Post 32 Self-compassion (Compassion part two)

Following on from last week I will be expanding on self-compassion this week. Upcoming posts will look at how it can help further with the inner critic, the perfectionist and how self-compassion reflects outwards to others and your interactions with them.

First to highlight a few points raised from last week:

  • I am sharing my experience as I have found it immensely helpful to my mental well-being, but it may not work for you (although I believe it will help)
  • It will feel hard to do, partly as we are often taught to think of others over ourselves. Self-compassion is not fake or egotistical , it’s about intentional kindness to yourself
  • It allows you to bring a different perspective to your everyday life – it won’t solve or remove challenges , but it may help you handle them in a more useful way.

Compassionate self

So last week I posed the question what did the word compassion mean. This week’s question is “If you described a compassionate person, what attributes would you use?”

Here are some suggestions from that Yoda of Yoda’s, Professor Paul Gilbert, out of Mindful Compassion:

  • Motivated to help
  • Sensitive to needs
  • Tolerate and hold pain
  • Understanding, never judgemental
  • Wise, with experience to help

This helped me with my definition of being DAB. Now if you have been reading along with these (thank you!) then you may know that I use visualisation to sometimes help manage thoughts and emotions. DAB was the calm monk sat there, being deliberate, aware and balanced. Balance is a key word here – compassion isn’t about being soft on yourself, but viewing the experience and the emotion without judgement, allowing you to act consciously on the thought and not automatically react. It accepts both positive and negative emotions.

“Accept yourself-…”good” and “bad” emotions, the whole package – with compassion, courage and curiosity ” – Susan David

Visualisation of a compassionate self can help develop a technique which is really important. Use it to bring a gap or pause between thought and action, using space to ask questions which will allow you to support yourself with some of those

  • “Is this thought really me or is it an emotion passing through, that I can choose to listen to or to let go?”
  • “If I do take this action is that in line with my values or is it a reaction ?”
  • “I notice I am thinking/feeling [insert emotion] – why is that ?”

And remember the brilliant advice from Dr Mary Welford noted in last week’s post, around softening the tone of the inner voice. This is about thoughtful questioning not self-interrogation.

I’ll try to illustrate how this could help in daily life. You are presenting some information to a group of people. As it nears your time to speak you notice that you are nervous, with your mind suggesting all the things that could go wrong. Your body is responding, sweaty palms and butterflies riding around on speeder bikes in your stomach. Blind panic is fast approaching….so when you notice this happening:

  • take several deep breathes and ask yourself “I notice I am feeling nervous, why?”
  • there could be many answers to that, but try this one “This is natural, it’s the fight/flight mode kicking in. Thanks mind, I know you are trying to help and look out for me but it’s fine. I know what I am talking about, I have put a lot of work into this and I am going to focus on doing my best. So it’s okay, I will focus on my breathing for the next few moments and then enjoy sharing my work with everyone who is here”.

It’s the kind of conversation you might have with someone else if you were supporting them as they prepared to do the presentation.

I will stress that working with the emotions termed as bad or negative can be hard, we tend to avoid them. Depending on the circumstance bringing focus to the emotion can actually become distressing. If it does, recognise that, thank yourself for trying and move away from the thoughts if you can. You may find the next time it isn’t as painful. Using a compassionate response is not an all or nothing,sometimes it could be appropriate to go with the reaction.

Also, let’s be honest, this is breaking the thinking habits of many years, it doesn’t happen overnight. I don’t do it all the time and still react automatically or get stuck on that rumination train which compassion isn’t allowed to ride on.

And it’s blinking hard to do in a low period, the old rat depression gets loose, distracts DAB who sends too much time chasing it with a broom and the critic Bear puts on his judge wig. Go easy on yourself, if during that period the only thing you do is get up and look after yourself – brilliant, well done and celebrate with some kind appreciation of being you.

And all of that is okay. Having the motivation to adopt more self-compassion is a massive step forward. Don’t forget the approach to be more self-compassionate should always come from “can” or want to”, never an “ought”.

Depression is the enemy of compassion, it will try its best to stop it. The more times you can be self-compassionate, the harder depression finds that.

That brings me to an added bonus – you may find it amplifies the “good” emotions as well , deepening appreciation of them. Next time you feel happiness, contentment or enjoyment, pause and ask the same questions. What you may find is that you identify a value or a priority to yourself within that positive moment, which you can carry forwards. Let me give an example. Last Friday afternoon/evening I was bouncing like a caffeinated Ewok or an overly excited bunny. I stopped to consider why and noticed how it linked into values important to me. To illustrate here are a few examples:

  • I had published post 31, which I had been looking forward to writing and felt it had captured the points I hoped to make. Linked value – writing
  • I find compassion and related concepts fascinating, hence the enjoyment of writing the post. Linked value – education and learning.
  • I so strongly believe that it helps that I wanted to explain the experience to hopefully help others. Linked value – sharing.

Not only it can help defuse the power of negative emotions, it can deepen the positive ones.Self-compassion allows both to be more useful.

“Compassion is the courage to descend into the reality of human experience” – Professor Paul Gilbert

So if that sounds something to try, have a go at nurturing the self-compassionate self, whatever that may look like to you.

Love to hear comments, questions or your feedback if you try any of the above. Posts welcome on Facebook, Twitter or WordPress if you wish to and feel able to.

Be kind to yourself – you are worth it.

Chris

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