Self-Compassion

Self-compassion is a form of self-kindness, where we offer ourselves the empathy that we often extend to others. Self compassion can be a transformative tool to help improve mental health. Some studied benefits of self-compassion are reduction in stress and anxiety, and improvements in resilience, self-esteem, relationship satisfaction, and overall mental health.  In this blog post, Edmonton-based therapist, Shaheen Alarakhia, goes through what self-compassion is, the benefits of self-compassion, and explains how to begin integrating self-compassion into your life.

What is Self-Compassion?

Self-compassion can be broken down into three essential components.

  1. Self-Kindness: Self kindness is the act of treating ourselves with empathy, kindness, care, and gentleness, particularly in times of difficulties and distress. Self-kindness is offered instead of self-critique, negative self-talk, and being judgmental towards ourselves.
  2. Common Humanity: Common Humanity is connecting to the common and universal experience of struggling, making mistakes, and being imperfect. In the practice of self-compassion, common humanity is designed to remind us that everyone makes mistakes or feels the way we do sometimes. This connection allows us to know that we are not alone in our struggles.
  3. Mindfulness: Mindfulness in general means paying attention to the present moment without judgement of that moment. In our self-compassion practice, employing mindfulness means that we are able to notice the way we speak to ourselves about our mistakes or shortcomings, without judging ourselves. Mindfulness allows us to engage in self-compassion because without it we can run on autopilot and not notice the way we are criticising ourselves about a situation.

3 Common Barriers to Self-Compassion

While self-compassion is very beneficial to everyone’s mental health, there can be barriers to access it. Knowing which of these barriers is present can help to empower us to tackle them and integrate self-compassion more effectively into our lives. Sometimes, recognizing and understanding the barriers that are coming up for us can be enough to push them aside. Othertimes, the trained expertise of a mental health professional to work through these barriers makes a significant difference both by breaking down the root of each barrier as well as helping to model a compassionate voice.

1. The Persistent Inner Critic: The persistent inner critic is one of the most common barriers to self-compassion. Sometimes, the inner critic has been created due to societal pressures or due to us internalizing the voice of another. Many times, our inner critic will convince us that only through a harsh voice will we be motivated to do better when in reality the inner critic often makes us feel low and makes it increasingly harder to access the energy to do better.

Example: Imagine you made a mistake at work, and your inner critic starts bombarding you with thoughts like, "You're so incompetent! You always mess things up! Everyone else does better than you." 

2. Fear of Weakness and Self-Indulgence: Sometimes, we have picked up the messaging that being kind to ourselves is weak or self-indulgent. This might be due to living in a society which prioritizes self-reliance or due to important people in our life telling us that it's weak or selfish to “go easy” on ourselves. Either way, when this fear is coming up, admitting that feeling not good enough can be very vulnerable. It can also feel as if we are not tough enough if we admit we are struggling. 

Example: Imagine you face a parenting challenge that has you feeling like a bad parent. You might resist self-compassion, feeling as though you do not deserve it in this situation or that it is just an excuse to let yourself off the hook. 

3. Fear of Self-Acceptance and Change: Sometimes we believe that our lack of self-compassion is an integral part of our personality. We wonder, who would I be without pushing myself with my inner critic and therefore we begin to fear changing that part of ourselves. Sometimes, when this is coming up, it is helpful to begin by acknowledging and thanking ourselves for all that we have done to help ourselves get to this point in our lives. 

Example: Imagine you are an artist who tends to be critical of your own work. You believe that your inner critic is an integral part of your artistic process and fear by being more compassionate your artistic self will be changed for the worse.

Re-read the examples in each barrier above but this time, reflect on the question, “Would I behave in this way towards a good friend?” Typically our answer is no, we would tell the friend they are deserving of compassion, no one is perfect, everyone makes mistakes, and it is normal to feel the way they are feeling. The key to self-compassion is knowing that we deserve the same kindness we are willing to give a good friend.

The Self-Compassion Break

The self-compassion break is an exercise developed by self-compassion researcher, Dr. Kristen Neff and is designed to integrate all parts of self-compassion into one exercise. Below is a step by step breakdown of the exercise.

  1. Recognize the moment: Pause and acknowledge your feelings of distress, pain, or self-criticism. This is connecting to mindfulness in the moment.
  2. Connect to common humanity: Remind yourself that suffering is a part of the human experience. Example, “Everyone feels this way sometimes. It's normal to feel like this. I am not alone.”
  3. Comfort: Offering physical or emotional comfort to yourself in addition to words of kindness. This could be a warm embrace, a soothing touch, and/or reassuring words. Show yourself the compassion you need. Consider what you might say to a good friend in the same situation.

Example: With your hands on your heart centre say to yourself, “This is really hard. Everyone makes mistakes sometimes.I am not perfect and that is ok.”

Conclusion

Self-compassion is a transformative practice that helps with inner healing and bettering our overall mental health. Embracing self-compassion allows us to release the restraints of self-criticism, fear, and societal pressures that hinder our well-being. It is important to also understand the barriers of self-compassion as recognizing and understanding these barriers empowers us to approach them mindfully, and seeking the support of a trained mental health professional can provide valuable insights and guidance along this journey. Though it may be challenging to access self-compassion due to ingrained barriers and conditioned responses, we have the power to break free from these limitations. By offering yourself the gift of self-compassion, you can break free from merely surviving and embark on a profound journey of thriving in all aspects of your life. We encourage you to take the next step towards approaching your life with self-compassion and allow yourself the grace to embrace imperfections, acknowledge your shared humanity, and approach difficult moments with gentleness. Working on self-compassion with a trained therapist might help you feel more resilient and have higher relationship satisfaction. If you would like to book in a session with one of our Edmonton-based therapists get in touch with us.

Welcome to Holistic Healing

Welcome to Holistic Healing

Meet our certified therapists, Adam, Selena, Danielle, and Shaheen. No matter what you want to work on, we have a therapist to help. Our Counsellors focus on helping you feel at ease by allowing you to feel heard and understood. By using a holistic, or whole picture approach, our trained Counsellors can help their patients live a happier, more authentic life. Our therapists offer adult counselling, couples counselling, and adolescent/teen counselling. Interested in learning more? Need to book a session? Contact Us here.

 

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