During my 22 years working and studying in the field of psychology, one thing has really stood out for me, both within my clients and my own personal life - How incredibly hard we can be on ourselves and how difficult we find it to be compassionate towards ourselves. Particularly when we need it the most, when we are suffering. I know from personal experience, this is something I have to continuously work on, even though it is exactly what I teach others.
I think there are a lot of reasons why we find it so difficult to be self compassionate. Culturally, the majority of us were brought up to 'get on with life'. Our parents and their parents were most likely brought up the same. We were often taught to be kind to others but not to ourselves. We are surrounded by people who we also hear speaking to themselves with a deep harshness. How often have you heard someone say 'I'm so stupid', 'I'm ugly' and much worse? There can also be stigma regarding self compassion. The idea that being compassionate towards ourselves is somehow a sign of vulnerability or weakness, when actually it is quite the opposite. Does any of this sound familiar?
For many years now I have been integrating ideas behind compassionate mind therapy into my practice and into my own life. Although people come to therapy for so many different reasons, the more I have started working this way with my clients the more I have realised how much self-criticism, beating ourselves up and expecting ourselves to be perfect is central to so many human experiences.
I thought I would outline three practical exercises that may help you move one step closer to accepting yourself for you, a uniquely, perfectly imperfect human being.
1: Recognise your inner critic
Sometimes we do not even realise how self-critical we are and how self - deprecating some of the things we say to ourselves can be. How many times have you called yourself names such as stupid, told yourself you should have been able to do something better, that others are smarter, more beautiful, funnier? Over the next few weeks try to be more mindful of times when you say harsh/critical things towards yourself, as well as when you are kind to yourself, when you tell yourself it's okay to be feeling what you're feeling in that moment. It is by becoming more aware of this that you can begin to become more compassionate and learn to love and be true to yourself.
2: Talk to your inner child
When you recognise your inner critic take a step back from your thoughts. Ask yourself what would you say to a friend who is going through something similar. We can all be great friends to others, but the person whom we should be best friends with, ourselves, is the person we are too often our worst enemy to instead. To take this a step further think about who it is you're actually talking to when you are being hard on yourself. Inside each of every one of us is our inner child. The child we were when we were little will always be part of us and it is this person we talk to throughout the day in our internal dialogue. Our inner child needs to be looked after, reassured and comforted and who best to do that but ourselves. So the next time you start to berate yourself for not doing something the way you think you should have, imagine that inner child. Ask yourself ‘what do I/my inner child need right now?’ ‘What can I say to myself and do for myself to make me feel better rather than worse during a time where I am most likely already suffering?’
3: Give yourself a hug
Yes, you read right. It may feel very strange at first. Whenever you start to recognise the need to treat yourself with self compassion give yourself a hug and say to yourself, 'what you are feeling right now is okay, you are enough, and I love you'. A lot of people very much struggle with self compassion as we naturally resist being caring towards ourselves, so don't worry if this feels uncomfortable. Take it at your own pace. Even just visualise doing so to begin with if you need too.
Practicing self-compassion is not always easy as it means sitting with the parts of ourselves that we like and don't like. It also means letting go of that stick that we know we are beating ourselves up with, yet we are afraid we will make more mistakes and be more imperfect if we put it down.
4-6 sessions of therapy focused specifically on learning to accept all parts of ourselves can be a great starting point to helping us live a more fulfilled life which is true to ourselves.
Contact me on 07896150292 to begin accepting your 'flaws' and embracing your true strengths.
“It becomes understood that happiness is not dependent on circumstances being exactly as we want them to be, or on ourselves being exactly as we’d like to be. Rather, happiness stems from loving ourselves and our lives exactly as they are, knowing that joy and pain, strength and weakness, glory and failure are all essential to the full human experience.”
― Kristin Neff