Practicing self-compassion is something I have worked extremely hard on in my 40s. It is not something I was taught in childhood, but it is definitely worth exploring, along with self-love and self-kindness. My friend and Wellness/Life Coach, Tharwat Lovett, calls it “becoming friends with your mind.” It is of utmost importance that we learn to care for ourselves physically, mentally, and emotionally. Here I discuss what I’ve learned about self-soothing, treating myself like a friend, arrogance of belonging, awareness of my thoughts. Finally, I share some exercises I found that teach you about self-compassion.
Treat Yourself Like a Friend
Self-compassion also includes treating yourself like you would a friend. Being kind to yourself requires a lot of positive self-talk. According to the National Science Foundation, an average person has about 12,000 to 60,000 thoughts per day. Of those, 80% are negative, and 95% are repetitive thoughts.
The Arrogance of Belonging
I’m reading Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert, and she shares her wisdom and unique perspective about creativity. She also writes about some personal experiences, and the book has me so engaged I don’t want to stop. I’m on the chapter titled “Entitlement.” She says in order to live in a way that you are free to create and free to explore, you must have a fierce sense of entitlement. You must love yourself enough to believe you are entitled to at least try to reach your goals. Gilbert says it’s not the kind of entitlement where you act like a princess and as if the world owes you something. It simply means you are allowed to be here and that by being here, you are allowed to have a voice and a vision of your own.
I have struggled with both self-compassion and the feeling of “belonging.” It can be difficult and scary to push out of our comfort zones, where we feel safe. Gilbert encourages you to do just that and to leave the “suffocating insulation of safety and go into the frontiers of the beautiful and unexpected.” Also, she says poet David White calls this “the arrogance of belonging.” You need this to take creative risks. It’s not egotism or self-absorption. “The arrogance of belonging is a divine force that will take you out of yourself and allows you to engage more fully with life. Often what keeps you from creative living is your self-absorption – self-doubt, self-disgust, self-judgment, your crushing sense of self-protection. The arrogance of belonging pulls you out of the darkest depths of self-hatred, not by saying I am the greatest, but simply by saying ‘I am here.’”
Stop the Negative Self-talk
Gilbert writes, “this ‘entitlement to exist’ is the only weapon that allows you to combat the nasty dialogue that plays in your head. ‘Who the heck do you think you are trying to be creative? You suck! I think you are stupid! You have no talent, and you serve no purpose. Get back in your hole.’ Some of us have spent a lifetime obediently responding, ‘You are right. I am stupid. Why even try?’”
Gilbert hopes that we will at least defend ourselves, show some self-compassion, and have a conversation. Proclaim, “I am a Child of God, a wife, mom, office manager, fiction author, blogger, and a great friend.” Shout, “I don’t know what all I am, but I am curious enough to go find out.” Speak it out loud and let it know you are there. Let YOU know you are there. This statement of intent is an announcement to yourself, the Universe, and anyone who will listen.
Gilbert writes, “upon hearing this announcement your soul will mobilize accordingly and ecstatically because this is what your soul was born for. Your soul has been waiting on you to wake up to your existence for years but you must be the one to start that conversation.” Then you must feel entitled enough to stay in that conversation. She says, “this proclamation of intent and entitlement can’t be only made once, and expect miracles. It must be done daily, forever”. Gilbert “reminds herself and re-reminds her soul and the Universe every day. She is very serious about the business of creative living no matter how deep her fears, anxieties, and insecurities may be. She will never stop creating, no matter the outcome.”
Start Using Positive Self-talk
Gilbert says, “Over time, she found the right tone of voice for these assertions too. It’s best to be insistent but affable. Repeat yourself, but don’t get shrill. Speak to your darkest and most negative interior voices the way a hostage negotiator speaks to a violent psychopath – calmly, but firmly. Most of all, never back down. You can not afford to back down. The life you are negotiating to save, after all, is your own.
Who do you think you are? The dark interior voices will reply. It’s funny you should ask, you can reply. I’ll tell you who I am; I am a child of God just like anyone else. I am a constituent of this Universe. The fact that I am here at all is evidence that I have a right to be here. I have a right to my own voice and a right to my own vision. Silence beast, I have a right to collaborate with creativity because I myself am a consequence and product of creation. I am on a mission of artistic liberation. Now, LET THE GIRL GO!”
