!!
We need to ensure we are treating ourselves with the same warmth, caring and kindness that we would extend to someone we love if they were in similar pain.
I recently spent time on a course in ACT (acceptance and commitment therapy) and the legendary Russ Harris shared his wealth of knowledge on the subject. I’d love to share all of what I learned, but that would involve a book (that Russ already wrote ‘The Happiness trap’) so I will condense as much as I can, in order to help you learn to develop some of your own self-compassion…because if you can’t love, support and back yourself, then there’s going to be a problem at some point.
There are many people who have little or no experience of self-compassion.
Some actually find it really threatening, overwhelming or just ‘too hard’.
There are ways to start building self-compassion and these are through Russ’s 6 basic building blocks. So if you are one of these many who are keen to up date your self-compassion score, then read on!
Start with one of the six, then select another, and do the same thing. Slowly, but surely you will build that self-compassion right up.
The six main ‘building blocks’ of self-compassion (according to Russ, and I strongly agree):
If you ‘contact the present moment’, the right here, right now, with an attitude of openness and curiosity, you are more able to consciously and intentionally notice and acknowledge your own pain. This is so different from our usual mode of ‘turning away’ - suppressing or running from it (I am good at running from my pain! Literally running! what do you do?..eat? drink? game?Netflix?)
When this starts to happen, it can be a great time to say out loud what you have noticed e.g “I am noticing I am having thoughts about being patronised” or “I am noticing that I am having painful feelings of being un-included”. Simply acknowledging the situation and your feelings is a HUGE step towards self-compassion.
‘DE-FUSION’ FROM SELF-JUDGEMENT
Learning to separate ourselves from our thoughts and beliefs is another tool. We all know how quickly our minds are to judge and criticise us, pointing out our flaws and failures, labelling us as ‘not good enough’ in millions of ways.
We need to learn to ‘de-fuse’ from all of the harsh self talk. It’s pretty much impossible to magically train ourselves to stop talking that way to ourselves, but we can learn to defuse from those ‘not good enough’ stories. We can notice, name and ‘un-hook’ ourselves from these thoughts. Let them come, stay and go, in their own good time, without getting caught up in them or pushed around by them.
ACTING WITH KINDNESS
The value that forms the foundation of self-compassion is ‘kindness’.
All types of self-compassion practice - wherever they may have originated from - revolve around this powerful core value. So if we think of kindness as the glue that holds together all the other elements of self-compassion then we are on the right path. If we acknowledge our pain, the aim is to then treat ourselves with kindness. There are so many ways to do this:
Kind self-talk - be caring when we talk to ourselves - everyone makes mistakes, be caring and gentle towards yourself.
Use kind imagery - ‘loving kindness meditation’ or ‘inner child re-scripting’.
Use kind self-touch - place a hand gently on our heart or on top of a painful feeling and send warmth and caring inwards through the palm.
Do kind deeds - self-soothing rituals, spend quality time with people who treat us well, or self-care activities.
This is where we accept our thoughts, feelings, emotions, memories, urges and sensations. We ‘open up’ and ‘make room’ for our thoughts and feelings, allowing them to flow through us, without fighting them, running from them, or being controlled by them.
All too often when pain shows up in our lives, we try to escape it through activities that tend to make our lives worse in the long run e.g we turn to alcohol, drugs, cigarettes, zoning out in front of TV, dropping out of social activities, isolation, self harm. These are not kind ways to treat ourselves.
If we can treat ourselves kindly in these circumstances, then we have ticked one big box! e.g reaching out to friends, eating in a way that serves us - vegetables, fruit, good whole foods, taking a bath, reading, heading to the movies with friends, going out for a nice walk, or to a gym class, dance class, whatever makes you happy, but serves your health and wellness.
Often when we are in great pain we invalidate our own emotional experience, meaning, we don’t acknowledge it as a valid experience. It’s kind of a normal and natural part of being a human!
Our minds tell us we shouldn’t feel like this, or react a certain way, we should handle things better. Often, our minds belittle us - telling us we are over-reacting, or that we are weak, or have nothing to complain about. Now, this type of harsh, critical, invalidating attitude is the very opposite of kindness.
We can and should remind ourselves in a calm, friendly voice that having feelings and thoughts is natural and very human.
Often when we are in great pain, our minds generate thoughts like ‘I am the only one going through this / no one else understands / why me / everyone else is happy’.
This is totally common and natural. However, the problem arises when we decide to ‘fuse’ with our thoughts - get all caught up in them, buy into them…and then feel disconnected from others, we feel like the odd one out, no longer part of the group, and the pain feels worse, because we are now suffering on our own.
If, on the other hand we developed a sense of connectedness with others, then this could help our pain. So next time you feel this way how about trying to spend time with people who you know care about you, and be fully present with them, accepting their kindness.
You can also actively think about how your pain is something you have in common with others. Pain tells you that you have a heart, and care very deeply. Your pain is not a sign of weakness or defectiveness or mental illness, it is a sign you are a living, caring human being.
“Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them humanity cannot survive” - The Dalai Lama
SO - as you can see, self-compassion is a construct of various elements, and there is no one agreed definition of what it is, or formula for developing it!
However, you can use some of the above elements from above to begin to find a little self compassion for your beautiful soul.
You deserve to!