How can we be kinder to ourselves in this difficult time

Jan 24, 2021

How can we be kinder to ourselves in this difficult time

“Because I’d really practised this self-compassionate voice, it just showed up and answered. It felt really moving. I’d never thought that could be possible.” (Tobyn Bell)

Self-compassion, at first impression, may sound as a cliche to many people. Here are some critics about it especially as we are bombarded by life negativity and stresses –
“We have to stop being optimistic and look at the truth. The world is a sad hopeless place.”
“It is impossible for me to be self-compassionate. I can’t do it. It takes forever for me to get it right.”
“This self-compassion is just not for me.”

Instead of introducing self-compassion as a long-term practice or philosophy, I hope to bring in a few practical tips for everyone to consider adding self-compassion to the own toolkit to build a happier and more confident life.

In short, self-compassion is an empowering work for us to foster positive qualities of kindness, calmness, empathy, etc. It allows us to overcome challenges in our daily lives, particularly emotional difficulties and mental health. It builds our psychological resilience and competence to lead a happier life.

However, Self-compassion is much more than just being positive. Rather it takes a radical approach for us to accept and embrace negativity in life, particularly adversity, inadequacy and failure. With acceptance we learn to be kind to ourselves, to validate our ‘imperfect humanness’, to be open to reconnect with our strengths, and eventually be motivated to change. Put the explanation into a simple phrase, self-compassion equips us to be ready to engage with our pain and suffering.

In an article – Silence your inner critic: a guide to self-compassion in the toughest times, Elle Hunt has shared about the power of self-compassion. I extract her themes and elaborate in the below 11 tips on how we could develop self-compassion.

Tip 1: Give time to ask ourselves questions

When we are suffering, at times we know the way to the solution but we are not able to recover immediately. It is because time is needed for healing to take place. In this time, bring curiosity into the space.

‘What is this (situation) about?’
‘Why do I feel this?’
‘What do I need right now?’

Tip 2: Accept your ‘tricky’ brain

We do a lot of critical talk. We blame ourselves. We feel unworthy. This is what we do as a human being. It is ok we feel negative and low, but instead of rejecting our negative feelings, we accept our negativity, and the fact that we are imperfect. Each time the negative thought pops up, notice it and tell ourselves, this is how we are feeling now.

Tip 3: Tune in to your thoughts

Once we start to notice our negative thoughts, we begin to realize we often like to avoid or suppress our negativity. No one likes to be uncomfortable. This is why we avoid negativity.

Notice our negativity allows us to gently admit to ourselves we do struggle with the painful reality of the situation. We begin more aware of the impact of the surrounding, how it has made us feel angry, humiliated, stressed, anxious, exhausted, etc. It helps us recognize how our reaction to the situations, sometimes the uncontrollable reactions are not our fault only.

Many people who notice their negativity describe this practice as being the outsider of the self – “It is as if I start to step outside my body and observe what I do and how I feel. I start to see me in a different perspective. It’s less personal. At least I do not feel uncontrollable and stuck.”

Tip 4: Support your mind with your body

The founder of compassion focused therapy, Professor Paul Gilbert recommended “grounding work” to help us engage with self-compassion state. An example is soothing rhythm breathing which helps alleviate stress and anxiety through its effect on the autonomic nervous system.
Practice: With your shoulders, back and chest open, slow and deepen the breath to about five breaths a minute.
Maintain the smoothness of breath: Count consistently 4-6 seconds in and out.
(More resources: Compassionate Mind Foundation’s website and The Calm and Headspace apps with guided meditations for compassion)

Tip 5: Step outside yourself

Like I said above, many people notice them being the outsider of themselves. This is a helpful way for us to address the complexities or even contradictions going through our minds. A huge difficulty for us to work on our thoughts is that we have million things on our mind and we don’t understand how they can all stay within our minds. Self-compassion allows us to notice them and accept they all stay on our minds.

This helps us to look at our complex mind and conflicting thoughts in a different way. We learn not to judge, just notice it. This is often where healing and growth come in. And what we do is allow our mind to be ready for them to occur. This is often when learning takes place – we become our biggest mentor.

Tip 6: Treat yourself as you would a friend

Whether it is out of genuineness or courtesy, it always appear much easier for us to compliment the others than to ourselves. However, if we learn to see ourselves as an outsider/outside observer, we learn to speak to ourselves like we speak to our friends.

Bring praises and empowering words to us like how we do to our friends. Imagine saying words which validate, acknowledge and reassure our friends, families and colleagues. They bring powerfully joy and emotional moments to them.
Imagine if someone does it to us. We will feel the same.
Our journey here is to say them to ourselves.

We do can bring validation, acknowledgement and reassurance to ourselves.
We can empower ourselves.

Tip 7: Be mindful of your tone

It does take a little practice for us to find the way to speak kindly and compassionately to ourselves.
It is ok to get some support to get the practice right.
Sometimes we do need a bit of reminder that we do not necessarily say the kind words – we may still include defeating words such as ‘just ok’ or ‘could have been worse’; or others notice we may not be smiling or facially emotionless when talking.

Tip 8: Turn up another voice

As you continue to practice the previous tips, you will start to recognize a new voice emerging in you – a positive and hopeful one in contrast with your inner critic. After letting ourselves to spend time with our negative dialogue, our mind also naturally cultivate our positive response.

The key here is that we have creative this reflective space, such that the positive protective voice in us could grow.

Tip 9: Foster the flows of compassion

Once we give us time to look at ourselves, we start to build the capacity to expand the connection with the others. In fact, many of our problems are related to relationships with the others.

Building self-compassion is about giving space and foundation of strength and resilience to ourselves, before we navigate through the external world and different people. We connect better with others and even attract more like-minded people who become our support too.

Tip 10: Acknowledge the forces against you

This tip here extends the meaning of tip 2: accept the tricky brain. When we radically accept the negativity in us, we also accept the reality and external factors which have posed different influences onto us. In a lot of times we react not because we want to, but it appears our own choice to the situations. We are all puppets to institutional orchestration.

Noticing and observing the external forces allow us to acknowledge and take an empowering angle into seeing the fact that ‘the problem is not my fault’.

Tip 11: Embrace the practice

Self-compassion does take time in practice. Like what I have shared on my website about therapy and coaching which is a mental workout, we need time and practice in order for change or result to occur.

In many of my therapy practices, I walked with clients to connect with their compassionate side, and I have always feel blessed as I witnessed their growth. Here I invite you to take a little time out to bring self-compassion into your life.

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