How to develop self-compassion
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Musical chairs like you’ve never played it
How often have you been in a situation where you regret what you have said or done? Quite often, probably. We’ve all been there. There is no point aspiring to providing the perfect, well-modulated response, externally or internally, to any situation; we are not machines. However, if we can develop an awareness of how we respond in tricky situations and choose to learn from those, sometimes unhelpful, responses then we are less likely to repeat those mistakes and, consequently, less likely to struggle with resilience and well-being.
Self-compassion is a widely misunderstood concept. In an age where people are increasingly encouraged to put themselves first and self-actualisation has become an idol, self-compassion could be mistaken for a self-indulgent trip around one’s own naval.
But self-compassion is something different. It is the ability to regard yourself objectively when facing up to shortcomings, failures or painful events. Judging others unfairly is never a good idea; judging yourself unfairly, which inevitably leads to self-criticism, is equally damaging.
How you respond is important
Imagine a situation where you are tired and stressed and you have snapped at your partner or a friend or the kids (or all three). Their natural response is to avoid you (or snap back).
Your response in this moment is important. There are a number of options, but the most productive would be the ability to take responsibility for your behaviour but not then berate yourself and go down the route of self-criticism and negativity. An understanding of why you snapped without following that up with harsh self-judgement means the next time you are tired and stressed, you are more likely to be aware of the pressure points.
There is nothing wrong with negative emotions. It is right to feel sad, unhappy, fed-up, frustrated – some of the time. It is impossible, and not healthy, to feel happy and content all of the time. A mixture of emotions is essential to mental and emotional balance.
However, the more we are able to keep a sense of mental balance at times of difficulty, the more we are likely to, at least, weather those storms, or, at best, learn and grow from them. Self-compassion means being aware of your thoughts and responses and interpreting them for what they are without adding your own negative distortions.
Are you sitting comfortably?
Help could come from an unlikely source: a game of musical chairs.
Arrange three chairs into a triangle (one chair at each tip). Think of a recent situation that has caused you to be self-critical. The three chairs represent three perspectives of this self-criticism.
The Michael Jackson chair (Bad – “Because I’m bad, I’m bad, I’m very bad”)
Sit on this chair to gain the perspective of your inner critic. Express how you think and feel about the situation. Notice the words you use, your body posture and the emotions your words and tone of voice evoke.
The Johnny Cash chair (Hurt – I wear this crown of thorns, upon my liar’s chair, full of broken thoughts, I cannot repair”)
In this chair you should gain the perspective of being judged. Express how it feels to encounter your self-criticism, e.g. “I feel alone” or “I feel unsupported”. Again, notice the words you use, your body language and the emotions your words and tone of voice evoke.
The “The Beatles” chair (With A Little Help from my Friends – “I get by with a little help from my friends, gonna try with a little help from my friends”)
This chair will give you the perspective of a wise and trusted friend. You should confront both the critical voice and the voice of critique. From this detached perspective, think about what advice you should give and what you have heard and noticed from the inner critic and judge.
Finally, ask yourself what you learned from this exercise and what you would do differently next time.
If musical chairs isn’t for you but you are aware that you need more clarity when it comes to self-compassion, please get in touch for a no obligation discussion about the options open to you.