What is self-compassion?
Think back to the last time a friend or family member came to you when they were going through something difficult. How did you respond to them? Did you say something like –
That sounds so tough
I’m so sorry you’re going through this
I’m here for you
Now, think back to the last time you were going through a challenging or stressful time. What did you say to yourself? Was it something like –
I can’t believe you got yourself into this mess
Just look at the bright side
Most of us are much more compassionate towards others than we are to ourselves. Self-compassion is essentially showing that same kindness and encouragement towards ourselves that we show to the people we care about.
The Self-Compassion Break
The Self-Compassion Break is a five-minute exercise that you can practice to help you start increasing self-compassion. It walks you through the three elements of self-compassion:
2. COMMON HUMANITY
To complete the exercise you can use the guided audio below, or read through the instructions below:
Although self-kindness is one of the first things we think of when we hear about self-compassion, the other two elements are just as important. In order to do the self-compassion break, you first need to think of something that you feel upset or stressed about right now, or recently (if it’s your first time doing it then it’s best to think of something that would be around a 3 on a scale from 0 to 10).
In order to practice compassion (towards ourselves or others), we first must be aware of the fact that there is suffering. By being mindful of the painful emotion that we’re feeling in that specific moment, rather than pushing it away, or over-identifying with it, we are turning towards ourselves and also, creating space between ourselves and this pain. You can say something like:
This really hurts.
This is so hard.
This is sadness/anxiety/loneliness (whatever the particular emotion is).
The common humanity piece is an important reminder that we aren’t alone in this moment. It can also help us to remember that there is nothing wrong with us for feeling this particular way, that experiencing emotional pain isn’t at all abnormal. Some possible phrases are:
I’m not alone right now.
There’s nothing wrong with feeling this way.
It’s hard to feel this way, but other people hurt like this too.
In the self-kindness part of the exercise, we can work to reassure ourselves that we’re going to be ok. Often saying gentle and nurturing things towards ourselves is unchartered territory so reflecting on what we’d say to a friend OR what we’d like a friend to say to us, can help us to brainstorm kind words that we can then use with ourselves. You could say things such as:
May I treat myself kindly.
I’m going to be here for you.
May I accept myself as I am
WHAT IF SELF-COMPASSION DOESN’T FEEL GOOD?
For some people, practicing self-compassion for the first time can be an incredibly jarring experience and even create greater emotional discomfort. In the Mindful Self-Compassion program this is referred to as “backdraft,” and describe it in the following way in the MSC course manual:
“Backdraft’ is a term that firefighters use to describe how a fire can intensify when fresh air is introduced through an open door. A similar effect can occur when we open the door of our hearts when self-compassion. Most of our hearts are hot with pain accumulated over a lifetime. In order to function in our lives, we needed to shut out stressful or painful experiences. However, when the door of our hearts open and kindness flows in, old hurts are likely to come out. That’s backdraft. The discomfort we feel is not created by self-compassion practice–it’s simply being re-experienced and transformed by the power of compassion.”
If you believe you’re experiencing backdraft yourself it may be a signal that you need to move more slowly on the path of self-compassion, or that you need additional support. If you’d like to take the mindful self-compassion course yourself, you can find online (as well as in-person ones around the world) at the Center for Mindful Self-Compassion website. You might also want to work with a professional with expertise in helping clients cultivate self-compassion. I’m trained to teach the Mindful Self-Compassion program and provide coaching for entrepreneurs.
If you’d like to learn more about my coaching for entrepreneurs set up your free 45-minute call with me HERE