Hello, and welcome back once more to the Therapy Spot! My guest today is Kristy Arbon, the Founder and CEO of HeartWorks Training. Her work revolves around supporting people in their practice of self-compassion, mindfulness, somatic awareness, and shame resilience. Among her many other talents, she is an excellent mindful Self compassion coach and teacher. On today’s episode, she’ll introduce us to the concept of somatic Self compassion.
Self Compassion is NOT Self Pity
A funny thing happened to me on the way to my Self compassion retreat last month. I struck up a conversation with the person sitting next to me on the airplane, and he asked me where I was traveling that day. When I told him about Self compassion he said, “Isn’t that just feeling sorry for yourself?”
My long time listeners know that I’ve spoken before about how Self compassion isn’t self pity. Kristy shares my beliefs, and spent some time outlining the actual differences between the two.
“Self compassion has a receptive component and an active component. That receptive component is affectionate mindfulness, where you are aware of what’s happening but not in judgement. The active component includes any action we take to address the suffering we’re currently experiencing. These things go hand in hand. You have the tools to notice that something is wrong, and the motivation to make a change for your long term wellbeing.”
“We’re unlikely to take positive action towards alleviating our suffering when we feel sorry for ourselves. Tending to our suffering, on the other hand, helps us to not feel like victims. Instead, we feel empowered to change things. Self pity gets lost in the short term of suffering. With self compassion, we have the sense of being on a timeline, from the past to our future, and caring about our happiness in the future.”
Creating Somatic Self Compassion
What makes somatic Self compassion stand apart from Self compassion as a whole? The word somatic is defined as relating to the body, especially as distinct from the mind. Kristy’s study of somatic Self compassion began from a place of mindfulness, rooted in Buddhist practices. She wanted to explore the ways that we self-soothe, and do so with a deep understanding of the physiology and neuroscience behind it.
Through her studies, Kristy created a program to train in somatic Self compassion. For her, the process involved understanding the physiology and the neuroscience of stress, as well as the social and cultural aspects that contribute to our stress. With her strong roots in social justice, she also takes intergenerational stress and trauma into account, as well as how discrimination affects our stress levels. By understanding the information we get from our bodies, we can better tend to ourselves in times of stress, anxiety, and other upset.
“This deeper understanding empowers us to understand why our body responds why it does, and provides us with the tools to address these responses.”
Putting Somatic Self Compassion into Action
With more mindfulness and deeper awareness of our own bodies, we find it easier to sense how an emotional change registers in our bodies. Then, we can plan what action to take. “When we have a particular understanding of our bodies, we come to realize that our stress and trauma responses are not personal. It’s our bodies doing what they know to do to take care of us.”
Knowing the best way to respond — or changing the way we respond now — involves first validating how we feel. As Kristy says, “We have to lift the burden of shame we put on our bodies and our experiences.” That shame might show up in your Self talk like this:
- I should be coping better
- I shouldn’t be having this experience at all
- No one else has this problem, I feel so alone
- What’s wrong with me?
Let’s answer that last question first: there’s absolutely nothing wrong with us. As Kristy says, most of us have no choice about how our body responds to stress! But being able to recognize a stress response for exactly what it is, and respond appropriately, is something to work towards.
For example, did you know that cortisol — commonly called the stress hormone — stays in the body for about two hours? So, by working with somatic Self compassion, you will be able to recognize the body sensations that go along with rising cortisol levels. You can then find ways to self-soothe that work for you, and take care of yourself in that two hour time window.
Resources mentioned in this episode
Kirsty and I really covered so much information during our interview, including the effects somatic Self compassion might have on your inner critic. I hope you’ll tune in and listen to the whole thing!
Kristy also mentioned a wealth of wonderful resources for anyone beginning their own research into somatic Self compassion. You can visit her website to learn about the practice of somatic Self compassion, along with her upcoming events. She also recommends books on mindfulness by Kristin Neff, Christopher Germer, and Paul Gilbert. For IFS reading, I know some of my listeners will recognize the names Richard Schwartz and Jay Earley!
Thank you so much for coming onto the Therapy Spot today, Kristy! I loved hearing what you had to share and I know my listeners will feel the same way.