Take a moment to think about the word “compassion”. What is the first thing that comes to mind? You may be thinking about how you helped a friend or family member who was going through a difficult time. Perhaps you are thinking about how you have been shown compassion when going through a difficult time yourself. Chances are that you are deeply familiar with both giving and receiving compassion... But what about Self Compassion?
Compassion is our motivation to relieve the suffering of others. This inclination to help others during times of suffering and distress comes naturally to us as human beings. However, while many of us are so readily compassionate towards others, we often forget to extend the same level of care and understanding to ourselves. During times such as these, it is more important than ever that we extend the same degree of compassion that we show to others to ourselves.
Expressing self-compassion is actually quite simple. One effective way that we can do this is by using language that promotes self-compassion rather than being too hard on ourselves. Here are a few simple ways that we can change our language to reflect better self-compassion.
Use self-compassion statements—talk to yourself as softly as you would speak to a beloved friend.
Sometimes, when we make a mistake or look back at a behaviour with shame, we are using some very negative and harsh self-talk. When you find yourself being overly self-critical, practice developing empathy for why you made the mistake in the first place. Changing our language and acknowledging underlying needs and feelings isn’t about letting ourselves off the hook. Rather, it helps us to recognize our humanity. It also helps us identify the factors that contributed to the undesirable behaviour in the first place. So, it actually serves to set us up for success in preventing the undesirable behaviour in the future.
When you find yourself using negative self-talk or when you are being extra critical of yourself, try using the following self-compassion template.
“Of course I _______________ ( undesirable behaviour) because I needed __________________ (human need) and I was feeling ______________________ (human emotion) at the time”.
An example of this statement in action could be as follows:
“Of course I raised my voice at my partner because I needed to be understood and I was angry at the time.”
Again, using these statements is not about excusing our actions, but rather about reflecting on our behaviours and our underlying unmet needs and upsetting feelings. It also helps equip us to deal more effectively with our feelings and needs in the future, so that we can make better choices to have our needs met, and reduce our undesirable behaviours in the future.
Avoid “Should” statements
How often do you find yourself thinking things like “I should be better”, “I shouldn’t be so emotional”, “I should not be like this”?
“Should” statements are what we often call “thinking traps”. It’s an inherently negative pattern of thought that revolves around setting unrealistic expectations for ourselves. Using “should” statements can actually install a sense of shame or failure if we are not living up to our expectations of what we “should” be.
So, what do we do when confronted with a “should” statement? We can reframe these statements to be more realistic to what we can accomplish. Instead of saying, “I should be a better spouse”, try saying “I want to be a better spouse”, or “I will do my best to be a better spouse”. Reframing these statements like this allows us to acknowledge the effort that we are putting towards being better human beings. Paying attention to these thinking traps and correcting “should” statements provides us with a goal-oriented perspective and encourages progress.
When we are lacking self-compassion, we may find that we are not taking care of ourselves the way we normally would. We may neglect our needs by constantly putting the needs and requests of others ahead of ourselves. While it is okay if this happens on occasion, it becomes a problem when it becomes our way of life. If you’re noticing that you are starting to experience burnout, it’s probably because you are not fulfilling your own needs.
Self-care is the process of taking action to improve our own wellbeing, and is a natural result of self-compassion. There is no “right” way to do self-care. All you have to do is find something that improves your health (mental, physical, or emotional) in some way. It could be exercise, meditation, reading, cooking, sports, spending time with family/friends, or none of the above! Whatever you do for self-care, make sure it is meeting some need and making you feel like your best self!
In summary, to practice better self-compassion we must learn to treat ourselves how we would treat anyone else - with respect, care, and understanding. Self-compassion is not a one-time thing - it is something that we must practice daily in order to reap the benefits. If you are interested in expanding your understanding of self-compassion, please reach out to a registered counsellor in your local area or book in with one of the counsellors here at Wholetherapy.