Awareness of Your Thoughts
This requires an awareness of your thoughts. When I first started paying attention, I, like Elizabeth Gilbert, realized how mean I was to myself; I definitely didn’t show any self-compassion. If I made a mistake, I would say things like, “You are so stupid. You know better. Why did you make the same mistake again? Will, you ever learn?” Wow, what kind of friend was I being? Not one that I would like to spend time with for sure! As Gilbert shares above, she has found a way to talk to those negative voices and take back control of her negative thoughts.
We are the only animal who makes a mistake and then beats ourselves up 1,000 times. There is no point. The mistake is made. Beating yourself up does not change the past. It is a self-inflicted pain, and I have found that self-compassion and affirmations help tremendously. I have an app called “I Am” that pops up notifications every 15 minutes about positive affirmations throughout the day. I’ve been using affirmations daily for the last 6 years. They keep my mind in check when old patterns rear their head.
“You become what you believe.”~ Buddha
“I Am” App
The “I Am“ website asks readers, “How many negative thoughts have been endlessly repeating in your mind? Daily affirmations help rewire our brains, build self-esteem and change negative thought patterns. Empower yourself by verbally affirming your dreams and ambitions. Positive affirmations not only help make major shifts in your mindset, but they also serve as prompts and daily reminders on what you are truly capable of, making sure you have an amazing day, every day.”
It continued, “An affirmation is a simple but powerful statement that helps to strengthen the connection between your unconscious mind and your conscious mind. The more you strengthen this connection, the more resilient you will be when difficult or challenging circumstances. It is important to practice affirmations on a daily basis.
- They help increase your awareness of your thoughts and words, making it easier to recognize the negative and self-doubt thought patterns holding you back.
- Affirmations define your focus. When you focus your energy on the things, you want: achieving your goals, the positive, uplifting, and good, you are creating an abundance mindset and strengthening your resolve to make it happen.
- They open you up to possibility. We often get stuck in the ‘impossible’ mindset, but affirmations flip this on its head. When you begin to positively affirm what is actually possible, a whole world of opportunity opens up to you.”
Practice Affirmations Daily
I have been practicing affirmations on and off for about 7 years and consistently for the last 2 years. I learned about their importance when I took my first IMAGE course with Bob Samara. Learning to say, “I love you, Juliana. I am in the right place at the right time, engaged in the right activity. I am sober, grateful, and blessed,” regularly was a challenge. Sadly, I was in the habit of being a terrible friend to myself and self-berating when I made mistakes. But, I was committed to changing those neural pathways with repetition over time. I am worth the effort, and I make choices every day to be kind and understanding to myself as a friend would be.
Choosing to laugh at me when I do something silly and make an error instead of being hateful is more fun. No one is perfect, so mistakes happen regularly. It is how we choose to respond to what happens around us that matters most. So, now I make the conscious decision to be loving, patient, and giggle when I screw up instead of berating myself. It does no good to be mean and hateful to yourself when you mess up. It only hurts you and doesn’t change the fact that a mistake was made.
So, now that we are paying attention and aware of our thoughts, we can reprogram our minds to flip the script. Instead, we are sweet to ourselves and say, “Silly girl. I love you. What did we learn? Going too fast, maybe? It’s ok. Let’s slow down and do it correctly. All good!”
Self-compassion by Dr. Kristen Neff
I found the following exercises on Dr. Kristen Neff’s website titled Self-Compassion. I highly recommend taking the time to do them and wish I was taught this as a teen/young adult.
In this first exercise, you are asked to write about how you would respond to a struggling friend. Then she asks you to think about how you would typically respond to yourself in these situations. Finally, she asks if you notice a difference between the two and ask you to write down how you think things might change if you responded to yourself in the same way you typically respond to a close friend when you’re suffering. Why not try treating yourself like a good friend and see what happens?
In this second exercise, also available on mp3, you are asked to think of a situation in your life that is difficult and causing you stress. Call the situation to mind, and see if you can actually feel the stress and emotional discomfort in your body. Now, say to yourself:
- This is a moment of suffering. That is called mindfulness. You can also say, this hurts, ouch or this is stress for example.
- Suffering is a part of life. That is common humanity. You can also say, “Other people feel this way. I’m not alone. We all struggle in our lives.
- Next, put your hands over your heart, feel the warmth of your hands and the gentle touch of your hands on your chest.
