by Jennifer Christian, LPC and Dr. Jeff M. Christian
Words of hate tear at the fabric of our society; words of kindness mend.
Imagine life without unkind words. Imagine comments sections on your favorite website that only allow constructive criticism, words meant to further the conversation rather than out-shout those who disagree.
Today, online words of hate, abuse, fear, and violence are rampant. The intensity of negativity overwhelms us, a tsunami of words altering our lives without us realizing their enormous power. This new world often feels devoid of kindness. Few of us would choose to pass on this world to the next generations, so we begin this project in the hopes that we can change the future by changing the present.
We have power to create a better world.
Imagine a world that offers encouragement. Imagine a world where people matter. Too often, though, we feel helpless in even thinking about making a change. Where should we begin?
Well, we have some ideas.
Start with some simple things. Appreciation and gratitude, for instance, are powerful tools that can help rebuild this world. Every word of kindness heals, builds resilience, and draws people together.
John Gottman found that it takes five positive interactions to overcome one negative interaction. Relationships find balance when positive interactions outweigh the negative ones. At times we will misunderstand each other and say the wrong things. We are human, after all. However, for the health of all our relationships, we have the power to create better worlds for ourselves, as well as all of those around us. Our hope that we can do this together is reminiscent of John Lennon’s line, “You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one.”
So let’s imagine a better world. One word of kindness can create ripples of healing across our society. If we come together to dedicate building reserves of gratitude in our families, places of work, and all other communities, we can change the tide of negativity.
Here are some other practical suggestions to get us started:
- Get creative. We can share great ideas on how to build more positivity into our society. Join our public Facebook group, A Word Imagined, to share ideas.
- Remember the magic ratio of 5-to-1. Each week send five notes of encouragement, whether online or handwritten.
- Practice gratitude at home as a family. “Researchers found that a nourishing cycle of encouragement and appreciation provides extra incentive to maintain our relationships. In other words, when we appreciate our partners, we develop trust and respect. When we feel appreciated, we feel needed and encouraged.” (Susan Heitler)
- Notice the words you say to yourself. Learn how to offer yourself words of kindness and compassion: “Life can be rough without the comfort, balance and guidance of a self-compassionate friend on the inside. Lack of self-compassion affects our relationships and our well being in profoundly negative ways. What a difference it makes to go through life with a kind friend on the inside rather than an internal critic or bully!” (Kim Fredrickson)
Please take a moment to share this article and this project with friends and family. Together, we can create the world we imagine.
For Further Reading:
On appreciation and gratitude:
On John Gottman’s five interactions:
On practicing gratitude at home as a family:
On Susan Heitler’s work on gratitude in marriage:
On Kim Fredrickson’s work on self-compassion:
I hear more and more people talking about stress. Increased feelings of stress. I hear it on Facebook, emails from friends and family, even in everyday conversations. I spoke recently on the topic of self-compassion and stress-management at a major corporation in Houston. After I finished, I was amazed at the number of women that came to talk with me about their own struggle with stress and anxiety. The number of personal stories validated the stress in our society and the feeling of being overwhelmed as we attempt to manage too many expectations.
Most people experience an abundance of stress. The election and approaching holidays add an extra layer of stress and worry. The stressors are not going away, but we can use helpful tools to take extra care of our relationships and ourselves.
3 Types of Stress
Before we talk about balancing stress, it is helpful to understand how stress functions in our daily life. In simple terms, we face three types of stress: balanced, acute, and chronic. Whenever I talk about types of stress, I like to use the example of a zebra.
- Balanced Stress: When a zebra is lion-free, he is in a balanced state. A balanced state is the ability to relax and also be ready for threat when stress is present. The zebra can relax, eat juicy nutrient grass, enjoy his zebra companions, and play with his zebra kids and wife. Balanced stress is like getting the temperature just right on a thermostat.
- Acute Stress: When a zebra senses a nearby lion, everything centers on the threat of the lion. Stress chemicals and hormones release to focus all energy toward reacting to the lion. All internal systems shut down to focus energy on escape. The zebra will not sleep, digest, enjoy intimacy, or relax until the threat has been averted. When the lion leaves, the zebra’s body readjusts to a normal, balanced state. Eating, intimacy, relaxation, and play resume.
