Many times, in life, we can be hard on ourselves and struggle, and we can find ourselves being kinder to strangers than to ourselves. When things don’t go right in life, or we suffer and feel incompetent, we’d rather beat ourselves up than be mindful. How does this happen? It’s like we have the judge, jury, and executioner all in our minds. This is precisely the time when we need to have love and self-compassion for ourselves.
Most of the time, when we make a mistake, we might respond with our harsh inner critic and tell ourselves things like – “You’re so stupid! What were you thinking?” While we know that we would never treat a good friend like that, we end up treating ourselves like that. Most people are kinder to others than they are to themselves.
Self-compassion is about treating yourself with the same kindness and consideration that you’d show to a close family member or one of your good friends. We are all faced with difficult struggles in life, but it’s how we respond to ourselves when we make mistakes. Self-compassion is about responding to ourselves with kindness rather than harsh self-judgment.
Mindfulness is an essential first step in self-compassion as it allows us to “be” present with our suffering. Mindfulness allows us to respond with care and kindness to whatever suffering we are experiencing at that moment. Many times, we are in denial about how much we are indeed suffering, especially when our inner critic is telling us how wrong or bad, we are.
The benefits of self-compassion include a higher degree of happiness, life satisfaction, self-confidence, and physical health — people who practice self-compassion experience less depression, anxiety, stress, and shame. Practicing mindful self-compassion will transform how you relate to others and yourself in life.
Paul Gilbert, the creator of compassion-focused therapy (CFT), states that when we criticize ourselves, we activate our body’s threat-defense system (reptilian brain). When this threat-defense system gets activated, our amygdala accesses the threat. It sends a message to the brain stem to activate the fight, flight, or freeze.
This response system is suitable for a physical threat to our bodies. Still, today, most of our threats are challenges to our self-image or self-concept.
Remaining in the fight, flight, or freeze, and feeling threatened puts stress on our mind and body. This low-level state of chronic stress can create anxiety and depression. But luckily there are things we can do to help lower theses feelings.
Compassion and self-compassion are linked to our caregiving system, and this is why we can feel safe and cared for. Self-compassion will also help to down-regulate our threat defense system.
Soothing Touch is one of the easiest ways to offer compassion to ourselves. This type of touch can cause physiological changes in our bodies by lowering cortisol and adrenaline. Practicing soothing touch is different for every person. You may want to practice a few of the physical gestures to know which one feels genuinely supportive for you.
Here are a few examples of soothing touch gestures:
- One hand over your heart
- Two hands over your heart
- Cupping your hand over a fist over your heart
- One hand on your heart and one on Your belly
- One hand on your cheek
- Gently stroking your arm
- Crossing your arms and giving yourself a gentle hug
Try each one and notice which one resonates and feels supportive for you. If you identified a soothing touch that worked for you, try using it whenever you feel stressed or are struggling in your daily life. When your body feels cared for, it’s easier for your mind to follow.
Mainly self-compassion can be described as loving, connected, and presence. “Cultivating a state of loving, connected presence can change our relationship with ourselves and the world around us.” Kristen Neff