common humanity

Mindful Self-Compassion: How To Be Your Own Best Friend

I’ve been practicing mindful self-compassion for about five years and I recently gave a presentation on the topic.  Being an introvert, I found it extremely hard to stand up in front of 500 people and share some of myself! I was nervous and a bit anxious, but I practiced a lot of self-compassion and I did it! You can see the video below.

Intensive Practice

The following week, I attended an intensive self-compassion retreat. Going into the retreat, I figured it would be a bit of a refresher for me. I’d been practicing for years. I write about self-compassion in my blog pretty often. I advocate for clients to adopt a self-compassion practice, explaining what it is and how to incorporate into their lives. In the women’s group that I facilitate, we talk about it a lot because women tend to be pretty hard on themselves. How much more could I learn?

You might wonder why I decided to spend a week away from home if the material wasn’t new to me. The presenters were Kristin Neff and Chris Germer— pretty big name in my world. They’ve pioneered the training, writing and research on self-compassion. When I learned that Kristin Neff would be stepping away from presenting for a while, I didn’t want to miss a chance to meet her, so I signed up for the retreat with two friends/colleagues.

The six-day intensive was designed for therapists and laypeople. It was filled with meditations, experiential activities, education, movement, laughter, tears, bonding with friends and lots of sharing with the other participants. I came away with a much wider perspective on self-compassion and how much more difficult it can be than I ever expected.

Self-compassion encourages us to be our own best friends with kindness and compassion when we’re suffering. And through the practice, we gain greater compassion for others’ suffering.

What Is Self-Compassion?

The practice of self-compassion has three main tenets, or principles—mindfulness, common humanity and self-kindness.

Mindfulness allows us to be aware of the present moment and how we treat ourselves at any given moment. Recognition of our common humanity helps us recognize that we don’t suffer alone. Everyone has struggles because we’re human, and being a human involves experiencing emotional and physical pain from time to time. Self-kindness encourages us to be gentle with ourselves when we’re struggling— to treat ourselves with the same kindness that we would offer a friend.

I learned a lot at the retreat. Some points were new and some reinforced my ongoing self-compassion practice. What I didn’t expect was how hard it was for me to feel truly compassionate towards myself at moments throughout the week.  I found myself up against some pretty strong resistance.

Looking back, I get it! Mindful self-compassion can make us more aware of how often we haven’t been kind to ourselves. It also brings in to our awareness the times when others didn’t show us compassion when we were struggling.  

Training Highlights

Our last day together at the intensive mindful self-compassion retreat

Our last day together at the intensive mindful self-compassion retreat

Although I don’t have space to give a full synopsis on the training, here are the highlights that stuck with me:

  • Compassion feels more deserved when I’m offering it to others than when I’m offering it to myself.

  • Finding the right compassionate phrases to offer yourself is incredibly important for self-compassion to feel true.

  • There are two types of compassion: the Yin, which offers more caretaking and comforting support, and the Yang, which is more fierce and protective support and motivated towards change. We need both comfort and protection when we’re suffering. Both together are a fierce, caring force!

  • Using tender, compassionate touch, such as a hand on your heart or cheek, and a soothing voice helps to reinforce and internalize the compassionate messages we offer ourselves.

  • Tuning in to our physical response to stress and distress helps identify where to offer ourselves soothing touch.

  • The number-one block for people around the idea of self-compassion is that it will undermine motivation. But the research shows that a self-compassion practice is a better motivator than self-criticism!

  • There can be a back-draft effect from self-compassion. As we offer ourselves love and compassion, we might become aware of the times when we weren’t received with compassion. We can meet that pain with a mindful compassion for what we didn’t get.

  • It’s really important to have grounding skills in place and to be aware of self-care routines that help us feel nourished so we can manage when back-draft, resistance or traumatic memories show up.

  • Offering ourselves loving-kindness isn’t focused on fixing the problem or trying to make us feel better but because we feel bad.

  • Our critical voice often stems from the need for protection and safety. It wants to keep us from making mistakes, to keep us safe from others’ judgment, and to protect us from emotional harm.

  • Our compassionate voice can actually create emotional safety.

  • When we can embrace who we are with all of our imperfections and our human suffering, we are creating space for a radical acceptance.

  • Difficult emotions are a part of daily life. As we practice being mindful of our emotional and physical state, we can choose how to respond to those feelings. No choice is better or worse. It just depends on where you are in that moment. We can:

    • Resist them

    • Be curious about them

    • Tolerate them

    • Allow them

    • Befriend them

  • Self-compassion takes practice. The goal is not to be perfect at compassion but to be a compassionate mess!

