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Learning Self-Compassion

I used to think that compassion was a matter of allowing the heart to open (not that this is simple). But I’m beginning to learn that this practice of compassion — this practice of allowing the sense of connection in — takes letting go — moment by moment — of all that we identify with and cling to as “me” and “mine.” We must be willing to know nothing, to just be open and astonished by what is.

— Tracy Cochran


Each of us experiences challenges throughout our lives. So how can we manage the challenges before us, protect ourselves from mental exhaustion, and embrace that joy that life has to offer? Our mental resources like determination, self-worth and kindness are what make us resilient. Resilience helps us to cope with adversity and to push through challenges so that we are available to seize opportunities for growth. It helps us build on our inner strengths. The key is to know how to turn passing experiences into inner resources built into our brains. This is positive neuroplasticity to change the way you think.

Changing the Brain

The good news is that we can change our brains for the better. With neuroplasticity, our brain continues to remodel itself from the thoughts and experiences that we have. When you repeatedly stimulate the circuits of the brain you strengthen it. You can learn to become calmer and self-compassionate through repeated practice. Let’s discuss how we can strengthen our brains.

According to Rick Hanson, Ph.D. the author of the book Resilience: How to Grow an Unshakable Core of Calm, Strengths, and Happiness, we can develop mental resources in two stages. First, we need to identify what we want to grow. The second step is to convert the daily experiences you have into lasting changes in the nervous system. This may sound complicated, but it becomes quite intuitive as you practice some of the skills that Dr. Hanson suggests.

This by no means is a quick fix. To give you a way to think about brain functioning, consider this concept. We need to work our brains the same way we would build muscle with repeated sessions of weight training. With effort over time, you will begin to see results.

Compassion

Compassion is a sensitivity to suffering and a desire to help soothe the pain of others. Compassion is a psychological resource and inner strength that we can strengthen. We know how to care for and respect our friends when they are hurting. What we can learn is how to do the same for ourselves. Think about treating yourself the same way that you would treat a good friend. You would listen, be encouraging, kind, and show sympathy for their pain. Think about how that would feel if you practiced this for yourself. What would it feel like if you were less self-critical? The truth is being good to yourself is good for others. When you increase your own well-being, you can usually be more patient and caring with others.

Research by Kristin Neff has shown that self-compassion makes a person more resilient and able to bounce back. It lowers self-criticism and builds self-worth helping us to be more successful in our own lives.

Learning Self-Compassion

Self-compassion can be challenging for many of us. If we have experienced negative past experiences in childhood, we tend to internalize the way others have treated us. Here are some ways we can learn to be gentler with ourselves:

  • The next time you are feeling sad, take time in your day to sit in a quiet place without distractions. Think about a loved one that has cared for you through a time that you were experiencing emotional pain. Then think about someone in your life that is going through some type of illness or loss. Feel the warmhearted sympathy for that person. All your compassion flows through you. You might say to your loved one, “may your pain ease as you get through this time.” Place your hand over your heart to feel the compassion moving through your body. As you do that, think about yourself and the sadness you are experiencing. Next, say “May I not suffer. I know these feelings will pass. May I not worry so much.” Close your eyes and imagine the loving feelings soothing you through the hurt you are experiencing.
  • Accepting things as they are: As you sit in a quiet space, think about your hurt and sadness. Allow the feelings to move through you without pushing them away. Accept what you are feeling about yourself, take a few deep breaths and find acceptance with yourself as things are. Accepting what is inside of you gives you more influence over it, not less. 
  • The Three Treasures Practice. When you are feeling sad, unsafe, or unsettled, set aside 5 minutes to sit in a quiet place and visualize yourself with a heart that is open. Repeat these phrases for 5 minutes. 

May I now be filled with loving-kindness

May I now be safe and protected

May I now be resilient in mind and body

May I now live with ease and joy

(Think of someone who is suffering)

May you now be filled with loving-kindness

May you now be safe and protected

May you now be resilient in mind and body

May you now live with ease and joy

(The community/world)

May we now be filled with loving-kindness

May we now be safe and protected

May we now be resilient in mind and body

May we now live with ease and joy

  • Enjoy and appreciate the small things in your day that bring you joy. Before going to sleep, think about 3 things in your day you appreciated and are grateful for. As you practice this each day you can begin to change your thinking.
Victoria Roche, MSW, PCC

Victoria Roche, MSW, PCC

ADHD Coach and Life Coach, Executive Skills Coach