Building Self-Compassion

Why Use This Tool?

Do you ever hear a voice of self-criticism chattering away in your head telling you: “You’re not good enough”, “You’re such a loser”, “You’re always letting people down.” Don’t worry you’re not crazy. It’s just that as you were growing up chances are someone used some harsh words to try and make you change your behavior, and you’ve held on to this deep belief that if you’re hard on yourself you’ll shape up.

But researchers suggest there may be a better way to motivate yourself. Dr Kristin Neff and her colleagues are finding that tapping into your self-compassion – showing yourself kindness, remembering we’re all human, and learning and being mindful of what you’re saying to yourself – can help you generate more positive feelings that balance out your fears and self-doubt and leave you feeling more joyous, calm and confident.

And while you may fear that showing yourself kindness may be self-indulgent or “soft”, studies are finding that the deliberate use of self-compassionate talk has been found to be an effective means of enhancing your motivation, your performance and your resilience.

Kristin suggests self-compassion has three core qualities – mindfulness, connectedness and self-kindness. She has developed a suite of tools specifically designed to strengthen self-compassion through the practice of these three core qualities. Here are five of my favorite:

  • Guided meditations – choose from a range of five minutes to twenty-five minutes meditations to calm your mind, notice your emotions and increase your self-compassion.
  • 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? This exercise walks you through it.
  • Give yourself a self-compassion break –use this any time you feel your need to show yourself some self-compassion. Recall a situation that is causing you stress, try to feel the emotional discomfort in your body. Now say to yourself: this is a moment of suffering or this hurts. Then remind yourself that suffering is something we all can feel, and you’re not alone. Put your hands over your heart, and say to yourself something that will express kindness to yourself, such as “may I give myself the compassion that I need” or “may I forgive myself” or “may I be strong”. You can also download this as an MP3.
  • Being the criticizer, the criticized, and the compassionate observer – In this exercise, you will sit in different chairs to help get in touch with different, often conflicting parts of yourself (the criticizer, the criticized, and the compassionate observer), experiencing how each aspect feels in the present moment.
  • Keep a self-compassion journal for one week or longer to review your day and note anything that you felt bad about, or judged yourself critically for, or any difficulties that hurt you. For each event, use mindfulness (noticing your emotions and the messages you gave yourself), a sense of common humanity (acknowledging everyone has imperfections and bad experiences), and self-kindness (write some words of comfort and understanding) to process the event in a more self-compassionate way.

How To Get The Tool?

The details of these exercise and other tools to increase your self-compassion can be downloaded for free from Kristin’s website. She also has some valuable tips on practicing self-compassion.

What Have Researchers Found?

Kristin and her colleagues suggest that tapping into self-compassion can help to break your cycle of self-criticism, whilst still allowing you to be honest about our fears. Self-compassion allows you to recognize that those voices of self-criticism aren’t really trying to harm you, but in their own limited way are actually trying to protect you. In their misguided attempts to ensure your happiness, they’re overly critical and unnecessarily harsh in an effort to get you to act.

Instead of taming, shaming or blaming these voices for undermining your confidence, by recognizing their clumsy attempt to keep you safe, studies have found you’re able to reduce your levels of stress and anxiety by seeing them for what they are; stories about the things that frighten you, and not the truth about who you are or what you’re capable of. This creates the space for you to practice self-compassion.

Less dependent on your performance, self-compassion helps to put opportunities and challenges into perspective and remind you that if all doesn’t go to plan, it simply means you’re learning, just like the rest of the human race. As a result studies have also found the practice of self-compassion helps you to believe you are capable and worthy, making you less self-conscience, less likely to compare yourself to others and less likely to feel insecure.

If you want to read more about self-criticism versus self-compassion read my article here.