Can You Give Yourself Some Compassion?
By Louise Lubin, PhD
Most of us think about compassion as an emotion that we feel for others. We feel concern for them and hope that they will not have to suffer either physically or emotionally. We do not think about directing compassion towards ourselves as we fear we may be complaining, feeling sorry for ourselves or wallowing in what is painful for us. Studies have shown that self-compassion reduces stress and increases self-worth and resilience. Read my article on this site, The Ability to Rebound and Heal, to learn more about resiliency.
So let’s look at how you usually react to yourself
- What areas of your life do you usually judge or criticize yourself? Do you focus on how you look, your relationships, your job, or what you can no longer do because cancer has changed your life?
- What is your self-talk when you notice some flaw or mistake? How punishing are your words, and what is the tone of your thoughts about yourself? Remember, you are all talking to yourself all the time.
- How do you feel inside when you are being judgmental or critical?
- When you are critical of yourself, do you feel cut off from others or recognize that all of us are imperfect?
- What feelings come up when you are so hard of yourself? Do you feel more satisfied and motivated to change or angry, depressed or discouraged?
- When you imagine being more accepting of yourself, how do you feel? Is this thought encouraging or does it scare you because you fear you won’t be motivated to change or will fall into a well of self- pity?
How have you reacted to cancer? Have you tended to deny the challenge to others (or yourself)? How much self-care and comfort have you directed towards yourself? Has the illness cut you off from others to such an extent that you feel isolated and either angry or depressed? Our society is very critical of any behavior that is less than perfect. We are told that unless we are tough on ourselves, we will not succeed or even worse that we are lazy. We are often told that no matter how hard we try, often our best just isn’t good enough. We then take in these messages and feel unworthy –it’s very hard to give ourselves compassion and love. When you have been faced with the losses that come with cancer, you often can’t do some of the things that you did before the diagnosis. The result is feeling not good enough and then self- critical.
What are some ways that you can build more self- compassion towards yourself?
One way to identify the critical voice inside your head is to think about either a real or imaginary friend who is accepting, kind, and compassionate towards you. This friend is aware of your limitations and imperfections and still values you as a person who is a product of your past, life events and those aspects of your life that have been out of your control. Consider how this friend would respond to you if you told them about judging yourself. What would this friend tell you? If this friend were to suggest changes you might make, how would they express understanding and compassion? Try to identify the strong feelings of acceptance, kindness and caring your friend would communicate. Another way to build a greater sense of self- compassion is to bring to mind someone in your life that you naturally feel compassion. How do you communicate and listen to another ? Can you identify the feelings of acceptance and compassion in your body when you feel compassion towards another being? Challenging your critical self talk is another important way to change some of the negative self talk that goes on in our head all the time. Identify an area that you feel badly about yourself. Try to think about what words you are telling yourself ? What is the tone of your inner voice- harsh ,cold, or angry? Does this voice remind you of anyone in your past who has been critical? Can you come up with an alternative response to this behavior that is less harsh and more compassionate? If you have a difficult time coming up with an alternative accurate response, think about what your compassionate friend would say to you. Kristen Neff , a researcher, has written a book Self Compassion and contributed to the website www.self-compassion.org. There is a test to measure your level of compassion – self-compassion assessment. When something happens that you judge yourself negatively, try to bring these three qualities to the situation:
- Be mindful of the painful emotions that this self -judgment creates inside you. Consider writing about the emotions and how you feel after a difficult situation. Write about you fear, anger, shame and try to be more accepting and non-judgmental. Have a balanced approach- not putting yourself down so completely, but also looking at the situation with some level of responsibility for your behavior.
- Recognize that you are just human. This means accepting your lack of perfection ,and that there is pain and suffering in this life. Remember, you do not have to be perfect to be worthy of love- either from others or yourself.
- Practice some self kindness either through words or actions to yourself or others. Take that extra moment and show some patience or generosity to others. Consider the healing power of writing your thoughts and feelings to increase your kindness to yourself and others.
Some of us believe that the only way to motivate ourselves is to use self criticism to change those personal qualities that we don’t like. How does it feel to be judged in this way? Can you think of a kinder more caring way to motivate yourself? Remember that a wise nurturing friend, teacher, or parent would use language to show you what may be wrong, but with a more encouraging tone. Try to challenge that critical self talk. Self compassion is directing acceptance towards yourself- It’s like putting money in the emotional bank so that you have something to withdraw when needed. Can you start today in one small way to give yourself an act of loving kindness and compassion?
If your compassion does not include yourself, it is incomplete.