Today, I’m talking about The IDEA of self-compassion.
And, why learning to practice more self-compassion not a selfish act.
That’s me in that pic’ above. It was taken in 1997 at my gorgeous friends’ wedding reception. It was a wonderful night. I was over the moon for the happy couple who remain two of my favourite people today.
But you know what? – I can remember getting ready and feeling that I looked fat.
Of course, I look at it now and wonder what I was worried about.
But at the time, I was terribly self-conscious about my appearance. Feeling fat was not a new sensation for me (and I’m sure I am not alone in this). It was – and, if I’m honest, still is – one of the many things I used to find wrong with myself. (We won’t even get started on the hideous secret I was hiding with my Hidradenitis suppurativa ‘skin issues’)
I’ve written before about my critical inner voice. Never being good enough, smart enough, or just ‘enough’. I wouldn’t dream of talking to another person the way I used to talk to me, and sometimes catch myself still doing. I’m in a much better place with this than at the start of my AIP caper, though!
And, as I work with more and more autoimmune sufferers, it becomes increasingly clear that we can all be our own hardest task-masters. When things don’t go our way; the way we expect them to go – we are the first to beat ourselves up. Sometimes viciously. There is a clear pattern…
And when I talk to clients about implementing a self-care strategy that includes practising self-compassion, many of them tell me it feels selfish.
How does THAT work?
The short answer is that it doesn’t work.
Especially because, there is a school of thought that if you are prone to self-criticism, you’re actually more likely to be self-absorbed and anxious. Hands up if that resonates?
In fact, self-compassion specialist, Dr Kristin Neff has this to say,
“For the past decade or so I’ve been conducting research on self-compassion, and have found that people who are compassionate to themselves are much less likely to be depressed, anxious, and stressed, and are much more likely to be happy, resilient, and optimistic about their future. In short, they have better mental health.”
[Well, doesn’t THAT just rip your nightie?]
Here’s to treating yourself as you would a favourite friend…
When you speak to yourself in a harsh or critical way, your body responds as it would to any threat – by initiating your fight or flight response (your reaction to a stimulus perceived as an imminent threat to your survival). And, as any seasoned AIPer knows – we want to find ways to reduce our stress response.
If an increased stress response isn’t enough to convince you, neuroscientists have discovered that the self-punishment that accompanies self-criticism can have the effect of disengaging you from your goals and actively undermine your performance.
So, when we talk to ourselves critically, it has a ripple effect that can impact us in unimaginable ways
Clinical Psychologist, Dr Stan Steindl says that self-compassion is our brain’s answer to self-criticism. If self-criticism is a car, then fear is its engine. It is fear that drives self-criticism. Attacking self-criticism only escalates our fears and escalates our self-criticism further. Instead, we need to find ways to create a calm, safe, and contented state of mind to soothe our fears.
Steindl suggests this nifty little dialogue to have with yourself when you notice self-criticism taking place:
“Hey, you’re doing ok. You just have this tricky brain. You’ll get frightened sometimes, or angry. You’ll even be mean to yourself. Just breathe, smile, connect with the present moment, and remember all that you are, as part of this common humanity, and keep going, bit by bit, in the direction you truly value.”
It’s good advice as we navigate the sometimes overwhelming world of chronic illness.
WANT some simple ways TO practice more self-compassion?
- Introduce a morning ritual to your day. It’s a great way to start your day in the right frame of mind. I love my morning ritual so much, I created this mini eCourse to guide you through creating yours. It’s free. Importantly, it integrates touch – the act of placing your hand on your heart – to get you feeling more compassionate towards yourself, too. There is a physiological response to this action, a little like giving yourself a hug.
- Imagine your best friend is sitting across from you. Imagine she can see inside your head and hear all that critical self-talk you’re handing out. What would she say to you? How would she respond to this voice of yours? What does she love about you? Now, use that same language on yourself to give yourself encouragement and love.
- Take a moment to check in with yourself the next time you’re stressed.
- Slow down and notice how you’re feeling. Can you describe that feeling? Does it have a shape or a colour?
- Recite your version of Dr Steindl’s dialogue (above). If it helps – Save the meme or even print it out and stick it somewhere visible.
- Finish your check-in by giving yourself some compassionate words of encouragement.