Happy New Year, everyone, and welcome back to the Therapy Spot! This week, I spoke about compassion with my friend and colleague Susan Mason. With over 25 years of counseling experience, Susan works as a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) in the State of Illinois. As a certified IFS therapist, she uses these principles directly in her work with individuals and couples.
“I feel very lucky to have found work that is meaningful to me and helpful to others. It is truly an honor to sit with my clients and know that they trust me with the details of their life. I consider our work together sacred work and deeply love spending time with everyone who I get to meet in this way. Nothing is more gratifying to me than helping my clients as I listen with compassion and no judgment. ”
I want to make 2018 the “year of Self Compassion.” I couldn’t think of a better way to get started than by sharing my conversation with Susan with all of you! Listen along as we discuss how to practice Self compassion.
3 Components of Self Compassion
Compassion means, essentially, “to suffer together.” When you feel compassion towards someone, you feel the negative emotion they feel, and want to help relieve their suffering.
When we practice Self compassion, we treat ourselves the way we treat our friends. This is an active response to our own concerns, worries, and negative emotions. Interestingly enough, brain science has shown that we find it easier to find compassion for others than for ourselves!
According to Self-compassion researcher Dr. Kristin Neff, Self-compassion has 3 components. All of these components involve actively choosing one response or approach over another one. Many of us need to learn to treat ourselves kindly. Don’t feel bad if you’re still learning!
Choice #1: Self-kindness vs. judgment. Do you have a loud inner critic? Sometimes, our Self-talk can be hurtful. It might sound like:
- Of course I messed up.
- How stupid can I get?
- I don’t know why I bothered.
Recognize that hurtful Self-talk. Instead, offer yourself comfort in the form of kind words.
- I’m still learning, and that’s okay.
- Next time, I know what not to do.
- I can be patient and kind with myself.
Choice #2: common humanity vs. isolation. “Common humanity,” in this context, means accepting that we are vulnerable and imperfect. It’s normal for things to go imperfectly in our lives!
Unfortunately, many of us practice isolation, hoping that will “protect” us from making mistakes or feeling bad. Of course, those things happen anyways, because they’re a normal part of life. Then, we feel worse — and isolate ourselves even more.
Don’t be afraid to share your troubles and failures. These things are normal, and everyone deals with them. Sharing your experience might even help someone else feel less alone.
3 Ways to Self-Soothe
Sometimes, when something bad happens, it feels almost impossible to break free from our negative thoughts and feelings. We might even blame ourselves. This is what it means to be blended with those negative thoughts.
You might struggle to think Self-compassionately when this happens. Luckily, Susan has some suggestions to help. These 3 physical acts release oxytocin, otherwise known as the “bonding hormone” or “trust molecule.” Oxytocin modulates fear and anxiety, and increases empathy and trust. With more oxytocin in your system, you’ll feel better physically, and more capable of doing the mental work of Self-compassion.
Step one: physical warmth. Some studies have shown that isolated people tend to take longer, hotter showers than people who don’t feel lonely. Physical warmth can provide us with a sense of emotional warmth. Cuddle under a warm blanket or hold a hot mug of tea. Hey, maybe this is why our British friends always offer us a cup of tea in times of crisis!
Step two: gentle touch. Have you ever seen a public speaker tug nervously on their earlobe? This isn’t just a tic! Gentle touch is a tried and true method of Self-soothing. You can give yourself a hug, or slowly stroke your upper arms. When she feels anxious, one of my clients like to hold her own hand and run her thumb over her knuckles.
Step three: soothing vocalization. Did you know there’s a universal sound of compassion? You’ll definitely need to listen along for this one. Even when you’re totally alone, you can soothe yourself with this sound. Aaaahhh. I feel better already.
Self Compassion Resources
Let’s make 2018 the year of Self Compassion. Here are some resources to get you on the right track for January and beyond!
Brene Brown and Tara Brach each have books on the subject of Self-compassion. Tara Brach also has an insightful guided video meditation called “the Rain of Self-Compassion.” Finally, I encourage you to visit the online Center for Mindful Self-Compassion for support, training, and more!
As always, thank you for joining me this week. Until next time!