We are often our harshest critics. Human brains are wired this way, to focus on what is wrong. It’s a survival technique. In order to live we need to solve our problems and move forward. However, as most of us know, this can get way out of hand and morph into unhelpful negative self talk that can increase both depression and anxiety. These thoughts come from a place that tries to help us but it can instead bring us down. Mindfulness can increase our awareness of negative self talk and then we can work toward building more self-compassion.
Self-compassion can be defined (by Kristen Neff, a leading self-compassion researcher) as “being open to and moved by one’s own suffering, experiencing feelings of caring and kindness toward oneself, taking an understanding, non-judgmental attitude toward one’s inadequacies and failures, and recognizing that one’s experience is part of the common human experience.” Basically it turning outward compassion, inward.
A big first step into building self-compassion is to practice loving-kindness. Loving kindness is the ability to take a loving, caring stance toward yourself even when (or especially when) you are down and feeling emotional pain. One way to do this is to think of someone who showed kindness toward you. This could be a friend, a parent, a spiritual figure, a fictional character, or even an animal. Just any presence or being that you have felt love and kindness from. Think of this person (or character or animal) and every day try to say something kind back to them (such as “may you be healthy”, “may you be happy”, or “may you know peace.”). Try to say this to yourself at the same time everyday for a few days and write it down if you like.
After doing this for a few days, next try to do the same toward strangers. Say in your head or write down well wishes and kindness phrases toward strangers. It could be people you see during your commute, the check out clerk, or a server at dinner. The important thing is to practice wishing kindness toward people you do not know. They are, after all, living humans going through their own ups and downs in life. The next step is to then start practicing saying kind things toward yourself. This can be the hardest part as we’ve already discussed but once you’ve been practicing the other steps it, can become easier.
This exercise can help you start seeing yourself as a human that is part of a larger experience. You are just as deserving of loving kindness as the person who gave it to you. This means that you are just as deserving of loving kindness as the random stranger who served you your coffee. Basically, we are all in this together including you. We all have struggles but we can all also lift each other up. And most importantly we can lift ourselves up. Reach out today if you need help working through this.