Kristen Neff describes self compassion as giving the same kindness and care to ourselves that we’d give to a good friend. Self-compassion.org
This isn’t actually very easy to do because our brains and thoughts seem to be hardwired to be negative. This is because, at a very primal level, our brains are looking after us by being very vigilant to threat and danger; if we are aware of danger, our brains rev into gear releasing adrenaline and cortisol preparing the body to take action against the threat, this is known as the body’s threat system, reptillian or old brain, survival mode, or fight or flight. We experience this as anxiety and sometimes even panic attacks. It is our brain looking out for us, to protect us. So to be relaxed and taking some time out to be kind and loving to self is a bit worrying for this old brain which needs to constantly be looking out for whats wrong. And since we are no longer fleeing for our lives from things which might eat us, the brain has a look elsewhere for whats wrong. And it turns in on our very selves, attacking and critical of self. A quote that sometimes resonates with the group is:
When we are bullied our body will activate the threat system. Our critical voice will create anxiety. Our worrying thoughts have an impact on our wellbeing;
“…the mind is your ultimate battleground. It’s the space where the greatest and fiercest conflict resides. It’s where half of the things you thought were going to happen, never actually happened. It’s where your inner resistance buries you with negativity. And, when you allow these thoughts to dwell in your mind, they gradually succeed in robbing you of peace, joy, and ultimately your life. You think yourself right into nervous breakdowns and bouts of depression, time and again.” (from marc & angel, Hack Life)
Owen Fitzpatrick in his Ted talk ‘Mind Control’ talks about this voice as being a dictator with damaging propaganda.
This coupled with the idea that our brains are wired to the negative as suggested in the Ted talk ‘Getting stuck in the negative’…and very importantly ‘(and how to get unstuck)’ by Alison Ledgerwood.
we could think that we are screwed (yes, ironic negative mindset) particularly when we also throw emotions into the mix, because unbound feelings that we think are valid will properly screw you over!! They can be so powerful and overwhelming that we just kind of follow where they lead:
“We sometimes feel we can’t control these things, so we just go with the flow…It’s like finding ourselves in a canoe on a fast moving river. The more you ruminate about your anxiety and dwell on your fears and how terrible it will be if you fail, the more anxious you will become.” (Paul Gilbert)
The is that we can manage our brains and our emotions, we start by becoming aware of how we are thinking, and then we can employ strategies which help us to be compassionate to ourselves, to speak kindly and to discover gratitude as a way of thinking which helps to deflect the negative default. As a group, on a weekly basis we make a list together of what has been good in the previous week. This can sometimes be a powerful exercise in showing us that it’s not all bad and when we do focus on a good thing it can help shift that negativity.
So, what is self-compassion?
Self-compassion involves feelings of warmth and care towards self when faced with our own failings and short comings. And when we experience negative emotions to be able to accept them and be caring to ourselves in them. (Kristen Neff-full definition here)
Kristen Neff also helpfully describes the three elements of self-compassion. These are outlined in the link above.
- Self-kindness vs. Self-judgment; being kind when we get it wrong rather than criticising.
- Common humanity vs. Isolation; understanding that many people feel the same as us in any particular struggle, we are not alone.
- Mindfulness vs. Over-identification; acknowledging how we feel without falling headlong into that negative story
We had a bit of a discussion as a group as to what people thought self-compassion might look like for them. For some it was a bit hard to get to, but it is about allowing yourself to be human, be kind to yourself in mistakes. For others it was acts of kindness towards self, like taking good self care and baking a cake to eat….in fact just like the way you would treat another person!
We tried a couple of self-compassion exercises where we just acknowledged that things can feel hard, but that we are not alone in that, others feel the same as we do, and how then can we be kind to ourselves in that moment. To be accepting, compassionate, forgive ourselves. We can then extend this out to how we may be feeling about another person and extend compassion and kindness to them also.
We also thought about where we feel our negative emotion, where is it in our bodies? Maybe we can hold ourselves or touch that place of pain in a soothing way, and be mindful of how we feel, allowing it to happen without fighting to get away from uncomfortable feelings but to be kind to ourselves in it.
These exercises and many more like them can be found on the self-compassion website.
We will end with marc & angel’s excellent summary:
“…you were not born feeling this way….[At] some point in the past some person or experience sent you the message that something is wrong with you, and you internalized this lie and accepted it as your truth. But that lie isn’t yours to carry, and those judgments aren’t about you. And in the same way you learned to think negatively of yourself, you can learn to think new, positive and self-loving thoughts. You can learn to challenge those false beliefs, strip away their power, and reclaim your self-respect. It won’t be easy, and it won’t transpire overnight, but it is possible. And it begins the moment you decide there has to be a better way to live, and that you deserve to discover it. Make that decision for yourself!”from marc & angel, Hack Life