Talk to Yourself Like You Would a Good Friend
As members of the human race, we instinctively extend compassion to a friend who is struggling or facing a challenge; we reach out with kindness - offering encouragement and comfort. We listen non-judgmentally and empathize as a friend wrestles with their shortcomings of difficult situations. The connection and space that compassion creates offers those suffering a place to find relief from physical and emotional suffering, a safe place to explore their human imperfections and hope for the future.
It often feels natural and easy to extend compassion to others, yet we struggle to extend the same loving-kindness to ourselves. Have you ever listened to the dialogue in your head when you are struggling? Sometimes we are our own worst critic. We respond to our emotional struggles and personal mistakes harshly:
“What’s wrong with me?”
“I can’t believe I did that again!”
That’s because our ‘instinctive’ brains are hardwired to scan for what is ‘wrong’ with us; weakness and vulnerability are flagged as liabilities and rejected. As natural as it feels to extend compassion to others, it feels equally natural to criticize and reject our own shortcomings and pain. In rejecting ourselves, we become fragmented - we push away our own self, deepen our pain and make growth difficult.
Self-compassion is extending the same kindness we extend to others in their brokenness to ourself in our own hardships and human imperfection. I hear the common argument, “But if I accept myself as I am, things will never change!” Contrary to our popular misconceptions, research has shown meaningful benefits of self-compassion such as adhering to a diet (Adams & Leary, 2007) and smoking cessation (Kelly et al., 2009). It has even been associated with higher levels of happiness (Hollis-Walker & Colosimo, 2011), optimism (Neff & Vonk, 2009) and life satisfaction (Neff, 2003); and lower levels of depression, anxiety, and stress (MacBeth & Gumley, 2012)
Thankfully, self-compassion is a skill we can learn and practice. Start by becoming aware of your inner dialogue. Observe your thoughts and reactions without judgement. Then, try talking to yourself like you would a good friend:
“This is really hard and I’m doing the best I can”
“I’m really hurting right now. I’m going to give myself some time and extra care.”
At Wildflower Center for Counseling, we strive to create a place of compassion. We are a space where you can safely explore your thoughts, feelings and actions from a place of acceptance, as you learn to love and accept yourself - to offer yourself compassion - on your path to becoming your truest self.
Adams, C. E., & Leary, M. R. (2007). Promoting self-compassionate attitudes toward eating among restrictive and guilty eaters. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 26, 1120-1144
Hollis-Walker L, Colosimo K. Mindfulness, self-compassion, and happiness in non-meditators: A theoretical and empirical examination. Personality and Individual Differences. 2011;50:222–227
Kelly, A. C., Zuroff, D. C., Foa, C. L., & Gilbert, P. (2009). Who benefits from training in self-compassionate self-regulation? A study of smoking reduction. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 29, 727-755.
MacBeth A, Gumley A. Exploring compassion: A meta-analysis of the association between self-compassion and psychopathology. Clinical Psychology Review. 2012;32:545–552.
Neff KD. The development and validation of a scale to measure self-compassion. Self and Identity. 2003b;2:223–250.
Neff KD, Vonk R. Self-compassion versus global self-esteem: Two different ways of relating to oneself. Journal of Personality. 2009;77:23–50.