self-kindness

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  

What Helps Manage Anxiety During The Holidays?

holiday stress.jpg

The holidays can be stressful. Even if Christmas, Chanukah, Boxing Day, Diwali or Kwanzaa is your favorite holiday, this season can add stress to your life. And stress can invite its more difficult cousin — anxiety — to the celebration.

Because anxiety often makes us feel uncomfortable, many of us avoid or fight the anxiety in an attempt to make it stop. Those strategies might work sometimes, but usually the anxiety returns with greater force and can lead to a panic attack.

Below are some strategies to help you manage the anxiety so that you can enjoy the holidays!

Remind yourself that you’re not alone. A lot of people struggle with anxiety during holiday season. Knowing that you share this experience with others can help you feel less isolated and alone.

Acknowledge your anxiety and allow to be there. Think of the anxiety as a message from your body telling you that there’s some kind of danger lurking. Your anxiety wants to keep you safe. When you ignore or avoid it, it just gets louder, because it wants you to pay attention. Practice saying, “I’m feeling very anxious right now.” Or you can greet your anxiety like an old friend: “Hello anxiety. It’s nice to see you again.” Or, “Here you are again.” Then ask it, “What is it that you want me to know?” You might not find an obvious answer right away, but as you get used to talking with your anxiety, it can make the feelings less intense.

Get curious about your anxiety. Notice where you feel the stress in your body and tune into the physical feelings. Can you breathe into that body part? Does is shift or change? Is it hot or cold? If you could assign it a color and/or shape, what would it look like?

Tune into the present moment

Practice self-care. I’m not talking about facials or mani-pedis here — although they sound like great ideas, too. I’m talking basic needs like eating, hydrating, sleeping, exercising and going to the bathroom regularly. When we get stressed, anxious and overwhelmed, it’s easy to let go of or put off the moment-to-moment needs. So, take time throughout your day to pause. Take a deep breath. Ask yourself, “What do I need right now?” Notice how easy it is to tell yourself you don’t have time to pause or to take care of your needs, and then do it anyway.

Practice mindfulness. When the anxiety gets activated, we can get stuck ruminating over past and future events. When you notice you’re stuck in your head—re-thinking, planning, worrying — slow down and bring your attention to your immediate surroundings. It doesn’t matter where you are. You can pay attention when you’re driving, walking, shopping, laying in bed or at work. Tune into your five senses:

  • What can you see? Colors? Shapes? Lights? Shadows?

  • What can you hear? Horns? Cars? Music? Voices? Wind? Rain?

  • What can you touch or feel? Your feet on the ground? The chair under your butt? Your hands holding your keys or a drink?

  • What can you smell? Food cooking? Exhaust from cars or busses? Scented candles or perfume?

  • What can you taste? Sweet, salty, bitter, sour?

When you allow your anxiety to serve as a reminder that you might need to take care of yourself, it can help you feel less intimidated and overwhelmed when it shows up. I’ve also recorded two podcast episodes to help you manage holiday stress using gratitude, self-compassion and mindfulness techniques.


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

 

 

 

Perfectionism and Anxiety

Striving For Perfection And Anxiety

Being perfect, never making mistakes or failing, would relieve a lot of stress! You could enter every task or challenge with the knowledge that you would succeed every time. How amazing would it be to be able to let go of all those insecurities, worries and anxieties when new, difficult life events happen? You could live your life with ease.

Unfortunately, if everyone were perfect, life would be pretty boring. We would’t learn or grow, because we’d already know how to do everything. As cliché as it sounds, imperfections make us human and make life more interesting.

Imperfections Can Create Anxieties #youareyourownworstenemy

woman on grass.jpg

When we believe that our mistakes reflect poorly on us, and when we feel that other people are constantly judging us for those mistakes or difficulties, it can create a lot of anxiety. You are your own worst enemy, because the perception that we need to be perfect all the time or people will criticize us often sets off a firestorm of critical self-talk:

  • I’m so stupid!
  • I can’t believe I just made a mistake!
  • What is wrong with me? I can’t get this right!
  • Now everyone will know I don’t know what I’m doing!
  • I shouldn’t have even tried!
  • I’ll never do that again!
  • I’m an idiot!

I’m pretty sure that you’d never say to others the hurtful things you say to yourself.  But when we feel vulnerable, the parts of us that want to protect us and keep us safe from harm jump in and start yelling. They criticize. They ridicule. Those parts of you believe that if they can get your attention, they’ll save you from making another mistake in the future.

