Understanding Self-Compassion

This week Orlando Counselor Cindy Fabico discusses the trance of unworthiness some fall into that leaves them feeling isolated and alone and how self-compassion can be a step in breaking the trance.

Cindy Fabico, MA
Licensed Mental Health Counselor
Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist

By now most of you have at least heard the phrase self-compassion, but what is it really?  In the field of psychotherapy self-compassion has become a powerful tool in helping clients to lean into the feelings that come into their lives that make them feel uncomfortable, to stop the struggle to “feel better”, and to learn more about what messages these feelings might have for them.  For many the idea of accepting negative or uncomfortable feelings is counter-intuitive and so the struggle continues. The goal is to learn to care for yourself as opposed to cure yourself, which is in itself the cure.

For many of you caring for others comes naturally.  We see another’s suffering and we naturally feel our heart begin to open.  When they reveal that their suffering is due to an action they took we offer acceptance and understanding, not judgment and criticism.  This is what compassion is, to be there for another person in an open, kind, caring manner.

Self-compassion then is learning how to care for yourself when you notice something you don’t like about yourself.  To be kind and understanding instead of harsh and critical.  Tara Brach, Ph.d., is a clinical psychologist, author, and renowned Buddhist meditation teacher who wrote a book called Radical Acceptance in which she discusses the “trance of unworthiness”.  She describes this as a vicious cycle that begins with a fear that we are truly defective and then living a life that is a cover-up for this fear.  The result is feeling separate from others, ourselves and life.

Dr. Kristin Neff, Ph.d. is widely recognized as the world’s leading expert on self compassion. Below is an excerpt from an article from Tiny Buddha that included her 3 main ways to develop compassion for yourself.

1. Be kind to yourself

The best way to think about being kind to yourself is to think about a friend.

Go ahead. Do it now. Visualize your best friend.

Now imagine she comes to you and says she is hurting because she was passed over for that promotion at work that she’s wanted for so long.

Would you say to her, “Well, it’s probably because you didn’t work hard enough. And you’re too mousy. You should have spoken up about wanting a promotion a long time ago.”

What? You wouldn’t say that to a friend? Would you say it to yourself?

It’s more likely that you would hug your friend and say, “Oh no! That’s terrible. I know how long you’ve been hoping to get that promotion. Come on, let’s go get some coffee and talk about it?”

You can be kind to yourself in this way, too. Treat yourself as you would treat a friend who is suffering.

Just as you would hug your friend, soothe yourself as well. Put your hands over your heart or locate the spot in your body where your hurt is hiding and gently place both hands there.

Speak kindly to yourself. Call yourself by an endearing name.

“Oh, honey. I’m hurting because I wanted that promotion so badly. This is a really hard place to be in right now.”

2. Embrace your common humanity

Many times when you criticize or judge yourself, you feel isolated. It seems as though you are the only one in the world who has that particular flaw.

And yet, we are all imperfect. We all suffer. And so we are all connected by our shared humanity.

One of the wonderful outcomes of self-compassion is our enhanced sense of belonging, the feeling that we are all in this together.

The next time you are looking in the mirror and not liking what you see, remember that you are an integral part of a flawed, wonderful, wounded, miraculous human tribe.

3. Be mindful

How will you know that you are suffering if you are repressing your pain, rationalizing it, or busy with problem-solving?

You must allow awareness of your pain to enter in. Being mindful is about noticing what is happening in the moment and having no judgment about it.

Notice your hurt and just be with it, compassionately and with kindness.

And note that trying to make pain go away with self-compassion is just another way to repress pain and hurt. Self-compassion is about being with your suffering in a kind, loving way, not about making suffering disappear.

We will always have pain. But as Shinzen Young has noted: Suffering = Pain x Resistance. The more you resist your pain, perhaps by trying to make it go away, the more suffering you will experience.

Mindfulness allows you to stay with the pain without the resistance.

If you think you might be struggling with some feelings of unworthiness and would like to learn how to be more compassionate with yourself the Orlando counselors and life coaches at Life Skills Resource Group in Windermere, Florida are able be your guides along the way, helping you step by step as you learn the new skills until ultimately you can walk and then run while we stand on the sidelines to cheer you on.  Please feel free to give our office a call today and we will guide you on this journey.  We can be reached at 407-355-7378 for a free phone consultation.