- Chronic Stress: In the zebra world, chronic stress does not exist. Chronic stress would be similar to the experience of a lion stalking the zebra 24-7. This chronic stress negatively impacts the zebra’s digestive system, sleep, intimacy, and leads to chronic fatigue. Imagine driving a car continuously even when the temperature gauge shows the car overheating. Keep driving, and the car will break down.
What does a zebra have to do with me?
The human body’s threat system is much like a zebra’s threat system, except for some important factors that maintain chronic stress and make it difficult to rebalance:
- The stressors at work, home, and in our society do not go away.
- We have the ability to replay past mistakes or rehearse worry about future threats.
- We can be harsh with ourselves in our own minds. Some of us talk to ourselves in a way that we would never talk to a loved one. Negative self-talk is like having a lion in our heads 24-7.
How does chronic stress impact our bodies?
When we are in a state of constant stress, our bodies continually stay in threat mode. Like the zebra, all of our internal systems are diverted to face the threat. We keep driving our bodies even though the temperature gauge is redlining. Unaddressed chronic stress impacts our digestive system, our ability to sleep, intimacy, our ability to think clearly, as well as our joy in daily life.
Adjust the thermostat
The first step in compassionate stress management is to take a moment to notice. Where is my internal temperature gauge right now?
- Issues with digestion
- Relationship difficulties
- Sleep difficulties
We can feel so rushed that we may not notice what is happening in our own bodies. Can we give ourselves permission to pause at least a couple of times during the day and check in? Allowing ourselves to notice may be challenging. The stressors can seem too big. For instance, what if I feel torn between my work and my responsibilities at home? What if my marriage is struggling? These issues take time to explore. Reaching out to a counselor can offer much needed support to take a close look at some tough areas. The counseling process organically creates options for moving forward and reducing stress.
The second step is to respond with care. What do I need? Explore different tools and see what brings some needed stress relief.
What are my choices?
Over the next few weeks, I will continue to explore tools that have proven helpful to rebalance stress. If this topic resonates with you, please let me know via Facebook or Twitter. I want to offer tools and resources that really connect with where you are right now. Also, see my website for a number of helpful tools:
Emotional Freedom Tapping, or EFT, is very easy to learn, and will help you:
- Alleviate Negative Emotions
- Reduce Food Cravings
- Reduce or Eliminate Pain
- And Implement Positive Goals
Emotional Freedom Tapping, or EFT, is a form of psychological acupressure, based on the same energy meridians used in traditional acupuncture.
Simply tapping with the fingertips on the head and chest inputs kinetic energy onto specific points while you think about your specific problem – whether it is a traumatic event, an addiction, pain, or anxiety. Tapping is paired with voicing positive affirmations. This combination of tapping the energy meridians and voicing positive affirmations works to clear emotional blocks and restore your mind and body’s balance.
When triggered, we feel exposed and experience painful emotional and physical symptoms:
- Increased body temperature – a warm flush or even a “hot flash”
- Heaviness in the chest – perhaps to the point of feeling anxious and panicky
- Poor eye-contact and hesitant speech patterns
- Body minimizing posture – trying to hide shape of body or look invisible
- Low energy levels – work hard to excel and feel exhausted most of the time
Shame Resilience researcher, Brené Brown, has studied the impact of shame for more than a decade. In her TED Talks, “The Power of Vulnerability” and “Listening to Shame,” she shares how to create resilience that move us through the experience of shame toward deeper connection and “whole-hearted” living.
In the clip below from “Oprah’s Lifeclass,” Brown says people who have “high levels of shame resilience” — meaning they can acknowledge and move through shame — have a few things in common. We can follow their lead by taking these three steps:
- Talk to yourself like you talk to someone you love. “I would say to myself, ‘God, you’re so stupid, Brene,’” Brown says. “I would never talk to my kids that way.”
- Reach out to someone you trust.
- Tell your story. “Shame cannot survive being spoken,” Brown says.
At some point you have probably made a New Year’s resolution and then broken it. But instead of a resolution, what would it be like this year to create a meaningful habit?
