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Incorporating self-compassion to overcome our inner critic

“Be gentle with yourself, learn to love yourself, to forgive yourself, for only as we have the right attitude toward ourselves can we have the right attitude toward others.” - Wilferd Peterson

Since the day this post gets published is Valentine’s Day, I felt that a post all about self-compassion was incredibly fitting. Whether or not you have a romantic getaway planned, or date night at home with just yourself, some wine, and a box of pizza, self-compassion can be practiced by anyone on this day of love. I’ve actually written about self-compassion before, but it vanished when I transferred my blog to this new website--rather than be critical, I was compassionate with myself and decided to simply write it again. (Get it--I’m practicing self-compassion!)


In fact, self-compassion is something I’m once again incorporating into my life--soon after I discovered self-compassion, I lost the practice and slipped back into a fixed mindset. Over these past few months, I experienced a rise and fall of intense emotions and would sink into pits of unhappiness. I had no idea why this would happen, but I figured the best thing to do was to endure and allow it to pass. I would tap through it, make plans with friends, take myself on dates, and try all sorts of things to pull me back out of my funk and into a place of joy And while it worked, it was only temporary, and I continued to sink.


That was until I realized that nothing would change until I changed my thoughts. Overtime I began to notice a pattern: a negative thought would appear, and I would believe it, and therefore more negative thoughts arose, and I would believe them, too. It was like my subconscious was aggressively bullying me and I never stood up for myself, maybe because it was easier to slip into the dark rather than rise against it.


So, when I noticed this pattern, realized it was me all along that was doing this to myself, I decided to incorporate self-compassion into my life. In all honesty, I didn’t even realize it was self-compassion that I was incorporating until I looked into the practice. But, I have already noticed improvements in my mental health, resiliency, and overall happiness. While dips in emotions continue to occur, of course, they have decreased in frequency as well as intensity.


First thing’s first: What is self-compassion?


Self-compassion is the act of redirecting thoughts of self-criticism to kinder, more understanding thoughts. An example of this is when you indulge in a Zebra Cake and instantly regret it when the sugar bites at your tongue and a stomach ache soon approaches. It’s easy to be mad at yourself for giving in and devouring the cake instead of choosing a healthy snack or not snacking at all, but the truth is, the act is already done. You’ve already eaten the Zebra Cake, and there’s no way to undo it. So, instead of being critical, you can think to yourself, “Despite the cake not being the healthiest choice, I’m not mad at myself--I’m allowed to indulge now and again. I appreciate the fact that I went out of my way to give myself a sweet treat, and maybe next time I’ll try a different sweet treat, one that won’t give me a stomachache. (This example may or may not have been based on a true story… haha.) So basically, self-compassion is acknowledging your thoughts and feelings surrounding something, whether that be a regret, an anxiety, or an intense emotion, and releasing them in a kind and gentle way.


Another common example is when a friend approaches you after being dumped. You’re not going to respond in anger, irritation, or snap at them in a rude tone, are you? Instead, you may comfort them, tell them they are loved, valued, and appreciated, and they will find love again. So, why are you any different? Why do we continue to talk badly to ourselves when we talk kindly to others?


3 incredible benefits of self-compassion


1. Self-compassion builds resiliency


Going out of our way to think kindly to yourself is not always easy to do and in a way is like building mental muscle. Each time you reframe your thoughts, shifting them to kinder, gentler thoughts, your brain is working to dig different passageways in the brain. This way, overtime, positive, self-compassionate thoughts will arise first, rather than negative thoughts. This in turn builds resiliency due to the fact that your brain can, overtime, easily work through intense feelings and bad days all on its own. Practicing self-compassion teaches your brain to approach situations with love and kindness rather than fear and shame and swiftly overcome that inner critic when it dares to appear.


2. Self-compassion can increase life satisfaction and overall happiness


While focusing on what’s going wrong in each moment can, in many ways, help us work through things and learn from them, it can also dig us deeper into a negative spiral. As I mentioned earlier, I slipped into dark pits because I believed the negative thoughts my brain fed me and therefore I believed more, and more, and more, until I spiraled down into a heavy funk. So, by shifting away from the negative thoughts and choosing not to believe them can do the opposite effect by lifting us up, increasing our happiness cap and making life more enjoyable.


3. Self-compassion decreases stress


Being self-critical heightens the stress response by turning on the sympathetic nervous system and causing your body to go into a state of fear, protecting yourself from outside threats. On the other hand, self-compassion does the opposite effect by turning on the parasympathetic nervous system and soothing your stress response. Overtime, self-compassion teaches you that upsetting things don’t have to trigger you the way they once did, and that instead, we can separate ourselves from the emotion and move on calmly.

There are many more benefits of self-compassion, but these are just the three that I found the most intriguing and beneficial and simply had to share!


So, how can we practice self-compassion?


Like the Zebra Cake example mentioned above, we can work to notice our thoughts, then rework them into kinder, softer thoughts. When a negative thought appears, notice it, maybe even write it down, then turn it into a thought of self-compassion. So, “I’m so lonely and I have no friends” turns into “I may be alone, but I finally have time to catch up on my current read. I am loved by so many people in my life, even if I haven’t spoken to them today.” Overtime, the act of self-compassion will become easier and may eventually become the default way your brain thinks, as you are literally rewiring the way your mind processes triggers and intense emotions.


Another good way to do this is by practicing Gabrielle Bernstein’s Choose-Again Method, in which you catch or notice a negative thought, forgive yourself for feeling the thought, then re-word it. Do this each time this negative thought appears to, in time, rewrite it entirely.

In order to easily notice thoughts, as I know it’s not the easiest thing in the world to do we can practice mindfulness to clear the clutter of our mind and easily catch the negative thoughts floating by. We can also build more clarity of what’s real, and what’s just our past or future anxiety returning to mess with us. You can try practicing mindfulness by forming a daily meditation habit, practice yoga, or make some time for space and quiet each day.

I do hope you have a marvelous Valentine’s Day, whatever that entails, and I wish you the best of luck incorporating self-compassion into your daily life.


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Probably writing,

Brittney

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