What is self-compassion you might ask? Sometimes to better understand self-compassion it is easier to think about what it is like to feel compassion to others. Think of the way you feel towards a friend, family member or colleague who is struggling in their life. Maybe they are having a hard time in a relationship, going through a divorce, grieving the loss of a loved one or struggling with a chronic illness. Think about how you feel towards them and their suffering. Feel your love and empathy towards them and your compassion towards their suffering. This is how self-compassion feels. Self-compassion means to feel compassion towards your own suffering or pain. With self-compassion, we give ourselves the same kindness and care we'd give to a good friend.
Self-compassion can be challenging for many people when hard times hit but, it is especially difficult for trauma survivors. For people who have experienced child abuse or neglect or more recent trauma such as the loss of a loved one, divorce, a life threatening accident or being a victim of a crime, it is common for negative beliefs to develop. Some of these negative beliefs can be, “I am bad”, “I deserve it”, “I am damaged”, “I am inadequate”, “I am unlovable” or “it was my fault” (just to name a few). Recovering from trauma should include a trauma-focused treatment that builds self-compassion in the process. EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing) is a hallmark for trauma treatment and works directly with the negative thoughts and beliefs that plague trauma survivors. Building self-compassion is an integral part of healing.
How self-compassionate are you? Take the self-compassion quiz below.
HOW I TYPICALLY ACT TOWARDS MYSELF IN DIFFICULT TIMES
Please read each statement carefully before answering. To the right of each item, indicate how often you behave in the stated manner, using the following scale:
Almost never 1 2 3 4 5 Almost always
1. When I fail at something important to me I become consumed by feelings of inadequacy.
2. I try to be understanding and patient towards those aspects of my personality I don’t like.
3. When something painful happens I try to take a balanced view of the situation.
4. When I’m feeling down, I tend to feel like most other people are probably happier than I
5. I try to see my failings as part of the human condition.
6. When I’m going through a very hard time, I give myself the caring and tenderness I need.
7. When something upsets me I try to keep my emotions in balance.
8. When I fail at something that’s important to me, I tend to feel alone in my failure.
9. When I’m feeling down I tend to obsess and fixate on everything that’s wrong.
10. When I feel inadequate in some way, I try to remind myself that feelings of inadequacy
are shared by most people.
11. I’m disapproving and judgmental about my own flaws and inadequacies.
12. I’m intolerant and impatient towards those aspects of my personality I don’t like.
How did you do? Examine your answers to see where you are strong in self-compassion and what areas you might want to work on.
There is help for increasing your self compassion. Kristin Neff, PhD the leading researcher in self compassion, has developed exercises to increase self compassion. Here are 5 self-compassion exercises below:
1. Self-compassion break
When you are stressed, gently notice your fearful negative thoughts and be mindful. You can say to yourself, “This is just a moment of suffering”. Next, bring awareness to the idea that there are other people in the world suffering just like me. I am not alone in this suffering. You can say to yourself, “Suffering is a part of life”. And lastly, you can bring your hand to your heart, feeling the warmth of your chest, your heart beating, and feel kindness towards yourself by saying, “May I be kind to myself”.
2. Self-compassion loving kindness meditation
3. How would you treat a friend?
How do you think things might change if you responded to yourself in the same way you typically respond to a close friend when he or she is suffering?
4. Explore self-compassion through writing
Everybody has something about themselves that they don’t like, something that causes them to feel shame, to feel insecure, or not “good enough.” This exercise includes writing a letter to yourself about this issue from a place of acceptance and compassion.
5. Self-compassion journal
Keeping a daily journal in which you process the difficult events of your day through a lens of self-compassion can enhance both mental and physical well-being. This exercise will help make self-kindness, common humanity, and mindfulness part of your daily life.
A natural progression of trauma treatment is to feel more compassionate towards oneself. Self-compassion comes more readily with a free heart. An open and whole heart is how we start this world as babies. It is only after life has beaten us down or hurt us in a way that makes us feel negative towards our self.
To learn more self-compassion practices you can go to http://self-compassion.org/category/exercises.
To learn more about trauma focused therapy to heal trauma and develop self compassion, visit www.vancouveremdrtherapy.com.
Lemecia & VWS Team
Reference: Raes, F., Pommier, E., Neff, K. D., & Van Gucht, D. (2011). Construction and factorial validation of a short form of the Self -Compassion Scale. Clinical Psychology & Psychotherapy. 18, 250-255.