Those self-protective parts think that the self-criticism will keep you on your toes for next time, but they can also encourage you to stop putting yourself out there, to stop you before you make the next mistake. Sadly, instead of making you feel better, fixing what went wrong or helping you learn from your mistakes, the negative self-talk leaves you feeling worthless, less-than and sometimes hopeless.

Soothing Our Critical Parts

So how do we break the cycle of beating ourselves up when we make mistakes? We do it through the practice of self-compassion.

smiling woman

If we can hold ourselves with the same compassion that we show to others, it can reduce stress and anxiety. When we allow ourselves to be imperfect, to embrace our imperfections, we’re able to approach life with more openness and ease.

Here are four steps to help bring more self-compassion into your life:

1. Start paying attention to your negative self-talk. When that negative voice pipes up, ask yourself, with curiosity, what prompted it? Try to identify what that part of you is afraid of or what you are worried about. Sometimes journaling when you’re most critical of yourself can help you identify the things in life that make you feel less-than. We call those things your triggers.

2. Make a note of the negative things you tell yourself and ask, “Would I say these things to a close friend?” If not, then say out loud or write down what you might tell a friend who was struggling with the same thing.

3. As you begin to recognize when you get triggered, and you become more aware of your negative self-talk, pay attention to those moments. When they arise, I want you to try to say to yourself with compassion, “Wow! I just said some really mean things to myself. I was ready to put myself down for not being perfect, and my critical parts jumped in without my noticing! I can be so hard on myself.”

4. Now, bring to mind the things you’d say to a close friend who was struggling and try to say them to yourself. If you’ve been hard on yourself for a long time, this takes a lot of practice. You might start by imagining what your good friend might say to you if they knew you were having a hard time.

When times are tough, it can help to remember that everyone struggles from time to time. It’s a part of the human experience. When you’re feeling overwhelmed or when that critical voice wants to berate and minimize your difficulties, try saying to yourself, “I’m struggling right now. We all struggle once in a while.” You can also place your hand on your heart and recite these phrases: “May I be peaceful. May I be safe. May I be healthy and may I live my life with ease.”

I hope these steps help you quiet your inner critic and bring more self-compassion into your life.


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 SHINE TANG & by Joshua Rawson-Harris on Unsplash

The Journey Of Self-Awareness

The journey of self-awareness continues

The journey of self-awareness continues

The journey of self-awareness, self-compassion and acceptance has been a focus for me over the last few years. Recently I was giving myself a very hard time because I wasn’t truly “there” yet. I have moments, days, sometimes weeks where I feel like I’m on autopilot and not really in touch with how I’m feelings or being. These reflections left me feeling as if I’d fallen backward, that I'd never move forward or be evolved enough where I felt that I’d reached my goal.

I shared these thoughts with my therapist, who assured me that evolving is just that, an evolution. And evolutions don’t get to a place and stop. Stephen Jay Gould, paleontologist and popular science author, wrote, “Evolution is a process of continuous branching and diversification from common trunks.” So maybe self-discovery doesn’t have an end point..

But I still wasn’t convinced. I was holding onto this belief that my backward motion in this journey meant that something inside me would keep me from reaching my goal of true self-knowledge.

Later, I was watching a video from Elizabeth Gilbert, the author of Big Magic and Eat, Pray, Love. She shared that she’s also ruminated on the idea that there should be some end point where we have it all figured out, that we’ve reached the pinnacle and we show up as our true selves everyday, every moment of our lives. She laughed about that idea and shared that’s she’s realized through guidance and her own search that the steps backward are just as meaningful as the steps forward.

Evolving is a part of the journey

Evolving is a part of the journey

That really resonated with me. How can we know where we want to be and the changes we want to make without being in the place where we desire change? Evolving is a part of the journey, and as we evolve we discover news ways to evolve even further. 

Mindfulness And Connecting With Yourself

My journey of self-awareness has depended a lot on my practice of mindfulness. If I’m present with what’s happening internally and externally, in the moment and without judgment, it helps me feel more connected to myself. In turn, that helps me to understand myself better and to offer self-compassion when I’m being hard on myself.

When I’m being mindful, I’m able to pause, breathe deeply and be present, and that helps me identify how I’m feeling and respond with intention. It gives me a way to ground myself when things are stressful and that helps me manage my anxiety.

If you’d like to learn how to use mindfulness to reduce stress and to start a mindfulness practice, I have groups starting in October.


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. If you'd like to know more about how individual and group therapy can help ease anxiety and stress call me 410-340-8469.

Photo by Mar Newhall  andJustin Luebke 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