Dr. Susanna La
Small Steps Towards a More Compassionate Self
Updated: Mar 10
In a previous blog about self-compassion (you can read more by clicking here), we defined self-compassion and provided examples of self-compassion exercises. The co-founders of Blooming Wellness Psychotherapy, Inc. had a fruitful discussion about how implementing self-compassion can feel foreign and challenging for many people - including us!
The term, self-compassion, itself can elicit strong reactions like discomfort or rejection, especially if we never learned to treat ourselves kindly. Self-compassion also can be difficult for those of us who are helpers, givers, and nurturers. For example, those in helping professions, parents, and/or empaths/highly sensitive people (you can read more here and here).
Today’s blog will focus on small steps we can all take to ease into more self-compassionate practices. In life, we will continually face hardships, setbacks, stress, loss, sadness, anxiety, and all types of pain. In situations where we cannot directly control or change our circumstances, we can cope by acknowledging our pain with validation and acceptance. In other words, we can shift from an external to internal focus while giving ourselves more kindness.
The suggestions below are examples of self-compassion that come from Acceptance Commitment Therapy (ACT; Harris, 2015):
You may have heard of this quote before: “Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.” One of the foundational steps of self-compassion is simply noticing our pain in the moment. Pain can be a combination of our emotions, thoughts, memories, sensations, and more; our instinct may be to distract or ignore the pain. By noticing our pain, we reduce our suffering. You can say to yourself, “I am noticing anger, fear, and grief right now.”
Defusion From Judgmental Thoughts
Defusion is the ability to separate ourselves from our thoughts. Throughout the day, we have thousands of thoughts a day. Some of these thoughts can be critical and untrue. Because thoughts can replay in our mind, we can believe our thoughts when we hear “you’re not good enough.” While we cannot stop our thoughts, we can notice and externalize them. For example, we can think of our thoughts as an unwanted visitor that comes and goes in their own time. We can notice they’re there without getting caught up in the content.
This video is a great explanation of how to practice thought defusion: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VYht-guymF4
One of the things we learn as children is to be kind to others. Interestingly, treating ourselves with kindness is not something we are usually taught or modeled (e.g., how our parents relate to themselves). The two previous examples of acknowledging pain and defusing from judgmental thoughts are acts of kindness. Some more examples of kindness include reframing our self-talk, e.g., “I’m human, I make mistakes,” self-care (you can read more here), and self-soothing by engaging in activities that calm us (e.g., smelling a candle, listening to relaxing music).
Take a moment to consider, what has been your experience of invalidation? Have you gone through a painful experience and had someone/yourself dismiss your feelings, belittle you, and/or tell you shouldn’t feel that way? Now consider the opposite, what did you need to feel validated? More often than not, we “should” ourselves. “I should be this or that... I shouldn’t feel or think this way.” Experiencing pain in all its forms is part of being human. Instead, we can say, “It’s ok I feel this way” and/or “It makes sense I am reacting this way.”
In the midst of our suffering, we can feel alone and isolate ourselves. Spending time with people, who genuinely care about us and offer us kindness can be the reminder we need. Sharing our pain can allow us to feel heard and supported. We also can be reminded that someone else going through our situation can have a similar reaction.
It may be more helpful to "date" the concept of self-compassion rather than fully committing to it all at once. A formal meditation may be overwhelming and not sit well if this practice is not how you normally relate to yourself. Self-compassion for you may be treating yourself in a more neutral way or simply being aware of your internal experiences first. Feel free to modify and adapt these elements to work for you.
If you are interested in taking steps towards more self-compassion, you can reach out to us by clicking here.
Stay tuned. Our next topic is “Depression… What Can I Do About It?.”
Harris, R. (2015). How to Develop Self-Compassion.
Written by Susanna La, Ph.D.
Edited by Elena Duong, Psy.D.