Self-Compassion

Self-compassion is one of the most important ways to improve our relationship with ourselves.

Society has taught us to be perfect, work harder, achieve more,  and be the best at everything we do.  While it is great to have goals in life to help us grow and develop, unfortunately, many people struggle with not knowing when to stop and are constantly self-critical.  When our self worth depends on being “better” than others, we become anxious, insecure, and self critical.  This competition and frequent self judgement, can lead to social isolation.  This self-criticism gets in the way of our brain’s social wiring goals – which is to belong and be loved.

Self-compassion is not artificially boosting ourselves up, being too easy on ourselves, or giving up.  It is the actually the opposite – the source of learning, empowerment and inner strength.  Our performance after failure can also be improved through self-compassion, and it helps us maintain peace of mind throughout the day.  

Kristen Neff, one of the leading researchers and practitioners in the field of Self-Compassion says, “Self-compassion soothes the mind like a loving friend who’s willing to listen to our difficulties without giving advice, until we can sort out our problems for ourselves.” 

Self-compassion involves facing mistakes, failure or insecurity in a different way.  Self-compassion involves treating yourself with the same support, kindness, and concern you would show to a child, loved one or close friend.  When facing with struggles in life (which we all experience), self-compassion involves responding with kindness rather than harshness and judgement.  For example, “Mallory, that sucks you are struggling with feeling left out of the group.  That feeling is normal and many people feel the same way.”  I like to use my name my self-compassion statements (see my tips on positive self talk).  If you would like to learn more about self-compassion, here is a Ted Talk by Kristen Neff I strongly recommend seeing.

Kristin Neff also has some free guided Loving Kindness Meditations as well – that are a great way to learn how to speak to ourselves differently, especially if you have no idea where to start.

And finally, here is a Self Compassion Exercise that I use with clients and myself, to practise self compassion.  It often does not come naturally, so we need to have a script to repeat to ourselves – until it becomes automatic.  If self-compassion is something you want to work on in your life, I often suggest practising either a meditation, repeating your own personalized self-compassion scripts (set an alarm), and use the worksheet – and then personalize the worksheet to situations in your life that you are currently facing (feel free to get some ideas from family and friends too).

Week 7: Improving Our Relationship With Ourself

A critical part to the Healthier You program, and something I work with almost ALL OF MY CLIENTS on, is improving our relationship with ourself – starting with changing the way we evaluate our worth.  There are many factors that influence how we evaluate our worth including:

  • Societal values
  • Family values
  • Our experience growing up
  • Pressures such as perfectionism, capitalism and the focus on beauty
  • Need for approval
  • Need for control

One thing we know in psychology, is that people tend to be happier, have less psychological issues such as anxiety and depression, and have a steadier positive experience throughout life when they use INTRINSIC VALUES to evaluate themselves, vs EXTRINSIC VALUES.

EXTRINSIC VALUES (the ones we want to be weary of using) includes factors such as achievements, compliments, approval, and social media responses.  There is a big difference of using EXTRINSIC VALUES as a motivator or goal versus using them to evaluate one’s worth.  A common problem people experience when using extrinsic values to evaluate themselves, is they can be doing everything well, and not be getting the feedback they need.  Extrinsic values are often out of our control and we don’t get accurate feedback because we rely on others – such as a boss (who may not be good at giving positive feedback), society (that often has ulterior motives such as to sell us something), or an arbitrary assessment (such as a test that focuses on a small proportion of your knowledge).  The key message is:

WE ARE MORE THAN OUR ACHIEVEMENTS, JOB, MONEY, ATTRACTIVENESS TO OTHERS, POPULARITY, and STATUS.

 

So………what are INTRINSIC VALUES and how do we incorporate them in our lives?

INTRINSIC VALUES are values that tell us about who we are.  These values are typically consistent throughout our adult lives (and often developing in childhood and adolescence).  There is no intrinsic value that is better than the other.  Here is a Intrinsic Values worksheet that I give out to help prompt thinking.  There are many more values a person can use – but Intrinsic Values list will help you get started.