It’s also important to know that mindful self-compassion can trigger traumas that we might not be aware of. If you decide to practice self-compassion and it feels more distressing than helpful, take some time to ground yourself, provide self-care in ways that are meaningful to you and seek professional help with a therapist for support and to explore alternative ways to keep you grounded in your practice if needed.

You can find out more here:

Elizabeth Cush on Self-Compassion

Ignite Annapolis

Self-compassion.org

Center for Mindful Self-Compassion

Kristin Neff, Ph.D.

Christopher Germer, PhD.


If you enjoyed this blog post and would like more insights into living with anxiety, tune into the Woman Worriers podcast. In each weekly 30-minute episode, host Elizabeth Cush, LCPC, and her guests explore living with anxiety, relationships, parenting, surviving trauma and other topics and offer insights into mindfulness, meditation and other helpful resources.

Elizabeth Cush, LCPC is a therapist, blogger,  creator and host of the Woman Worriers podcast, and the owner of Progression Counseling in Annapolis, Md and she’s been featured in these major publications. Elizabeth helps busy, overwhelmed men and women manage their anxiety and stress so they can live their lives with more ease, contentment and purpose. If you'd like to know more about how individual, online and group therapy can help ease anxiety and stress call me 410-339-1979  

Maybe It's Time For A Little Self-Compassion

*This blog was originally published in the Severna Park Voice.

woman hands on mouth.jpg

Everyone makes mistakes, but some of us continue to think about what we could have done better after the event. We beat ourselves up about small things. If you find that you are your own worst critic—harder on yourself than others—maybe it’s time to show a little self-compassion.

What Is Self-Compassion And Why Is It So Hard?

We seem to be able to offer others, even strangers, compassion when times are tough. Why is it so hard to be kind to ourselves when we are struggling? Some people think, “If I’m not hard on myself, I will never get things done.” Others might say, “Self-compassion is self-indulgence, or selfishness.”

Many people think self-compassion means we give ourselves a pass for everything we do. That’s not it. Self-compassion means that we offer ourselves the same message of comfort and understanding that we might offer a friend who was going through the same thing.

Dr. Kristin Neff has done a lot of research and writing about self-compassion. She identified that self-compassion has three components: self-kindness, common humanity and mindfulness. You can read more about her findings here.

The Argument For Self-Compassion

I’d argue that if we don’t take care of our own emotional well-being, we’ll have a hard time helping others when things get tough. If we are struggling emotionally, frustrated with ourselves, or constantly self-critical, it is very hard to give balanced support to someone else.

When we're overly critical of ourselves it can also increase our anxiety. Imagine a friend that always pointed out your faults, and told you you weren't enough, or worse that you were a failure. Imagine that friend was with you 24/7, constantly reminding you of things you could have done better, and that this was for your own good.

It might stress you out, or you might try to ignore them, or push them away but the bad feelings about yourself remain, because maybe a small part of you begins to believe what the constant criticism and that can make you feel very anxious.

Self-Kindness

hugging self.jpg

Self-kindness means that if we are feeling fearful, or sad, or we are questioning our behavior, we offer ourselves words of kindness, instead of criticism. When we imagine what we might say to a good friend who was suffering and then offer those same words to ourselves, we can acknowledge our discomfort and recognize that no one is perfect. This can help challenge our inner-critic, which can cause us to feel bad about ourselves, create anxiety, and keep us from taking chances or trying out new things.

Common Humanity

When times are tough—maybe you’re feeling anxious, depressed, or just having a bad day—if you can remind yourself that everyone has bad days, that everyone struggles, it can ease the intensity in that moment. When we ease the intensity, we can reduce the feelings of anxiety and depression.

Mindfulness

Mindfulness is a non-judgmental, receptive mind state in which one observes thoughts and feelings as they are, without trying to suppress or deny them
— Kristin Neff, PhD.

When rethinking a mistake, we can get stuck in the “what ifs,” or if onlys.” Learning to come back to the present moment, through mindful breathing and grounding techniques, we begin to understand that thoughts, feelings and behaviors all come and go. Instead of the constant worry about the past or future, we become accustomed to allowing what is. This can help reduce negative thinking, ruminating, self-blame and shame, because we learn not to over-identify with our feelings or thoughts.