Last year I wrote a series about self-control and how to achieve your goals. While researching the topic I was surprised to find that using willpower and self-determination alone sets us up for failure. I am not sure why this is such a surprise. How many times have I broken my resolutions when life got too busy? Sliding back into old habits can be a familiar pattern for many of us:
- Let’s say you decide to go on a diet and a coworker brings a box of gourmet donuts to the office? You work hard to resist the donuts throughout the entire day. However, your willpower is so taxed trying to avoid the donuts all day that you later give in to a large combo plate at your favorite Mexican restaurant that night. What a frustrating experience.
- Or suppose you decide to control your anger. You make a commitment to be kinder to your spouse at the end of each day when you get home from work. Unfortunately, the next workday is full of stressors: your boss yells at you, you miss lunch, and traffic is unbelievably frustrating. Then you get home, and what happens? The commitment you made to yourself goes out the window and you end up angry with your spouse.
This is a common experience because willpower is limited. We create our goal, shore up our determination, eventually run out of steam, and end up falling short.
“Willpower, for all its merits, is full of holes. Maintaining it requires not only a good deal of effort but also a conducive environment… Seemingly irrelevant factors like being at home versus being at work, or even the need to make simple decisions unrelated to resisting temptation—(‘Should I wear a white shirt or a blue one?’)—can diminish self-control. The result? People whose willpower is taxed fail to resist about one out of every six temptations they face, even when they try using cognitive strategies to manage their ‘hot’ responses. Willpower appears to be quite finite in supply.” (David Desteno, September 15, 2014, Pacific Standard, The Science of Society).
How Can I Achieve My Goals?
If willpower does not work, what can I do?
According to a recent review of lab experiments on self-control, four emotional characteristics were shown to boost our self-control and increase staying power (Desteno, 2014).
- Authentic pride
“These emotions— gratitude, compassion, authentic pride, and even guilt—work from the bottom up to shape decisions that favor the long-term. If we focus on instilling the capacity to experience these emotional states regularly, we’ll build resources that will automatically spring forth in reflexive and productive ways. In essence, we’ll give ourselves inoculations against temptation that, like antibodies in our bloodstream, will be ready and waiting to combat possible threats to our well-being.” (David Desteno, September 15, 2014, Pacific Standard, The Science of Society).
Breaking It Down
For the month of January, I will focus each week on a virtue that boosts staying power. This week will focus on compassion, and how a compassion practice can have a positive impact our ability to reach our goals.
How Can We Build Compassion?
Compassion is an emotion that involves noticing our surroundings, and then feeling moved to care. When we allow ourselves to notice another person, we are naturally moved to respond to a fellow human being with care and concern.
Self-compassion is the same thing. The only difference is allowing ourselves to see our own struggle, and respond to ourselves with care in the same way we would another human being.
One way we can build compassion is to practice on ourselves. We can be our worst critic and beat up on ourselves when we fall short on hopes and goals. When we talk to ourselves with criticism and self-judgment, we fuel anger and anxiety. We can even increase the odds that we will get frustrated and want to quit.
Kristin Neff has found that “people who can first give themselves emotional support and validation will be in a better position to be giving, accepting and generous to their partners.” She also found that “people who nurture self-compassion have better overall psychological and emotional health, experience less anxiety and depression, and are more motivated to achieve their goals.” (Randall, 2013)
What Gets In The Way?
In a recent TED talk, Daniel Goleman explored the things that keep us from compassion. One of the main obstacles is being in a hurry.
“A group of divinity students at the Princeton Theological Seminary were told that they were going to give a practice sermon and they were each given a sermon topic. Half of those students were given, as a topic, the parable of the Good Samaritan: the man who stopped to help the stranger in need by the side of the road. Half were given random Bible topics. Then one by one, they were told they had to go to another building and give their sermon. As they went from the first building to the second, each of them passed a man who was bent over and moaning, clearly in need. The question is: Did they stop to help? The more interesting question is: Did it matter they were contemplating the parable of the Good Samaritan? Answer: No, not at all. What turned out to determine whether someone would stop and help a stranger in need was how much of a hurry they thought they were in. And this is, I think, the predicament of our lives: that we don’t take every opportunity to help because our focus is in the wrong direction.” (Goleman, 2007)
The conclusion of the experiment was that the student’s compassion was not significantly influenced by studying the passage on compassion, but more by the student’s belief that they were in too much of a hurry. When we get overwhelmed or in a rush, this impacts our ability to be compassionate with ourselves, as well as others we care about. One way to build compassion is to slow the pace of life.
