Imagine you are engaged in a deep conversation with a beloved friend who is suffering. They confide in you that they are feeling anxious and paralyzed by the pressure they are experiencing at work to deliver a huge project on time and on budget. And imagine yourself responding to them in this way:
“Well your fear and anxiety make perfect sense, because you are generally pretty lazy and stupid and I’m surprised you haven’t been fired yet!”.
Ouch! Right now, you might be having a strong reaction to this example, and may be reassuring yourself that you would NEVER say something like this to a friend or anyone else. We DO, however, speak to ourselves in this way all the time.
Negative feedback and harsh criticism have traditionally been seen as a path to behavior change. No pain, no gain, right? However, current research reveals that this isn’t the case at all and in fact, negative words delivered by a harsh inner critic actually activates our fight or flight mechanisms in the same way that being yelled at by a stranger would. The research also tells us that being kind and encouraging to ourselves is far more motivating and that cultivating more friendliness and compassion toward ourselves actually leads us to be more compassionate with others.
Being self-compassionate helps us soothe and regulate our nervous systems and tend to ourselves.
In their recent book, “The Mindful Self-Compassion Workbook: A Proven Way to Accept Yourself, Build Inner Strength and Thrive”, self-compassion researchers Kristin Neff and Christopher Germer teach that “Self-compassion is a practice in which we learn to be a good friend to ourselves when we need it most – to become an inner ally rather than an inner enemy”. To befriend ourselves, they explain, we want to embrace these core practices:
- Self-compassion begins with having an awareness of our internal experience and inner dialogue which requires mindfulness. Mindfulness means being aware of the present moment without judgement and bringing an attitude of curiosity, acceptance and friendliness to our experience in any given moment. In other words, we need to be aware of that inner critic before we begin to shift it.
- The second component of self-compassion is our willingness to see our common humanity. This means acknowledging that we are human and share this messy human experience with many other humans, billions to be exact. Self-compassion recognizes that we are not the only ones experiencing hardship or struggling with perceived flaws.
- And finally, self-compassion means intentionally developing an ability to offer ourselves the same tender care and understanding that we would to a dear friend, a child or a sweet fur baby. Neff and Germer add that “When we are in a state of loving, connected presence, our relationship to ourselves, others and the world is transformed”.
Practicing self-compassion is a way of relating differently with our inner critic and transferring that sense of safety from the critic to the inner ally… and partnering with that ally to be kinder to ourselves.
And, bonus, doing so radiates friendliness to others.
So… just how do I do that, you ask? Author, meditation instructor and psychologist Tara Brach, in the most recent issue of Mindful Magazine, outlined the process she calls RAIN, as a path toward building greater self-compassion.
The “R” in RAIN stands for recognizing what’s happening right now. We might be experiencing a moment of blaming or judging ourselves or distorted black and white thinking or we may be noticing we are stuck ruminating over something that happened recently. Recognizing that the inner critic is at work is the first step. The “A” stands for allowing whatever we’re experiencing to be just as it is and making space for it. When we are able to notice that what is being experienced is a moment of suffering, we have the opportunity to acknowledge it to ourselves by saying something like, “this is hard for me right now” or whatever words feel comforting. This is how we can begin to weave in kindness for ourselves. The “I” means to investigate what you’re experiencing with a gentle attention, noticing, for example, what we may be feeling in the body. This gives us a chance to remind ourselves that suffering is a part of life. We might say to ourselves “This is normal. Lots of people feel this way too in this situation, this is a part of being human”. And finally, the “N” in RAIN stands for nurture. We want to nurture and care for what we are experiencing with kindness and compassion. It’s important to spend time finding some soothing words or phrases to call upon when in the nurture stage. Something like, “It’s ok. It’s going to be ok. I’m here for you.” Make self-compassion and RAIN the focus of your Valentine’s Day this year. ♥
Brach, T. (2020, February). Let your love rain down on you. Mindful, 45-49.
Neff, K., & Germer, C. K. (2018). The mindful self-compassion workbook: A proven way to accept yourself, build inner strength, and thrive. New York, NY: Guilford Press
Michelle is a mother, a partner, a friend, a spiritual seeker, a psychotherapist and someone who is learning to offer to herself more kindness and loving attention. She has a BA in Communications and Humanities from the University of Colorado and an MA in Clinical Mental Health Counseling with a concentration in Mindfulness-based Transpersonal Psychology from Naropa University. Michelle’s practice, Soul Care Counseling, offers mindfulness-based practices that support clients seeking to become less anxious, less stressed, less reactive and more grounded, present and connected with their own inner ally. As a result of their work together, clients are able to communicate with themselves and others with greater clarity, care and compassion. https://michellelaborde.com/