Cultivating Self-Compassion

23 November, 2011

When we suffer, or find something difficult or challenging, is the time we need our own support the most. But what do we commonly do? We beat ourselves up instead...

It doesn't sound very friendly, does it? That's because it is not: as in, if a friend came to you with a nervous tummy before a presentation, or had said something they considered "silly" to their boss at work and were worried, or they hadn't been getting enough sleep, or their body was in pain, you wouldn't judge or criticise them, and tell them they should have this handled by now, or that really, they should be perfect by now, and that they are stupid for getting it wrong again.

No. And why? Because they wouldn't want to be your friend for very long if you did.

Yet, these rules don't apply to the way we treat ourselves inside. We seem to have signed a contract before we were born, promising to uphold perfection at all times, be personally and wholly accountable for instances of imperfection as and when they occur, and therefore subject to punishment: subtle to harsh forms of self-flagellation the preferred method, but self-sabotage and feelings of worthlessness viable supplements....

Don't get me wrong, these beat ups, these "shoulds", this being cross at yourself for not pulling this all off perfectly yet, or "failing" or feeling inadequate about something, can be very, very subtle, and can remain very much under our conscious radar, believe me!

Being a gentle, compassionate and good, loving friend to myself is still very much an ongoing practice for me, and I believe would be for most of us (perhaps the Dalai Lama has it sorted by now, though?). I am not sure why it has taken me many years to develop love for myself, it just has. And I am finding that developing a self-compassion practice has been very powerful: the other day I was in the bath and I had this powerful feeling that everything was always going to be OK, because I was absolutely there for myself. I felt the feeling of being a supportive friend to myself. Hard to put into words - needless to say I liked it.

And it IS a cultivation: self-compassion, self-love, self-acceptance, self-esteem doesn't come easy. They are states we need to be cultivating in ourselves, in an ongoing fashion. When we feel these feelings for ourselves, life flows with ease, and most other problems don't seem like problems any more.

One thing is for sure - you have to live with yourself for the rest of your life, so you may as well start to like and love yourself!

Here's how to start:

  1. Start to notice when you are suffering or struggling with something - you might be in physical discomfort, or pain, or emotional discomfort or pain, or you might just find something very hard to do.
  2. Acknowledge the struggle as you would with a dear friend who had come to you. Say to yourself: You obviously struggle with this, or, I know you find this particularly hard.
  3. Develop a kind response to the struggle: It's OK to be feeling like this, take a breath, and you're going to feel much better in a few moments...
  4. Remind yourself that you are imperfect, because ALL human beings are, and that this is actually OK.

This might sound a bit airy-fairy to some of you, and if so I challenge you: practice soothing yourself for one week like this in times of struggle instead of beating yourself up, and then get in touch with me and tell me what happens. I guarantee it will be a positive email.

I have been strongly influenced by the work of Dr Kristin Neff. Please have a look at her website, here are some useful links:

Self-compassion Video Clip

Self-compassion Guided Meditation

As always, I welcome your comments and feedback, as you know I LOVE to hear from you!

With compassionate thoughts, Charlotte.

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