When we begin each year, we are full of hope and excitement about the possibility of making positive changes. But over time, the fast pace of life gets in the way and pulls us off track. How we respond to ourselves when we make mistakes is essential to reaching our goals. If I beat up myself with self-criticism, I lose heart and momentum. “I failed again just like last year; I will never get this right.” This approach increases frustration and makes it difficult to keep going. Kim Fredrickson suggests another approach: Acknowledge my mistake and realize that even when I mess up, I deserve to be treated with dignity as a fellow human being.
“Self-compassion is a balance of truth (Yes, I made a mistake) with grace (I have worth and value, and I will address this mistake directly)… Self-compassion is absolutely essential for healthy, balanced living. It provides huge benefits including emotional resiliency, stress reduction, contentment, and healthier relationships. Without it we are vulnerable to the opinions of others and find it difficult to deal with and let go of our mistakes.” Kim Fredrickson
When we learn to respond to ourselves with kindness and compassion, we calm the body and create space to respond courageously with our best selves. This is not the same as self-pity.
“Self-compassion isn’t poor me. Self-compassion is: ‘It’s hard for all of us… the human experience is hard for me, for you, this is the way life is.’ It’s a much more connected way of relating to yourself. And this is why mindfulness is so important. When we are mindful of our suffering, we see it as it is, we don’t ignore it, but we also don’t over exaggerate.” Kristin Neff
A compassionate approach allows us to respond to ourselves with kindness and get a fresh start every day. Our mistakes do not define us. We are able to decrease the heavy burden of our missteps and move forward compassionately with our hopes and dreams.
Ready to Boost Your Compassion?
Here are some tools to get started:
- A quiz to assess your current level of self-compassion.
- A self-compassion exercise to get a small hint of what this looks like in practice: Self-Compassion Exercise
- Compassion Meditations designed to increase experience of compassion for self and others.
Resources on Building Compassion
Desteno, D. (2014) A Feeling of Control: How America Can Finally Learn to Deal With Its Impulses. Pacific Standard, The Science of Society. (http://www.psmag.com/navigation/health-and-behavior/feeling-control-america-can-finally-learn-deal-impulses-self-regulation-89456/)
Goleman, D. (2007). TED. (http://www.ted.com/talks/daniel_goleman_on_compassion?language=en)
Jennifer Christian, M.A., LPC
A loving kindness prayer uses words and images to evoke feelings of loving kindness toward oneself and others. According to the article, “18 Science-Based Reasons to Try Loving Kindness Meditation Today,” a consistent practice of a Loving Kindness meditation can decrease symptoms of PTSD, improve wellbeing, and bolster the immune system.
The following Loving-Kindness meditation is inspired by the virtues celebrated during the weeks of Advent: Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love. This form of a prayer focuses on God’s loving kindness toward us and how we then become a vessel of His love toward others.
“Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow.” Melody Beattie
I have so many reasons to be thankful:
- My husband and I sipped coffee together before we started our day.
- I enjoyed a long walk by myself at Memorial Park.
- Our teenagers have found their groove at school and are enjoying soccer pre-season.
- I am currently savoring a bite of dark chocolate as I type.
In 2012, I decided to incorporate an intentional habit that did not depend upon my mood or daily circumstances. I started a gratitude project and began experiencing the powerful benefits of an active practice. My husband and I have both been amazed at the positive impact a gratitude habit has had on our marriage and other relationships over the past three years.
I can tell you from personal experience that gratitude will change your life. The following list, compiled from a growing body of research, describes the powerful impact an active gratitude practice can have on your health and relationships.
