by Stephanie Brookman
Self-compassion, which can be defined as extending kindness and understanding towards oneself in times or perceived failure, inadequacy or suffering, appears to be a completely foreign concept to many of the clients I see in my practice. My clients graciously allow me to enter their inner world and introduce me to their inner critic. That inner critic’s voice is often loud, harsh, judgmental and mean and says some pretty awful things such as you’re so stupid, you’re ugly, you’re pathetic, nothing you do is ever good enough! I will often reflect these words back to my clients and say “Would you ever talk to your best friend this way? Would you ever say such cruel things to your mother, or your brother or your child?” I am almost always met with the same answer, which is an unequivocal “Of course NOT!!” Which then leads me to ask the very important question, “Well why is it okay to for you to talk to yourself this way and judge yourself so harshly? What might it be like to treat yourself the same way you would your best friend or family member?”
There are three elements of self-compassion. (1) The first involves practicing kindness and understanding with ourselves during times of suffering or feeling inadequate as opposed to criticizing ourselves or ignoring our feelings altogether. (2) The second component of self-compassion involves recognizing that making mistakes or feeling inadequate is a HUMAN experience that we all go through; you’re not the only one that experiences these feelings. (3) And lastly the third component of self-compassion involves being mindful of our negative emotions and thoughts, accepting that these thoughts and feelings are there and trying not to ignore, judge or over-identify with them.
Now, I get it, for many people, self-compassion is a radically different way or relating to oneself. However, just like anything else in life, when acquiring a new skill, practice is essential!
Here are some tips on how you can begin to incorporate self-compassion into your life:
- Familiarize yourself with your inner critic. What are some of the negative, judgmental things you say to yourself? Make a list of these things. The first step is acknowledging how hard you can be on yourself at times.
- Mindfulness is key. Sometimes we’re not even aware that our inner critic is rearing its ugly head. Catch yourself. Become aware of when you’re talking harshly or negatively to yourself and try not to judge yourself for it.
- Ask yourself the question, would I ever talk to someone I loved this way?
- When you catch yourself being harsh or cruel, acknowledge and accept that these thoughts are there and ask yourself, “In this moment can I challenge myself and practice some self-compassion?” If it helps, write the harsh thought down in one column and practice coming up with a more self-compassionate thought in another column.
- Start small. You can also begin to practice self-compassion through actions. Simple acts of self-care can demonstrate the notion of nurturance and kindness towards oneself. These acts of self-care can range from ensuring you get enough sleep, to treating yourself to a massage, to watching your favorite movie.
We all face struggles and challenges. Self-compassion allows us to face these obstacles with a sense that we are on our own team as opposed to working against ourselves. Self-compassion also has the ability to lower the volume of that annoying inner critic, which opens us up to growth and change. Like any other skill, mastering the art of self-compassion will not develop overnight. But with practice, awareness and commitment, we absolutely do possess the ability to stop beating ourselves up and start treating ourselves with kindness and respect, which is something we all deserve.