 

Activity

From the list, choose 5-10 values that are true to you.  This may take a few read overs to go from a larger list to a smaller list.  

A way to tell a true value vs. “nice to have traits” is that if you were to get $500 000 to no longer have that value, would you take the money?  For example, I like being tidy and I know society values it (and those around me), but I would take the money to no longer be tidy.  However, I would not take the money to no longer be kind, helpful or hardworking.  So these are my true values.  Also be aware of the pull towards values that society values – that may not be as true to you.  

Societal values are constantly changing – and remember, this is about finding your own PERSONALIZED values, that tell us about what influences your thoughts, feelings and behaviors.  

Questions to Ponder

  • After looking at the list, is this someone you would want to be friends with?
  • Does this give you any new perspective about why you enjoy certain people, and why others seem not to be a good fit in your life?
  • Do your values give you any new deeper insight about a value conflict when you have been upset or hurt?

Incorporating INTRINSIC VALUES Into Your Life

  • Each week or two (set an alarm), rate yourself from a scale of 1-10 of how much you incorporated these values into your life.  A lower score does not indicate poor performance, it means that may be a value that may need expressing or nurturing in the next coming weeks.  Likewise a 10 does not mean perfection, it means you utilized that trait highly during that time period.
  • The above activity is also good to do when you are feeling down or upset.  If you are upset with another person, focus on yourself, and notice what the situation says about you, rather than being judgemental of someone else.  
  • When working on a new goal, such as a healthier lifestyle, studying for a new career, or trying something new, be extra purposeful of using these INTRINSIC VALUES along side when evaluating progress.  For example, put a sticky note with your values on the scale to prompt you.

Weeks 5 & 6 – Decluttering the Mind: Changing Negative Self-Talk to Something Helpful

 

Negative Self-Talk

The way your talk to yourself in your mind, otherwise known as self-talk, can have a major impact on your life, from your confidence to your choices. Research has shown that most of our self-talk is negative, and is working against us rather than helping us. These negative thoughts often create feelings of frustration, irritation, anger, hopelessness and disappointment.

 

WHAT IS ‘SELF-TALK’?

Even though you might not always be aware of it, we all have self-talk. Self-talk is a positive or negative running commentary about life. Typically, our self-talk happens without us noticing because we are often on ‘auto-pilot’ or that we are so accustomed to our thinking that we don’t reflect on how our thoughts are influencing us.

 

Changing Your Negative Self-Talk Can Help You to:

  • Feel better about yourself
  • Boost your confidence
  • Improve your social life
  • Feel more in control of your life
  • Be more optimistic and effective in life
  • Improve athletic performance (researchers found 11-15% improvement with positive self talk)
  • Improves academic performance
  • Decrease school and work absences

 

Tips

  • Self-talk works best when it is scripted ahead of time and practiced.
  • What works for each person is a matter of personal preference – so make sure your new changes are personalized for you.
  • Addressing yourself by name is found to be more powerful than ‘I’ statements – (i.e. Mallory, you are going to have a good bike ride, all you need to do is start).

 

Negative Self-Talk Personalities

 

 

 

  1.  The Worrier

…. creates anxiety by imagining the worst-case scenario and scares you with ideas of upcoming disaster. The worrier often over-reacts to the first physical symptoms of panic (such as sweaty palms, tightening chest or increased heart rate) and recycles thinking of over-exaggerated fears. The worrier is always vigilant and watching with uneasy anticipation for any tiny sign that trouble is ahead. It over-estimates the odds that something bad or embarrassing will happen and imagines scenes of failure and disaster. The worrier’s favorite expression is “what if…” Our self-talk from the worrier’s perspective will say “Oh no! My chest feels tight. What if I panic, and lose control.” “What if I’m alone and there is no one around to help me?” What if I do something that is really embarrassing?” This fear can immobilize a person and keep them from really living, because of the anxiety that it produces.