Seven Ways Gratitude Will Change Your Life
- Gratitude boosts health and wellness: “ “Grateful people take better care of themselves and engage in more protective health behaviors like regular exercise, a healthy diet, and regular physical examinations. Grateful people also tend to be more optimistic… studies link optimism to better immune function.” (Elizabeth Heubeck, Boost Your Health With a Dose of Gratitude)
- Gratitude protects against depression: “Gratitude supports the neurochemistry of well-being, and protects against depression. It builds resilience, so we get less rattled by events and bounce back faster. And gratitude turns us toward others as we appreciate the people we care about.” (Rick Hanson, What Are the Health Benefits to Thankfulness?)
- Gratitude increases happiness: “In positive psychology research, gratitude is strongly and consistently associated with greater happiness. Gratitude helps people feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences, improve their health, deal with adversity, and build strong relationships.” (Harvard Health Publications)
- Gratitude can help you through hard times: “Expressing gratefulness during personal adversity like loss or chronic illness – as hard as that might be – can help you adjust, move on, and perhaps begin anew. Although it may be challenging to celebrate your blessings at moments when they seem least apparent to you, it may be the most important thing that you can do.” (Sonjia Lyubomirsky, Eight Ways Gratitude Boosts Happiness)
- Gratitude increases satisfaction and longevity of relationships: “It starts within our own self. When we consciously foster feelings of appreciation for our loved ones—whether by doing a gratitude mediation about them every morning or by deliberately focusing on specific things we love about them—our relationship improves.” (Cristine Carter, A Surprisingly Simple Way to Feel Madly in Love)
- Gratitude increases satisfaction of parenting: “I am happy and proud to say that my relationship with my teenager is better than ever! Now he seeks me out to tell with me stories and jokes. He listens to me intently when I give him guidance. I can’t tell you how much this simple practice has changed our relationship. In retrospect, while teaching my family about this principal it also affected me positively. I noticed how my attitude towards him changed and softened because I started seeing him through a gratitude lens.” (Debbie Lyn Toomey, Gratitude Tip for Positive Parenting)
- Gratitude increases self worth: “Grateful people have a higher sense of self-worth. I think that’s because when you’re grateful, you have the sense that someone else is looking out for you—someone else has provided for your well-being, or you notice a network of relationships, past and present, of people who are responsible for helping you get to where you are right now.” (Robert Emmons, Why Gratitude Is Good)
Create Your Own Gratitude Practice
- Start a gratitude journal. Write down three items each day that make you grateful.
- Share gratitude at the dinner table. My family shares “Highs and Lows” every night during our evening meal to stay connected through the week. If not with your family members, pick a friend and share a high point and low point each day.
- Say “Thank You” often: Look for ways to express gratitude to those who cross your path every day. Express thanks at the grocery story, gym, at home, or just about anywhere.
Last week, I had a dream that I was caught in a blizzard. A blanket of swirling white surrounded me. My mind raced to discover some sense of direction. I was disoriented and frightened. Paralyzed. Where was I? Where was the path home?
And, then it was as if everything went into slow motion. Time slowed down. Way down. I began to notice individual snowflakes. Unique details of one snowflake. Its beauty. As my awareness shifted toward the structure of the snowflakes, I noticed my body beginning to relax. My mind settled. Gently. Slowly. I began to see areas of empty space open between each of the flakes. The spaces grew wider. The snowflakes began to lessen. I saw more clearly. The intensity of the blizzard that had seemed so overwhelming now calmed. Though still surrounded by the snow, I no longer felt afraid.
Since this dream, I have thought how much everyday life can at times feels like a blizzard. Time speeds up without warning. Daily tasks swirl around me: work tasks, family expectations, holiday chores, friendships, household duties, volunteering, etc. But then other things compound what might already be a blinding blizzard of activity. Thoughts, feelings, regrets from the past and “what ifs” of the future can surface to cloud my vision even more. My mind begins to race.
Where am I? Where is the path home?
Then I notice. Awareness. Gratitude.
- The smell of the crisp autumn morning air
- Listening to the laughter of my children as they watch silly videos
- Seeing my husband’s eyes gently crinkle as he pushes the plate in my direction to let me have the last bite
- Gently holding the hand of a dear friend who is grieving
- Tasting a hot, gooey chocolate chip cookie
- Feeling the sensation of a long hot shower after a satisfying day
Take a deep breath. This is your life. Notice. Search. Find the moments of beauty sprinkled like beautiful snowflakes in the midst of the flurry of tasks and worries.