- May I be kind to myself.
- You can also ask yourself, “What do I need to hear right now to express kindness to myself?” Is there a phrase that speaks to you in your particular situation, such as:
- Please may I give myself the compassion that I need.
- May I learn to accept me as I am.
- Please may I forgive myself.
- May I be strong.
- May I be patient.
Dr. Neff explains, “this practice can be used any time of day or night and will help you remember to evoke the three aspects of self-compassion when you need it most.”
In the third exercise, she encourages you to feel compassion as it soothes and comforts you by exploring self-compassion through writing. First, she has you write about which of your imperfections make you feel inadequate. She says to try and feel your emotions exactly as they are. Then write a letter to yourself from the perspective of an unconditionally loving imaginary friend who is kind and forgiving. After writing the letter, put it down for a little while. Then come back and reread it, really letting the words sink in. Feel the compassion as it pours into you, soothing and comforting you like a cool breeze on a hot day. Love, connection, and acceptance are your birthright. To claim them, you need only look within yourself!
In the final exercise, Dr. Neff shares, “one easy way to care for and comfort yourself when you’re feeling bad is to give you some self-compassion through supportive touch. Touch activates the care system and the parasympathetic nervous system to help us calm down and feel safe. It may feel awkward or embarrassing at first, but your body doesn’t know that. It just responds to the physical gesture of warmth and care, just as a baby responds to being cuddled in its mother’s arms. Our skin is an incredibly sensitive organ. Research indicates that physical touch releases oxytocin provides a sense of security, soothes distressing emotions, and calms cardiovascular stress. So why not try it?”
You might like to try putting your hand on your body during difficult periods several times a day for a period of at least a week.
Supportive Touch (Hand-on-Heart)
- When you notice you’re under stress, take 2-3 deep, satisfying breaths.
- Gently place your hand over your heart, feeling the gentle pressure and warmth of your hand. If you wish, place both hands on your chest, noticing the difference between one and two hands.
- Feel the touch of your hand on your chest. If you wish, you could make small circles with your hand on your chest.
- Feel the natural rising and falling of your chest as you breathe in and as you breathe out.
Linger with the feeling for as long as you like. Some people feel uneasy putting a hand over the heart. Feel free to explore where on your body a gentle touch is actually soothing.
Dr. Neff shares, “some other possibilities for supportive touch.
- One hand on your cheek
- Cradling your face in your hands
- Gently stroking your arms
- Crossing your arms and giving a gentle squeeze
- Gently rubbing your chest or using circular movements
- Hand on your abdomen
- One hand on your abdomen and one over your heart
- Cupping one hand in the other in your lap.”
Right Now, I Am Fine
I recently bought a book for my toddler titled Right Now, I Am Fine by Dr. Daniela Owen. It discusses how sometimes bad things happen, and it makes us feel scared. This makes us worry about how the people we love will be affected. The worry can make us have a negative physical reaction. We may have a hard time breathing, or our tummy hurts. Our worried thoughts may make it hard to concentrate on anything else. When this happens, it is important to self-soothe and to remind ourselves that we are fine right now.
Then she suggests some steps we can take to calm ourselves down that are very similar to Dr. Neff’s final exercise. Dr. Owen instructs the readers to close their eyes and take 3 deep breaths while breathing in slowly and out slowly. While your eyes are closed, wrap your arms around your body and give yourself a big, warm hug. Tell yourself that you can handle this because you are here right now, and you are safe. Relax your body a little by dropping your shoulders and wiggling your toes. Let the worrying thoughts leave your mind. Think about a place where you feel calm and peaceful. The bad things may still be happening, but don’t worry about them at this moment. Right now, you are fine.
She gives other ideas on how to relax:
- draw a picture
- look at the beautiful world outside
- read a funny, exciting, or adventurous book
- play a game
- solve a puzzle
- cuddle a pet or stuffed animal
Then remind yourself – Right now, I am fine.
Hopefully, you learned more about self-compassion and will start to develop the habit of being kind and loving to your mind. Becoming friends with my mind has been the most rewarding conquests of my life. Learning to physically comfort me when needed (especially during a year-long pandemic when hugs are less frequent). Please take full advantage of these surprisingly simple and straightforward ways to be kind to yourself. I encourage you to hug yourself, speak kindly and gently to yourself and show yourself the same love and respect you show your dearest friends.