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Self-Compassion Tools

This is the third in a series of blogs about self-compassion, which focuses on self-compassion tools. As a therapist, I can honestly say, in my experience, that it is one of the best practices available – based on many years of solid scientific research. It can make a huge difference to how we feel about ourselves and how we manage difficult situations and difficult feelings.

Both this blog and the next will describe some of the basic self-compassion tools, taken from Kristen Neff and Chris Germer’s excellent websites (see links below): The Self-Compassion Break, Self-Compassion through Writing, How Would You Treat a Friend? and Affectionate Breathing. 

Each one only takes a few minutes, but they can all make a big difference. Like all tools, the more we use them, the easier it becomes, until it simply becomes a habit. It’s really important to find the right words that resonate with you rather than someone else’s suggestions – to adapt them to really suit yourself.

Tool 1 The Self Compassion Break

This exercise brings in the three components of self compassion which have been proven by numerous scientific studies, to work: Self-kindness vs. Self-judgment, Common humanity vs. Isolation and Mindfulness vs. Over-identification.

Bring to mind a situation in your life that is causing you stress or pain. How does it makes you feel, both emotionally and physically? Once you have the situation in mind and have got in touch with the feelings associated with it, say something like this to yourself: 

  • “This is really tough” “This hurts” “I hate feeling like this” or simply “This is really crap!”

The next step involves realising that in common with all other human beings on the planet,  suffering  (crap situations, crap people doing crap things) is an unavoidable part of life.  You might say to yourself “Feeling crappy like this is part of being human – even though I feel it’s only me, and that I’m alone in this, even that I’m weird or different because I’m feeling like this, actually almost everyone feels like this at times.” 

Finally ask yourself, “What do I need to hear right now to express kindness to myself?” It could be “You are OK, I’m totally here for you”, “Don’t worry, I’ve got this”. This part is important as we tend to allow ourselves to fall headlong into an emotional sea – this step involves knowing that it’s there, holding it securely but not letting it take us over (that is what is meant by over-identification).

Exploring Self-Compassion Through Writing

This three-part exercise can be especially helpful for people who enjoy writing:

  • 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 at the moment, focus on this insecurity. Note 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. Simply feel the emotions that thinking about your insecurity brings up, then write about them.
  • The second part of the exercise involves writing a letter to yourself from the perspective of an unconditionally loving imaginary friend.  Imagine a friend who 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. How does this friend feel about you? They love you, accept you, the whole of you – with all your good points and all your flaws! Not only is this friend completely understanding and compassionate, but they know all about your life – they know all the struggles you’ve encountered, how you have overcome them.
  • Finally write a letter from the perspective of this imaginary, unconditionally loving friend. Don’t forget the inadequacies you wrote about in the first part of the exercise. Would they tell you that you must be perfect, and any weakness is unacceptable? Or would they say that they get why you feel that way, but that we are all human and imperfect? Would they encourage you to accept yourself as you are, and remind you of your strengths?

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.

A great introduction is to try some of these Self Compassion Guided Meditations:  Kristen Neff   Chris Germer Paul Gilbert

Need some advice and support?

If you are struggling with any of the issues raised in this article, or indeed any other emotional issues or life challenges and would like to talk things over in complete confidentiality, call Alison Winfield, Mindfully Well Counselling Cork on 087 9934541.

Book a counselling session today!


See also: Self-CompassionHow self-compassionate are you?Self compassion to heal shame