Time slows. Mind gently settles. I am still surrounded, but I am not afraid.
The power of gratitude.
Today during my routine morning walk I began to ponder the many self-care skills that I use regularly. Over the years, I have learned that I feel better when I make time to:
- Eat right
- Practice gratitude
- Practice prayerful meditation
- Practice yoga
- Have fun
- Plan enjoyable activities
- Spend time with friends
This may seem like a no brainer to some people, but personally it has been an evolution of self-acceptance and self-compassion. Healthy habits that are so natural for me today were nonexistent several years ago.
I remember the first time I received a self-care list. It was about 10 years ago. I was fatigued, stressed out, and pushing myself harder and harder to be perfect. I could not go on this way much longer. I was at a breaking point. I found Nancy, a therapist who began to help me process how I found myself at this point and how to move forward. During one session, she gave me a self-care handout that addressed physical, emotional, and spiritual health. I had never seen anything like it. What a radical concept!
As a child, I received a version of a “Christian” message that I should always sacrifice my own needs on behalf of others. Somewhere along the way I learned that my needs were not only unimportant, but that it was selfish for me to express my needs. I was told that whenever I felt empty and exhausted I should pray harder and God would provide. But years and years of emptying myself for others wore away at my physical and emotional health. Moreover, there was not enough of me to go around, and my children and husband sometimes got the short end of the stick. This approach was not sustainable.
When Nancy handed me the self-care list, I began a journey of learning self-care and boundaries. In the beginning, I carried the list with me wherever I went, especially when I found myself around difficult people who suck the life out of me, treat me like I do not matter, or that they should always come first. I needed a reminder that it is okay to respond to myself with care. At one point I even carried my self-care list to a challenging family gathering in another state. I referred to the list several times as a support to say “no” when needed, or to allow myself rest when I was tired. I began to experience a positive difference.
“When you doubt your own importance, you’re allowing the manipulations of difficult people to gain a foothold. However, when you understand that your time, money, dignity and needs are vital to your well-being, it’s easier to tune out people who want to break your boundaries.” (Margarita Tartakovsky, 5 Ways to Maintain Boundaries with Difficult People)
Now I practice responding to myself in the same way that I want to respond to others: with love, compassion, kindness, gratitude, acceptance, and gentleness. I continue to learn what it is to be a compassionate and loving person every time I practice compassion and love with myself. I am a recovering perfectionist, so I often have to start my compassionate practice over again daily.
“Rest and self-care are so important. When you take time to replenish your spirit, it allows you to serve others from the overflow. You cannot serve from an empty vessel.” (Eleanor Brownn, Self-Care is Not Selfish)
I write about my own personal journey because I know many who find self-care challenging. You may have received the message that your needs are unimportant, or that you are selfish when you take care and nourish yourself. If self-care is a radical concept, or if you feel like there is not enough of you to go around, you are not alone. You can start with baby steps, adding one or two things and noticing differences in how you feel. If you feel overwhelmed, Jennifer Louden’s article, “Minimum Self-Care Requirements” is a great place to start. Be gentle with yourself. There is no hurry and no right way to do this.
For me, it has been almost ten years, and I am still experimenting and learning, even adapting Nancy’s original list. I feel excited just thinking about the adaptations you will make as you begin to explore and create your own list:
Nancy’s Adapted Self-Care List
- Eat (mostly) healthy foods in moderation
- Exercise regularly
- Drink plenty of water
- Get adequate sleep
- Practice good hygiene (bathe, brush teeth, etc.)
- Obtain medical care, as needed
- Nurture yourself regularly
- Use compassionate self-talk
- Learn and use relaxation techniques
- Use healthy boundaries
- Express your feelings appropriately
- Identify your feelings
- Share them directly with someone who will treat you with care
- Talk to a friend
- Use ventilation techniques (punch a pillow, throw ice, etc.)
