Self-compassion is the ability to recognize your own suffering and approach it with curiosity, acceptance, and genuine kindness. This skill is especially useful when we tackle the opposite emotion: shame. Shame is a pervasive problem in our culture; we are often encouraged to blame ourselves, while self-compassion is viewed as weak or self-indulgent.
Pause for a moment, and think of your friends or family members. Was there a time when a loved one confided in you about a problem that was plaguing them? Chances are you responded compassionately. Yet when it comes to our own behavior, we often respond with judgment and self-criticism. This response creates further pain on top of what we are already feeling. How we respond to our own perceived shortcomings is a large predictor for psychological and physical health. If we can let ourselves off the hook, we free up that mental energy for more fulfilling experiences.
“How do I practice self-compassion?”
I’m so glad you asked! Here are 5 strategies to help you get started:
1) Notice the anger towards yourself after a perceived error/shortcoming/embarrassing moment. Notice any negative thoughts and observe them without judgment.
Scenario: You just ate a cupcake at a friend’s party.
a. Judgmental Approach: “I just ate that cupcake and I totally didn’t need that.This is not going to help me lose that five pounds, why did I do that to myself? Everyone was probably watching me scarf that down.”
b. Non-judgmental Approach: “Mmmm, did that cupcake have coconut in it? I just ate that cupcake and it was so delicious, I’m really enjoying my evening.”
The second approach is much harder to accept and requires you to monitor those judgmental thoughts. If they start to seep in, just acknowledge them for what they areand move back to observing thepresentmoment.
2) Get curious about these thoughts and feelings, and see if perhaps there is any shame or guilt associated with this experience.
3) Respond to that part of you that feels ashamed/embarrassed as a friend would (it helps to do this step aloud). Acknowledge the feeling, and respond with positive sentiment e.g. “It’s okay that I made this choice,I’m only human,” or, “This didn’t go my way today, but that’s okay, it’s part of life.”
4) Some people find that taking long, deep breaths combined with nurturing touch can help them feel more comforted in these moments.The simple act of hugging yourself gently can soothe the sympathetic nervous system,which is responsible for the body’s fight or flight response.
5) Be mindful during the rest of the day for any propensity to get caught up in your negativethoughts again. If this happens, reset with a mindful, balanced approach to the event.
Dr. Emily A. Kerr is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist and owner of EK Counseling, LLC, a Denver based therapy practice. With over ten years of experience treating individuals and couples, she brings her candor, humor, and motivation to each session. She specializes in eating disorders, body image struggles, sexuality and gender, life transitions, general anxiety, sex therapy, and building self-esteem. If you are struggling to make a transition, or you just need extra support to create lasting lifestyle changes, please call to schedule an appointment.