 

2.  The Critic

…is the part of you that is constantly judging and evaluating your behavior and promotes a low self-esteem. It tends to point out your flaws and shortcomings at every opportunity. It emphasizes your mistakes and reminds you that you are a failure. It tends to ignore your positive qualities and emphasizes your weaknesses and shortcomings at an unproportional amount. The critic generates anxiety by putting you down for not being able to handle your symptoms of fear or anxiety, for not being able to go places that you previously were able to go, or for having to rely on someone else. It also loves to compare you to others with you always falling short. The critic’s favorite expressions are: “What a disappointment you are!”, “That was stupid”, “Can’t you ever get it right?”, “I am unworthy of others”, or “I am not good enough”.

 

3.  The Perfectionist

…is a close cousin to the critic because it is less concerned about putting you down, but relentlessly tries to push you to do better, and is rarely satisfied. It promotes chronic stress and burnout. It keeps reminding you that you can always do better and you should be working harder, your efforts are not good enough, you should always be pleasing, competent, and should always have everything under control. The critic’s favorite expressions are: “I should… I have to …”. It wants you to be the best and is intolerant of mistakes or setbacks. It tries to convince you that your self-worth is dependent on external indicators such as : work/school/job achievement, money, status, acceptance by others, or the ability to please others. The perfectionist pushes you into stress, exhaustion and burnout.

 

4.  The Victim

…is the part of you that feels helpless or hopeless and promotes depression.  It believes that there is something inherently wrong with you, and there must be something deprived, defective or unworthy about you.  It generates anxiety by assuming that you will never be cured, and assumes the road to recovery is way too steep because you are not making any progress. Victims feel as you are stuck and things will never change, no matter what you do. The victim’s favorite expression is: “I can’t”, and “I never will be able to”. “I have had this problem too long and I will never get better”, “I’ve tried everything and nothing ever seems to work.”

 

Countering Negative Self-Talk

The best way to stop the effects of negative self-talk is to counter it with positive, self-compassionate, and supportive statements. It starts by writing down and rehearsing statements that directly refute and invalidate your negative self-talk.  Remember, your negative, anxiety producing, self-statements have been reinforced for years, and it will take some practice and time to get rid of them. You must slow down your automatic thoughts, and really pay close attention to what you are saying to yourself. These four sub-personalities will help you to decipher which is your favorite way to generate anxiety.

Some of your expressions are simply bad habits and you don’t want to be deceived by them any more. Some are deep seated and you still believe that they are true. You can weaken the hold of your negative self-statements by exposing them to the following questions:

What is the evidence for this?

Is it always true?

Has this always been true in the past?

What is the realistic percentage of this really happening?

What is the very worse that this could happen? What would you do if the worse did happen?

Are you looking at the whole picture?

Are you being completely objective?

 

After noticing the negative self-talk thoughts in your mind, another way to improve your headspace is to add positive coping thoughts. Examples of coping thoughts might be:

  • Stop, and breathe, I can do this
  • This will pass
  • I can be anxious/angry/sad and still deal with this
  • I have done this before, and I can do it again
  • This feels bad, it’s a normal body reaction – it will pass
  • This feels bad, and feelings are very often wrong
  • These are just feelings, they will go away
  • This won’t last forever
  • Short term pain for long term gain
  • I can feel bad and still choose to take a new and healthy direction
  • I don’t need to rush, I can take things slowly
  • I have survived before, I will survive now
  • I feel this way because of my past experiences, but I am safe right now
  • It’s okay to feel this way, it’s a normal reaction
  • Right now, I am not in danger. Right now, I’m safe
  • My mind is not always my friend
  • Thoughts are just thoughts – they’re not necessarily true or factual
  • This is difficult and uncomfortable, but it’s only temporary
  • I can use my coping skills and get through this
  • I can learn from this and it will be easier next time
  • Keep calm and carry on

 

 

Sources

“The Anxiety and Phobia Workbook” by Edmund J. Bourne, p. 164-168.

Helmstetter, 1982; Stranulis & Manning, 2002