- Allow yourself (& others) to make mistakes
- Respond to your negative self-talk with self-compassion
- Ask for what you want
- Say “no” when you need to
- Use “I feel …” statements to express your emotions
- Avoid being passive, aggressive, or passive-aggressive. Be Assertive.
- Spend time with people who make you feel good about yourself
- Accept compliments without discounting (just say “thank you”)
- Make time to laugh & play!
- Make a daily gratitude list
- Open yourself to the beauty of nature
- Continue to learn something new
- Be open to different points of view
- Engage in activities that connect you with God and others
I am excited to do something a little different this week. Kim Fredrickson, counselor and author of the book, Give Yourself a Break: Turning Your Inner Critic into a Compassionate Friend, has graciously contributed a guest post about the how to develop greater compassion with our own selves. Her message has been both inspirational and healing for me personally and to many throughout the world. Thank you, Kim, for blessing us with your generous contribution:
Self-Compassion is Vital for a Healthy Life
Life can be rough without the comfort, balance and guidance of a self-compassionate friend on the inside. Lack of self-compassion affects our relationships and our well being in profoundly negative ways. What a difference it makes to go through life with a kind friend on the inside rather than an internal critic or bully!
So What Exactly is Self-Compassion?
It is the idea that we can be kind to ourselves when we fail and treat ourselves with the caring support we would give another who is struggling. Out of self-compassion flow self-care and protection from harm.
Self-compassion is a balance of truth (Yes, I made a mistake) with grace (I have worth and value, and I will address mistakes directly).
Grace and truth together mean you acknowledge what happened without either minimizing it or making it more than it was, and at the same time apply compassion to yourself. Self-compassion helps us handle our humanness and the situations we are in with empathy, concern, understanding and kindness.
Self-compassion is a gentle way we relate to ourselves both when we’re struggling and when things are going well. It’s like treating yourself as you would a friend who is struggling, learning something new, scared or confused.
Many Positives Result from Self-Compassion
Treating ourselves with compassion produces benefits to ourselves as well as our relationships. Many experience an increase in emotional resiliency, self-worth and contentment; reduced stress and healthier relationships
When we come into relationships being our own compassionate friend, we become better friends, spouses, parents, bosses, co-workers, etc. We handle disappointments more smoothly and we won’t require the other person to have the perfect response in order for us to be ok.
Lack of Self-Compassion Costs Us
Lack of self-compassion is linked to depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, lack of resilience, inability to forgive oneself, problems in relationships, vulnerability to the opinions of others, difficulty letting go of mistakes, and problems recovering from painful experiences.
As you can imagine, walking around with an inner critic who is negatively evaluating you for the mistakes you’ve made in the past, how you are goofing up in the present, and how you’ll likely mess up in the future is quite depressing, and produces a lot of anxiety.
Not only is having a bully in your head depressing, it can also feel hopeless…like there’s nothing you can do to change this negative self-talk. Most likely you’ve already tried positive thinking, trying to quiet your internal bully and telling yourself the truth…often without much success. Most people work very hard to combat this inner critic, but feel so defeated.
The missing link is not having a compassionate relationship with yourself. Self-compassion helps to soothe those dark places, brings truth and grace to the heart, and brings hope and a way to get better. We are with ourselves 100 percent of the time. The way you interact with yourself has a greater impact on you than any interactions you have with others.
Many people struggle with depression and anxiety for lots of reasons. Self-compassion helps prevent depression and anxiety, as well as reduce its effects. Imagine how you would feel if you had a compassionate friend on the inside who empathized with you, helped you take good care of yourself, and showed you how to be kind to yourself?
When our shortcomings and mistakes are met with compassion and understanding, we will have more energy and space inside to forgive ourselves, find solutions and repair relationships. When our shortcomings and mistakes are met with self-judgment and condemnation, we experience a lack of hope and begin to shut down emotionally.
Someone who practices self-compassion might say something to themselves when they make mistakes, goof up or regret their actions:
Yes, I wish I’d acted differently. I’m using this experience for good in order to grow and learn. I can grant myself grace while still doing what is necessary to right this situation. I’m not perfect, and I don’t need to be. I am loveable and acceptable even when I make mistakes. I will take a look at what made me vulnerable to act in this way, and take steps to learn from this experience and repair any damage I have done. I can be a good friend to myself while handling this situation.
