Post 31 Simply compassion (Compassion part one)

Last week I listed some of the things depression can bring. This post and subsequent ones will try to articulate and pass on some things which help with these. I hope to make these posts not just useful if you suffer from depression but to help anyone with their mental well-being.

Here’s a question – if I asked you to define compassion, what words would you use? I am going to guess that you had words like helping, caring, understanding, perhaps even nurturing, as immediate thoughts. And all directed at someone else. I would also guess that you did not include the word yourself.

It seems that we tend to view compassion as being outward but rarely inward.

And yet this could be a key aid to anyone’s and everyone’s mental well-being. And with some subtle changes in your thinking you can use it. For free. Any time. Anywhere.

So self-compassion could be one of the best Jedi mind tricks….but there is a catch. You have to work at it, as it goes against a lot of evolutionary drivers in the brain. Our minds are wired to look out for danger from when we could be prey and to look for ways to improve to ensure our survival. However in modernity, as we don’t have the same predatory dangers around, our minds often compensate, allowing us to see negative things when they aren’t there. Coupled with a culture that seems to support constant growth and development, when we can’t ‘just be’, then the inner critic and perfectionist gets a lot to chatter on about. So the Sith have a upper hand in our heads.

“If your compassion does not include yourself it is incomplete” – Jack Kornfield

I was introduced to self-compassion as a concept by my therapist, which lead me onto learning about Compassion Focussed Therapy (CFT). If the word therapy suggests something uncomfortable to you then replace it with Training. CFT was developed by Professor Paul Gilbert, a bit of a hero of mine. In fact for me he is like the Yoda of all Yoda’s in the galaxy of therapy. CFT looks to address the Sith mind tricks of perfectionism, criticism and shame with the more Jedi-like kindness, openess and warmth. Professor Gilbert set up the Compassionate Mind Foundation charity, supporting research into and promotion of CFT, with Ruby Wax as it’s patron. Recently they have funded work by University of Derby to run programmes to bring the teaching about compassion into schools. Dr Mary Welford (another fab Yoda and who worked with Professor Gilbert) is doing similar work in the south of the UK. I believe these programmes are brilliant and introduce really important skills to help our children. Professor Gilbert has written several books, I happened to pick one called Mindful Compassion and its been highly influential in the ongoing management of depression. You can find his talks on YouTube too.

Quick aside- the CMF recently held their annual conference in Birmingham, with a number of psychologists and therapists who I follow on social media present. And yes they took lot’s of pictures and selfies, continuing to prove my 2nd favourite like of them.

So what does compassion mean ? It recognises suffering in ourselves and others with a motivation to address it and prevent it. That includes accepting that not all pain can be removed or the issue solved. It’s acceptance that pain and distress are part of being alive and approaching them with a more compassionate, rather than a judgemental view. So it doesn’t look to avoid or remove emotions like fear, doubt, shame or anger. It’s about engaging with those emotions, accepting them but not acting on them without kind thought.

Depression makes this hard, to be motivated enough to stop the inner critic, that there is no such thing as 100% perfect. There will and does come a point when you realise that something has to change if you want to manage the depression and that can help foster the motivation. It’s one of those amazing moments when you realise that what you have been doing isn’t working and with some effort you can start to help yourself.

“You’ve been criticising yourself for years and it hasn’t worked. Try approving of yourself and see what happens.”

Be kind to yourself, you won’t change lifelong mental habits and fight the Sith thoughts overnight. I think celebrating is a key part of self-compassion, so deciding to try it is both a great first step and a massive cause for a celebration itself (around a fire with a few Ewoks perhaps?).

Practice it daily, celebrate it daily.

One simple step to take, which Dr Welford talked about in the Openforwards podcast interview with Jim Lucas I referenced back in post 11, is tone. Mary demonstrated how changing the tone of what you say can be a simple way of being more compassionate to yourself.

You make a mistake and you beat yourself up by saying “What an idiot, why did I do that” in an aggressive, critical tone, probably a tone we would never take with another person. So the first Jedi mind trick is to change the tone:

  • “What an idiot” is said with a kinder tone, with humour perhaps
  • “Why did I do that” becomes a question, with genuine curiosity to why you made the mistake, including recognising with kindness if there was a reason eg “I was rushing, which isn’t good for me. Next time I will leave more time”

See the difference ? A critical monologue becomes useful. As you get more practice in the tone you can then start to change the words, perhaps idiot becomes muppet or numpty. Small steps lead to big changes.

Compassion is a big topic which I will be returning to next week to expand on more things and examples that I hope will help. A few things to keep in mind from this post:

  • Self- compassion is not avoiding hard emotions or being soft on yourself – it’s treating yourself with a kindness that allows you to thrive and manage life in a more balanced way.
  • It’s a hard habit to break the critical voice and if you tell yourself off further for not trying a compassionate tone, don’t berate yourself, respond with kindness. You noticed it, celebrate that awareness and say “Next time I’ll pause and be kinder, as I deserve that”
  • It takes strength and bravery to change the habit and adopt self-compassion. You have it inside you, even in the depths of depression. Honestly you do.

More to come in the next post. Love to hear any comments or any questions (via WordPress, Twitter or Facebook).

Have a compassionate and kind day. Especially to yourself.



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