So, it is the start of a new year, and I imagine many of you have some New Year's resolutions, and then again you may not. Either way, a great way to approach the New Year is to think about how you can be more compassionate and loving towards yourself.
During my 17 years working and studying in the field of psychology, one thing has really stood out for me more and more, both within my clients and within my own personal life. That Is how incredibly hard we can be on ourselves and how difficult we find it to be compassionate towards ourselves, particularly when we need it the most – when we are suffering! I know from personal experience, this is something I have to continuously work on, even though it is exactly what I teach others every day.
I think there are a lot of reasons why we find it so difficult to be self compassionate. Culturally, I think in the West particularly, we are brought up to 'get on with life', and are surrounded by others who we also hear being critical towards themselves. There can also be a kind of stigma regarding self compassion, the idea that being compassionate towards ourselves is somehow a sign of vulnerability or a weakness. Does any of the sound familiar? I imagine it does!
For many years now I have been integrating ideas behind compassionate mind therapy into my practice, and into my own life. Although people come to therapy for so many different reasons, the more I have started working this way with my clients, the more I have realised how much self-criticism, and beating ourselves up, expecting ourselves to be perfect, is central to so many human experiences.
To start off your new year I thought I would just outline a few practical exercises that may help you become more self compassionate in 2015.
1: Sometimes we do not even realise how self-critical we are, and how self - deprecating some of the things we say to ourselves can be. How many times have you called yourself names, such as stupid; told yourself you should have been able to do something better; that others are smarter, more beautiful, funnier? Over the next few weeks just try and be more mindful of times when you say harsh/critical things towards yourself, as well as when you might actually be kind to yourself and tell yourself, it's okay to be feeling what you're feeling in that moment. It is by becoming more aware of this, that you can begin to become more compassionate towards yourself and learn to love and be true to yourself.
2: When you recognise yourself beating yourself up, take a step back from your thoughts, and ask yourself what would you say to a friend who is going through something similar at the moment. We can all be great friends to others, but the person whom we should be best friends with, ourselves, is the person we are too often the worst enemy to instead. To take this a step further , think about who it is you're actually talking to, when you are being hard on yourself. Inside each of every one of us, is our inner child. The child we were when we were little, will always be part of us, and it is that person that we talk to throughout the day in our internal dialogue. Our inner child needs to be looked after, reassured and comforted, and who best to do that, but ourselves. So the next time you start to berate yourself for not doing something the way you think you should have, imagine that inner child , and ask yourself what do I/my inner child need right now? What can I say to myself, do for myself to make myself feel better rather than worse, during a time where I am most likely already suffering ?
3: And finally, a really simple (and yes, it may feel very strange at first) thing to do when ever you start to recognise that you need to treat yourself with self compassion, is to give yourself a hug and say to yourself, 'what you are feeling right now is okay, you are enough, and I love you'. A lot of people very much struggle with being self compassionate, as we naturally resist being caring towards ourselves, so don't worry if this feels very strange at first.
And remember you are own best friend – treat yourself as such!
Dr. Kristine Abercrombie