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How Can Self Compassion Help You to Thrive?

Self Compassion

Far from giving you a pass to be lazy, self compassion teaches you to be a friend to yourself instead of your toughest critic.

Susan had a rough day last week.

She had a cough that wouldn’t go away, it had kept her up at night. Her oldest daughter called her “mean” when she told her to do her homework, and Susan snapped at her. 

So many commitments and responsibilities had been piling up all week.  Yet, instead of being productive that afternoon, she took a nap.  

And at the end of the night as Susan was reflecting on her difficult day, not feeling that great, trying to manage being all of her roles: mom, professional, wife, friend, she heard the voice of her inner critic come out:

“You’re so lazy!  You’re failing at everything!” 

What is that about? Our need to be harsh with ourselves right in the moments when we most need care and support.  Kristin Neff in her amazing TED talk about Self-compassion says it has become clear from her research that we speak harshly to ourselves in order to motivate ourselves to be better.  The problem is that harshness only shuts us down.  Self compassion actually works better to help us move through these hard times.

Kristin Neff’s TED Talk has now been watched over two million times.  She says she considers herself a self compassion evangelist and she can count me as one of her converts.  I’ve witnessed first hand how powerful the act of having compassion for one’s self can be. 

Based on her research, she names several important elements that make up self compassion:

  • Acknowledging the pain you are in “Wow! This is hard!”
  • Being kind to yourself instead of judging yourself – treating yourself the way a good friend would
  • Connecting to the human experience of suffering – we are all dealing with shit!
  • Mindfulness over over-identification – noticing the negative thoughts and beliefs that come up but not over-identifying with them – they’re just thoughts!

Somatic Experiencing also helps to build more self compassion.  As we sit with uncomfortable emotions, we can guide you to help you to imagine bringing in resources like people who support you.  Feeling your feet on the floor and the support of the chair on your back can help to ground you in the present moment.  You might be encouraged to put your hand on the places in your body where you feel the painful emotions (as Neff encourages in the TED talk) and breathe into them.

Coming back to our initial example, here’s how Susan practiced self compassion based on Neff’s research and using SE principles.  

First, as her inner critic came out, she felt shame and noticed a sinking feeling in her abdomen.  Putting her hand on her abdomen and breathing into it, she looked around the room to help her stay in the present moment. 

Then she imagined bringing in some resources like her partner and a good friend and imagined them standing next to her, offering support.  

This brought some relief, and she became aware of lightness in her chest.  She made space to feel the lightness as well as the sinking feeling, moving back and forth.  Acknowledging how hard the day had been, she observed the shame turn into sadness and honored the sadness as it came up and moved through her.

With self-compassion we are not trying to avoid pain or deny reality. 

The goal is the idea of flow – feeling the difficult feelings and moving through them while being kind to ourselves.  There will always be times when we feel stressed and snap at someone we love, forget things, procrastinate, and  become aware of our limitations because we are human.  But we don’t have to beat up on ourselves to be better.  

Self-compassion is a skill that you can build as well!

It may feel hard or strange at first, but the more you practice, the better you will be able to move through difficult moments or stressful situations faster.  Using some of these techniques can help you function and even thrive without being overwhelmed.  The best of part of it all is that having compassion for ourselves allows us to be more present and loving with others.  So in the end we are better partners, colleagues, parents and friends when we allow ourselves more grace. 

Marian W. Thompson, LCSW

Marian W. Thompson, LCSW - Somatic Experiencing and Couples Counseling in Austin, TXAn Austinite since 2008, I am a native Texan, born and raised in Houston. I have advanced training in Somatic Experiencing® and Emotionally Focused Therapy. I am sex positive and strive to create a non-judgmental environment for clients of all orientations and lifestyles. LGBTQ+, kink, poly welcome!

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