Reasons Why You May Not Have Learned Self-Compassion
Most people struggle with negative self-talk and lack of self-compassion, so realize you are in good company. There are really good reasons why you did not learn how to be compassionate with yourself:
- History of Being Criticized
Repeated criticism creates a challenge because we may have internalized and accepted critical messages we heard growing up. This critical and harsh way of being dealt with then becomes our model for how to deal with ourselves when we make mistakes or struggle.
- A Bully on the Inside
A part of us has taken on a “bully” stance toward our mistakes, weaknesses, and areas of struggle. It is very important to realize that the “bully” inside is actually trying to help in the only way it knows how. These harsh good intentions attempt to keep us out of trouble, help us perform well, and not be lazy, to name a few. These harsh strategies developed when we were young and often carry into adulthood. How wonderful it is now, to learn new ways to motivate ourselves tin ways that are healthy, not harmful.
- Didn’t Learn Healthy Motivations for Change
We may not have been taught a different motivation to change besides being hard on ourselves. Believe it or not, there are other positive reasons that can motivate us to grow and change:
- Wanting to be the most honorable and caring person possible
- Not wanting to hurt others
- Wanting to be as spiritually, relationally, and emotionally healthy as possible
- Wanting to be a safe and trustworthy person in our relationships
- Wanting to grow in order to fulfill our potential
Note that these reasons are in direct contrast to trying to change because we see ourselves as bad, a loser, or a misfit.
- Didn’t Experience Compassion
If we weren’t treated with compassion or watched others treat themselves with compassion we won’t know how to treat ourselves that way instinctually. You’re not supposed to know how to do this if you haven’t been taught.
Don’t get down on yourself for not knowing how to respond to your humanness with compassion. It’s not too late to learn! Here’s a compassionate way to talk you to yourself right now:
Yes, I do tend to be really hard on myself. I say horrible things to myself to try to get myself to do the right thing. Sometimes, I even punish myself on purpose for being such a mess-up. I didn’t realize until now that I can relate to myself in a different way. I actually feel some compassion for that small bullying part of me that had to develop to keep me out of trouble. Although I can’t even imagine trying to motivate myself to change because of positive reasons, I am starting to believe maybe it’s possible. I guess it makes sense that if I never had a model of how to be both truthful and compassionate with myself at the same time, I wouldn’t know how to do it. I have some hope that I can learn a different way.
It’s Not Too Late To Learn!
- Realize it is a process
Considering treating yourself with compassion is a first great step.
- Notice the way you talk to yourself
We can’t change what we aren’t aware of. You may be surprised by how much time you spend saying negative things to yourself.
- Say STOP to negative self-talk
Say “No” when you begin to say something mean to yourself… “I’m not going to talk to myself like that anymore” is a great step, even if you don’t know a compassionate thing to say in its place.
- Ask yourself…what would the kindest person I know say to me about the mistake I made, or the thing I regret? Say this to yourself.
- Get help knowing what to say and do
Read about self-compassion and start to treat yourself differently a little bit at a time. My book, Give Yourself a Break: Turning Your Inner Critic into a Compassionate Friend is filled with stories about different scenarios we can all relate to. I share lots of examples of what it sounds like to use grace-filled compassionate language with yourself…kind of like having a self-compassion coach alongside you.
- Take care of yourself
Make time to do things that are calming and soothing for you…relaxation, reading, walking in nature, doing your favorite hobby, time with affirming friends…whatever you have noticed brings you encouragement and comfort.
Kim Fredrickson, MS, MFT is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (MFC 22635) Kim recently closed her 30-year counseling practice due to serious health issues. Despite this sudden change in her health, Kim remains optimistic, hopeful, and positive.
Kim is the author of Give Yourself a Break: Turning Your Inner Critic into a Compassionate Friend. She enjoys sharing about the transforming power of self-compassion integrated with faith. Connect with Kim on Facebook, Twitter, and her blog, Self-Compassion for Real Life http://www.kimfredrickson.com/blog/