How To Move Forward With Self-Compassion

Through self-compassion practice, we can begin to accept our imperfections, and to feel more connected with those around us, because we are all human, and humans struggle from time-to-time. We learn to accept the ups and downs in life as a part of our experience, instead of a reflection of who we are.

If you want to bring more self-compassion into your daily life I host mindfulness each Spring and Fall. You can find out about the groups here.


Elizabeth Cush, LCPC is a therapist, blogger,  creator and host of the Woman Worriers podcast, and the owner of Progression Counseling in Annapolis, Md. She helps busy, overwhelmed men and women manage their anxiety and stress so they can live their lives with more ease, contentment and purpose. If you'd like to know more about how individual and group therapy can help ease anxiety and stress call me 410-339-1979. 

Photo by gabrielle cole & Philipe Cavalcante on Unsplash

 

 

 

Be Kind To Yourself

Everyone makes mistakes, but some of us continue to think about what we could have done better after the event. We beat ourselves up about small things. If you find that you are your own worst critic—harder on yourself than others—maybe it’s time to show a little self-compassion.

What Is Self-Compassion And Why Is It So Hard?

Why is self-compassion so hard?

Why is self-compassion so hard?

We seem to be able to offer others, even strangers, compassion when times are tough. Why is it so hard to be kind to ourselves when we are struggling? Some people think, “If I am not hard on myself, I will never get things done.” Others might say, “Self-compassion is self-indulgence, or selfishness.”

Many people think self-compassion means we give ourselves a pass for everything we do. That’s not it. Self-compassion means that we offer ourselves the same message of comfort and understanding that we might offer a friend who was going through the same thing.

Dr. Kristin Neff has done a lot of research and writing about self-compassion. She identified that self-compassion has three components: self-kindness, common humanity and mindfulness. You can read more about her findings here.

The Argument For Self-Compassion

I’d argue that if we don’t take care of our own emotional well-being, we’ll have a hard time helping others when things get tough. If we are struggling emotionally, frustrated with ourselves, or constantly self-critical, it is very hard to give balanced support to someone else. If we can’t accept and love ourselves, faults and all, how can we offer that compassion to others?

Self-Kindness

Believe and be kind to yourself

Believe and be kind to yourself

Self-kindness means that if we are feeling fearful, or sad, or we are questioning our behavior, we offer ourselves words of kindness, instead of criticism. When we imagine what we might say to a good friend who was suffering and then offer those same words to ourselves, we can acknowledge our discomfort and recognize that no one is perfect. This can help challenge our inner-critic, which can cause us to feel bad about ourselves, create anxiety, and keep us from taking chances or trying out new things.

Common Humanity

When times are tough—maybe you’re feeling anxious, depressed, or just having a bad day—if you can remind yourself that everyone has bad days, that everyone struggles, it can ease the intensity in that moment. When we ease the intensity, we can reduce the feelings of anxiety and depression. Here’s a guided meditation to help you.

 

Mindfulness

Dr. Neff writes that “Mindfulness is a non-judgmental, receptive mind state in which one observes thoughts and feelings as they are, without trying to suppress or deny them.”

man looking upwards.jpg

When rethinking a mistake, we can get stuck in the “what ifs,” or if onlys.” Learning to come back to the present moment, through mindful breathing and grounding techniques, we begin to understand that thoughts, feelings and behaviors all come and go. Instead of the constant worry about the past or future, we become accustomed to allowing what is. This can help reduce negative thinking, ruminating, self-blame and shame, because we learn not to over-identify with our feelings or thoughts.

How To Move Forward With Self-Compassion

Through self-compassion practice, we can begin to accept our imperfections, and to feel more connected with those around us, because we are all human, and humans struggle from time-to-time. We learn to accept the ups and downs in life as a part of our experience, instead of a reflection of who we are. We learn that the anxious inner critical voice is just one part of us, and with compassionit can be quieted.

Trying anything new takes practice. At first, it might be hard to offer yourself kind, compassionate understanding but keep at it. The more often you can see yourself with love and kindness the easier it becomes.

If you want to bring more self-compassion into your daily life, check out my blog Spring: A Time To Cultivate And Grow Self-Compassion, or contact me, 410-340-8469.


Elizabeth Cush, LCPC is a therapist and the owner of Progression Counseling in Annapolis, Md. She helps busy, overwhelmed men and women manage their anxiety and stress so they can live their lives with more ease, contentment and purpose.

Photos courtesy of Yoann Boyer and Seth Doyle for Unsplash