This I Know

Are you kind to others but too often harsh with yourself? Do you have an inner critic that refuses to be quiet? If so, you’re not alone.

When I began this project, I wasn’t sure what to expect, and I certainly didn’t have a thought out plan. I simply knew I needed to find a way to be more compassionate to myself.

Here’s what I’ve learned so far (in Q and A format from an interview I did at the one-year mark of this project.)

Why The Self-Compassion Project?

I loved Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project, and I thought the idea of focusing on one thing for an entire year made a lot of sense. I chose self-compassion because I was anything but self-compassionate! I was way too hard on myself. I was perfectionistic. I equated my worth with what I accomplished. And I was battling chronic pain after neck and back surgeries that didn’t work. Trying to motivate myself with the force of a whip just wasn’t working any more.

noname-4What surprised me most?

The thing that surprised me the most is how quickly I was able to become more compassionate toward myself. I looked back over my notes, and in just a month’s time, my scores on a self-compassion test (http://www.self-compassion.org/test-your-self-compassion-level.html) had improved considerably.

Tuning in to my inner self-talk and focusing on changing what I was saying to myself really helped. I heard Dr. Kristen Neff, a leading researcher on self-compassion, speak at a workshop and she said her research showed that informal self-compassion practices were turning out to be just as helpful as the formal practices, such as meditation. I think that can give people hope—even if your self-criticism is deeply ingrained over time, you can still change, and it doesn’t have to take years.

What effects has increasing self-compassion had on your behavior, relationships etc.?

I have always tended to be a big worrier, and I’ve found that I’m worrying a lot less. I’m not sure how that ties in with self-compassion, but it’s definitely something I’ve noticed. I also feel like I’m more in touch with how I’m not alone—that even when I’m going through a rough patch and it feels like I’m the only one who has ever experienced this—well, that thought goes away more quickly and transforms into a tenderness for myself and for others who may be going through a similar situation.

What’s your favorite way to explain what giving yourself self-compassion is/isn’t?  

My favorite way to explain giving yourself compassion is the analogy of how you would treat a small child. Let’s say your child is learning to walk. After a few wobbly steps, do you criticize him or her and say, “Look at you. You’re so clumsy. What’s wrong with you that you can’t walk yet.”? Of course not. You offer encouragement. You’re excited! You might even clap your hands in delight.

Now let’s say your child wants to eat candy for dinner. You set limits and say, “no” because only eating candy will likely make your child feel sick and it simply isn’t healthy. People mistakenly think that self-compassion always means saying “yes” to yourself. Sometimes it means saying “no”–but doing so with kindness. It’s important to remember that self-compassion involves nurturing and limit-setting.

noname-1What are three self-compassion techniques you plan to keep using?

1. One technique I use daily is a gentle touch on my skin (maybe touch my forearm with my other hand) while I say something reassuring to myself. The touch actually releases oxytocin and sets off a calming response in the body. I discretely do this at work when I’m stressed (at home I may give myself a big hug!)

2. I often combine the self-compassionate touch with a phrase or self-compassion mantra, such as: “This is a moment of suffering; suffering is a part of life; may I be kind to myself and give myself what I need.” I have tried meditating and do it sometimes. I’m not very consistent, but I’m going to keep trying.

3. I do a lot of informal mindfulness practice. I never used to take breaks—it was always work, work, work. Now I go outside and simply appreciate the beauty around me. This helps me connect with a greater good, and I end up feeling softer and gentler with myself. I have really gotten into bird watching!

Oh, and one other technique I use is to write myself little “love notes” to keep in my purse. It’s usually just a few quick sentences I want to remember during the day to stay focused on self-compassion.

For someone who wants to try self-compassion, is there something easy you can suggest starting with?

I’m a big self-help book junkie, so if you can, I’d read Kristin Neff’s book on self-compassion. She also has a lot of information on her website (www.self-compassion.org) you can read and listen to for free. I’d also suggest starting by keeping a log of the things you say to yourself. Then ask yourself, “Is this how you would talk to a friend?” Remember that even subtle changes can make a big difference.

Photos by Greg Markway.

 

5 thoughts on “This I Know

  1. I’m glad we’ll be hearing more from you, Barb (and hopefully that means more of your beautiful videos). Those three things you’ve learned are pretty valuable, I’d say; I’m still working on them myself. I have a book by Sharon Salzberg, complete with CD for “learning to meditate” – but I haven’t touched it yet. *sighs* I know, self-compassion. But I still hope 2013 will be a year of progress for me, moving forward more than I have this year. And your project inspires and reassures me that it’s good just to keep moving forward.

  2. I like this a lot. I am just getting into self-compassion and understanding more about it. Been doing self compassion meditations that help me a lot.

  3. Thank you so much for your articles here and with your other articles in psychology today. I’m turning 31 and it’s only now that I’ve learned how to be kind to myself. I’ve been worrying a lot and been anxious all my life especially because I’m a very shy person. Through you I was able to see myself more clearly why I always fear people. Now I want to be just simply be compassionate to myself as I should be compassionate to other people.

    You are a great blessing in my life.Thank you so much again. …from the Philippines

    • Thanks so much, Nico, for your nice words. They mean a lot to me! I’m glad you’re joining my in this self-compassion journey.

  4. Hi Barbara, I am so glad I came across your site. I cant wait to read your books to gain a better understanding! I believe that self-hate will eventually project onto others it is so important to be kind, non-judgmental, and respectful to inner spirit first. THank you so much for setting up this blog to spread your valuable thoughts and lessons learned. Will definitely share with friends and family.

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