Uniting Mindfulness and Self-Compassion for Personal Growth
Written by: Krystle Pierre, MSc
Most people can identify that little voice inside their head that speaks to them throughout the day. All too often the content is filled with doubt, shame and criticism: “I’m not good enough,” “I'm lazy,” or “I should be doing more.” Many of these phrases originate from words we heard in the past or fears about the future. For some, these thought patterns may be a way to push through challenges; however, research suggests that self-criticism does more harm than good. In fact, self-criticism has been shown to shift brain activity towards a state of self-punishment that can result in an individual disengaging from their goals. What is the alternative? Building a more nurturing and encouraging tone of voice within ourselves, known as self-compassion, can help build support and foster more encouragement to achieve goals and overcome daily challenges. Self-compassion invites us to speak to ourselves the same way would to a friend, particularly when they are moving through a difficult time.
To begin the process of shifting these thoughts, we start with mindfulness. This is a word that has been buzzing all through society today – lauded for its amazing benefits. But what is mindfulness and how can it help to overcome this self-critical voice? Simply put, mindfulness is paying attention to the moment-by-moment experiences of our whole selves – mind, body, sensations and environment. Mindfulness encourages us to become deeply aware of the present moment rather than being pulled into the past or pushed in the future. By enhancing our awareness of the present moment, we are more equipped to tune into our internal dialogue and challenge this content in a more meaningful way. Studies have shown when you begin to train your brain to be mindful, you create structural changes.
When we truly embrace mindfulness, we have control over our uncontrollable thoughts by choosing which thoughts to entertain and which ones to let pass like a floating cloud in the sky. Here’s the tricky part - our thoughts and emotions will do what they please. There is no way to control their power however, we can choose how we will allow them to impact us and hook us in the moment. Through mindfulness we can catch the thoughts that are not serving us in a meaningful way, notice our thoughts and reactions in the moment from a non-judgemental stance and begin to challenge those thoughts by asking questions like “is this true, it this helpful, is my mind just wondering...?” You can even lay down the law with your wondering mind when it is having a tug of war with your past and future oriented thoughts and simply say “I don’t have time for this!” Once we make a conscious choice of which thoughts to entertain, then we can begin to introduce more compassionate statements.
By uniting self-compassion and mindfulness, we are invited to listen to our critical voice in a non-judgemental manner and allow our compassionate voice to serve as a wise, supportive or encouraging friend that encourages us to step back and shift our perception of the situation into a more balanced way. When we develop a compassionate voice, we can balance fears, shame and criticism with joy, calm and confidence.
Let’s try a simple self-compassion exercise, developed by Dr. Kristin Neff, that incorporates mindfulness to help overcome challenging moments.
Think of a situation in your life that is difficult, that is causing you stress. Call the situation to mind and see if you can feel the stress and emotional discomfort in your body.
Now, say to yourself:
1. This is a moment of suffering.
That’s mindfulness. Other options include:
· This hurts.
· This is stress.
2. Suffering is a part of life.
That’s common humanity. Other options include:
· Other people feel this way.
· I’m not alone.
· We all struggle in our lives.
Now, put your hands over your heart, feel the warmth of your hands and the gentle touch of your hands on your chest. Or adopt the soothing touch you discovered felt right for you.
Say to yourself:
3. May I be kind to myself.
You can also ask yourself, “What do I need to hear right now to express kindness to myself?” Is there a phrase that speaks to you in your particular situation, such as:
· May I give myself the compassion that I need
· May I learn to accept myself as I am
· May I forgive myself
· May I be strong.
· May I be patient
If you are having trouble finding the right language, sometimes it helps to imagine what you might say to a dear friend struggling with the same difficulty. Can you say something similar to yourself, letting the words roll gently though your mind?
This practice can be used any time of day or night and will help you remember to show the same compassion to yourself as you would to others.
If you would like to learn more about self-compassion or how to begin to practice mindfulness to improve your everyday life, please feel free to contact the clinic to book an appointment with our psychotherapist, Krystle Pierre.