Opinion and Editorial

Five ways self-compassion can help you

Tracy S. Hutchinson
Filed on November 4, 2018 | Last updated on November 4, 2018 at 08.04 pm

Researchers have found that trait self-compassion is associated with a number of psychological benefits.

Excessively critical self-talk can create more suffering, like depression and anxiety. There are numerous studies that support self-compassion can help with depression, anxiety, and overall psychological health. Here I describe the research that supports the use of self-compassion and five ways to silence your inner bully.

Researchers have found that trait self-compassion is associated with a number of psychological benefits. For example, trait levels of self-compassion are linked to overall well-being and greater happiness, optimism, body image, perceived competence, and satisfaction with life. Additionally, it is associated with lower levels of depression, anxiety, fear of failure and body shame. But what if you are not born with high levels of the self-compassion trait? Not to worry, because you can learn to be more self-compassionate by practice.

For example, in a study of college students, Smeets and colleagues developed a three-week self-compassion curriculum for participants. They found the group that practiced self-compassion showed significantly greater increases in optimism, self-efficacy, and self-compassion at the end of three weeks versus the control group who did not receive the treatment. Further, they showed decreases in rumination (hallmark of anxiety) versus the control group. Other studies have shown self-compassion has been found to increase life satisfaction, increase happiness and positively impact physiological responses. The benefits are clear, but how can you practice self-compassion?

Become aware of what you're saying to yourself

When you notice self-critical thoughts like "I'm such an idiot" or "I am a failure because." use thought stopping. Picture a STOP sign or something that resonates with you. Thought stopping is a cognitive intervention that interrupts the recurring thoughts that can turn into excessive ruminating.

Replace this with mindful attention on your feelings

Pause here and become mindfully aware of your inner experience. This is called mindfulness. Just as you would validate a friend's feelings if they were hurt, do the same for yourself and acknowledge your pain or discomfort. An important part of self-compassion is not just replacing your negative thought with a positive one (like traditional cognitive behavioral therapy), but to mindfully become aware of your inner state.

Realise you are not alone in your suffering

Yes, this is true. We all suffer to varying degrees-it's part of the human experience. Whether your husband left you for another woman, your home was destroyed in a disaster, or you had a hard childhood, you are not alone in your suffering. According to Kristen Neff, this step is called common humanity versus isolation. Often, the feelings of isolation and that you are unique in your suffering causes more suffering. Statements in this step can include "I am not alone," "Everyone suffers," or "So many other people feel this way, too." Keeping a realistic perspective-that suffering is a part of being human-is vital.

Use soothing self-talk

What would you say to your friend? What do need to hear to express love and kindness to yourself? Suggestions include "You are doing the best you can right now," or "Everyone makes mistakes." "Do you need a warm cup of cocoa?" or "May I be loving to myself and patient" can work as well. It may seem silly at first, but turning empathy inwards takes practice.

Access your wise mind

According to Marsha Lineman, the wise mind is a combination of both emotion and logic. You can look at your situation using both logic and wisdom. What are the actual facts? Did you do your best to prepare for the interview, for instance? Even if you think you failed, isn't it true that everyone stumbles in life, and fails at some time or another? What are your strengths, and what are the things you have done well in your life? If you have a hard time accessing this, gain some feedback from a trusted friend or counselor. Replace any remaining highly charged emotional thoughts with logical statements and wisdom.

In summary, research supports the idea that self-compassion is inversely related to psychopathology and what you say to yourself and how you treat yourself truly matters. By turning your empathy toward yourself, you can reduce your suffering. -Psychology Today

Tracy S. Hutchinson is an academic, practitioner, and consultant in counseling an clinical mental health

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