Self-Compassion: Transition Self-Care Strategy #4

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Practice Self-Compassion: Transition Self-Care Strategy #4

The Art of Being Kind To Yourself

Practicing Self-Compassion doesn’t come easy for us, especially when we’re in a life-changing transition. For instance, when you look in the mirror in the morning, do you hear yourself saying:

I’m so stupid. I can’t reach out for help; what would people think? I don’t have any strengths. I’m a failure, a loser, too fat, too ugly. I have nothing to offer the world. I will never be happy.

Change is hard, and in times of life-transition (when things really get tough) we can quickly succumb to more negative self-talk than usual. But we do so at the risk of jeopardizing our transition process toward our new beginning. What we tell ourselves moment by moment adds up, and if we’re not aware of this build up in negativity, I believe it will hold us back from seeing possibility, discovering hope, and just simply being with what is, instead of what we are negatively imagining.

Once, when I was in the midst of a job transition years ago, practicing self-compassion was the furthest thing from my mind. I remember telling myself things like, “I will never fit in here. I will never get the hang of this new computer system. I’m sure I got this job because no one else applied. This job is completely above/below my qualifications. I’m such a loser that people will see right through me. I’m worthless.”

Sound familiar?

Sometimes this kind of negative self-talk comes from having other people in our lives tell us these things. Maybe we had a parent especially hard on us, or maybe a current or former partner has planted these seeds with their constant berating. Other times, we create that voice out of fear, shame, self-pity, and a whole host of other feelings, the root of which is often difficult to locate because it can run deep into a past unresolved transition or trauma.

Plus, according to Kristin Neff in her book Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself, our Western culture…

…has a strong ‘stiff-upper-lip’ tradition. We are taught that we shouldn’t complain, that we should just carry on….One of the downsides of living in a culture that stresses the ethic of independence and individual achievement is that if we don’t continually reach our ideal goals, we feel that we only have ourselves to blame.

In other words, because we’ve gotten ourselves into a particular transition or one has simply landed in our laps, we’re to blame in some way. And since we think we may have directly or indirectly caused it (think: I must have done something in a former life to deserve this cancer, bad marriage, forced retirement…), we tend to wallow in our own pity party where self-compassion doesn’t stand a chance.

Connecting self-pity to self-compassion

Neff writes that if we’re stuck in self-pity, feeling that we’re the cause of our own misery, certainly we don’t deserve compassion from anyone let alone self-compassion.

Right?

Wrong. All of this just reinforces the negative voice in our heads, which runs over and over like a recording stuck in a loop. It turns out that when this happens, our brain cells (neurons) learn to reinforce those negative pathways. The saying goes: Neurons that fire together, wire together.

In essence, often we add to our suffering by telling ourselves the same negative story over and over. We hold ourselves back.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. And here are two key steps to help you begin talking more kindly

to yourself using a voice with deeper self-compassion.

First Step: You are worthy of compassion

The first step towards practicing self-compassion is to remember that you are worthy of compassion. Neff says:

The truth is, everyone is worthy of compassion. The very fact that we are conscious human beings experiencing life on the planet means that we are intrinsically valuable and deserving of care….We don’t earn the right to compassion; it is our birthright.

Yet how to remember this, especially in a life-transition, when the world feels as if it’s in total chaos? A few journal prompts based on Neff’s book Self-Compassion include:

  1. When you notice yourself talking negatively and without self-compassion to yourself, make a note in your journal. Make a list of what you’re saying, using the exact words and phrases. Note what you’re doing at the time, or what has just happened, or perhaps what might be triggering this storm of negativity. Write about how this makes you feel, and reflect further on the consequences of such talk for your unique life-transition.
  2. Do this for a few days or weeks. Then re-read. What do you notice? Is there a pattern or rhythm to your negative self-talk? Does it show up after certain events, times of day, etc? Reflect on what you could do to interrupt the cycle.

Second Step: Cultivate a kinder voice, one with self-compassion.

Annie Wright, a psychotherapist from Berkley, writes about how repeated positive, kind talk is not just some pop-psychology-feel-good kind of movement. Through repeatedly treating ourselves with kind words and good experiences, we can reprogram our brains, rewire those plastic neurons into more positive pathways.

When you unintentionally or intentionally create a different experience for yourself, you create new neural pathways. New positive experiences and different kinds of self-talk create new, perhaps more functional neural pathways.

Remember: Neurons that fire together, wire together.

How to cultivate a voice of self-compassion?

  1. Wright suggests taking note of who talks to you already with compassion, maybe a parent, or good friend, or wise mentor. Can you begin to model their language, their compassionate tone of voice? List in your journal their words and phrases. Maybe draw a line down the middle of a page. On one side, list your negative self-talk phrases. On the other side, list what your compassionate friend would say. Once you begin to write these things down, they become more real. Writing has this power.
  2. Neff suggests creating imaginary friend, one who is:

…unconditionally loving, accepting, kind, and compassionate. Imagine your friend can see all of your strengths and all of your weaknesses, including the aspect of yourself you have just been thinking about. Reflect upon what this friend feels toward you, and how you are loved and accepted exactly as you are, with all your very human imperfections.

  • Next, she suggests writing a letter to yourself from the perspective of this imaginary friend. “What would this friend say to you about your ‘flaw’ from the perspective of unlimited compassion? How would this friend convey the deep compassion he/she feels for you, especially for the discomfort you feel when you judge yourself so harshly with negative self-talk?”
  • Then allow the letter to rest for a while on the pages of your journal. Return in a few days or week, and read it again. “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.”

Life-transitions are tough enough without adding extra pain to our brain cells, hearts, and souls that negative self-talk creates. Being kind to yourself, practicing self-compassion is truly an art, and one that begins with you.

What might happen if you bring in the of voice self-compassion today?

Ginny Taylor is a life-transition mentor at Women of Wonder, where she is passionate about guiding women in life changing transitions towards their new beginning. Sign up to receive her award-winning blog posts and notification of upcoming life-transition workshops and events.

Next blog post: Transition Self-Care Strategy #5:  Create Simple Action Steps

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