Author: Norah F. Aldawsari
Some individuals may experience adversity, stressors, or traumatic events that negatively affect their lives and wellbeing. These adverse effects may last for a short or long period of time. After traumatic events, breakups, losing a loved one, losing a job, some individuals may dwell in very critical self-dialogues, causing more stress, feeling ashamed, and suffering. Their silent inner voices may become louder. Sometimes these voices may be encouraging; other times, they may be very critical, bullied, and destructive.
Because of these inner voices and self-criticism, individuals may become very harsh on themselves, punish themselves, and take responsibility for anything and everything. Many self-negative and critical thoughts make one feel depressed, unworthy, or inadequate, telling themselves that “I will never be good enough; I am so stupid; I deserve this awful treatment; I am so ugly, and this is why he cheated on me; I am a failure.” Such thoughts may poison one’s life and cause serious mental health issues, such as anxiety, depression, anger issues, and low self-esteem, causing impairments in one’s interpersonal relationships, occupation, and social life.
An extensive number of research studies found that self-compassion can be the antidote for such mental health issues, which help alleviate the consequences of negative self-talk and has shown its benefits for one’s wellbeing and quality of life. Self-compassion is basically treating yourself as you treat your best friend and loved one who has a difficult time. It is patting your shoulder and hugging you rather than pointing the finger at you. Self-compassion allows individuals to be more caring about themselves, let them focus on what they need now, and be kind to themselves during difficult times.
Self-compassion may have positive effects on their brain and body. It helps to send messages to the amygdala that there are no perceived threats, which will decrease one’s stress hormone, release muscle tension, and make one feel safe and insecure. Individuals who have more self-compassion show “greater happiness, life satisfaction, and motivation, better relationships, and physical health, and less anxiety and depression.” Individuals with more compassion have more resilience which helps individuals bounce back, function in life, and adaptively cope with stressful life events, such as death, divorce, serious illness, or failures. Self-compassion allows people to be aware of their inner dialogue. It helps individuals interrupt their self-critical dialogue and negative self-talk and adopt more realistic and adaptive self-thoughts.
Researchers and professionals found different ways to practice self-compassion. For example, Dr. Cristopher Germer, a Harvard psychologist, identified five self-compassion methods: physical, mental, emotional, relational, and spiritual. Similarly, Beverly Engel, a licensed marriage and family therapist who is an expert in working with survivors of childhood and adult abuse, found five aspects of self-compassion: self-understanding, self-forgiveness, self-acceptance, self-kindness, and self-encouragement. Her book, It wasn’t your fault, is a good self-help book that can teach you self-compassion and cope with shame and abuse.
Ways to boost your self-compassion:
• Comfort your body and take deep breaths. Massage any intense part of your body, such as neck or shoulder.
• Take a walk to allow yourself to feel grounding. Be aware of your breathing, your weight on the chair, and your feet on the ground. Be mentally and physically in the moment, here and now.
• Write yourself a letter with no judgment or blame. Try to explain the situation and nurture your feelings. Again, no judgment or blame, please.
• While you are in pain, try to practice meditation. It is a great way to nurture and accept your feelings.
• Practice forgiveness. Remember, you are a human and are prone to make mistakes. No one is perfect and free of flaws. Be gentle when confronting self-critical thoughts. Remember, “There is no sense in punishing your future for the mistakes of your past. Forgive yourself, grow from it, and then let it go”-Melanie Koulouris.
• Express gratitude. Think about what you have had instead of what you do not have. By appreciating what you have, you create peace of mind and relief and gentler inner voices within yourself.
Here are some free self-help resources for personal use only.
• Dr. Kristine Neff has 18 different self-compassion guided practices and exercises https://self-compassion.org/category/exercises/
• Dr. Cristopher Germer has a variety of self-compassion meditations https://chrisgermer.com/meditations/
• The centre for Clinical Interventions developed a book consisting of 7 modules that help individuals turn self-criticism into self-kindness and practical skills to be more compassionate towards oneself. https://www.cci.health.wa.gov.au/Resources/For-Clinicians/Self-Compassion