Most of us are way too hard on ourselves. If you’re anything like me, the focus when you were a child was to be kind and compassionate to others, usually with no (or very little) mention of being kind and compassionate to ourselves. The saying goes, treat others like you would like to be treated, any yet the majority of us have a self-talk that is WAY more harsh than anything we would ever possibly say to anyone else. So really, most of us need to increase our self-compassion (and if you don’t like that word – I know many people find it off-putting – then think about it as extending kindness to yourself).
People with chronic pain and chronic illness actually need to do this even more than the general population. There has been evidence showing that self-compassion actually can lessen pain and other symptoms. Self-compassion in itself may even be as powerful an intervention as psychological therapy. The research continues to grow in this area, and though Kristin Neff is the world-renowned leading researcher (I highly suggest you check out her website: https://self-compassion.org), there are many others doing research specifically in the area of self-compassion and chronic pain.
Feeling skeptical? That’s pretty normal. But hey, you have tried a million other ways to deal with your pain (distraction, avoidance, opting out, thinking your way out, substances, or maybe tons of therapies) and maybe none of it’s worked, or some of it has, or it’s not enough. So, why not give this a try too? At the very least, it’s not going to make any difference. There does seem to be a good chance that it will though. You might be wondering how to even get started. I know I did when I first began engaging in self-compassion regularly, and on purpose. So, I’ve put together 7 ways you can increase your self-compassion.
- Physical touch: This can be anything from massaging yourself to the simple (and my favourite) offering yourself a kind hand. Imagine your hand is filled with kindness and place it on the part of your body where you feel the most physical or emotional pain. Let it rest there as if you are holding a whimpering puppy, a crying baby, or the hand of a loved one. Leave it there for as long as you’d like.
- Say something to yourself you would say to a good friend. I already mentioned that we tend to talk to our loved ones much kinder than we talk to ourselves. Think about what you would say to a loved one who was feeling what you’re feeling, and say it to yourself.
- Express gratitude. It can be difficult to find things to be grateful for and we often think these need to be big. Really, these can be anything – grateful for your breath, for getting up in the morning, the sunshine, your resilience, your gratitude practice (I’ve used that one before). Many people find it helpful to write down 3-5 gratitude’s’ in a journal everyday, but even just saying 3-5 gratitude’s’ to yourself daily can increase self-compassion (and happiness as the research shows).
- Be generous. To others and to yourself. Maybe you get 15 extra minutes today to sleep in, or you hold the door open for a stranger. Acts of generosity can boost our well-being, and when we do it intentionally and also for ourselves, we are showing self-compassion.
- Practice Forgiveness & Acceptance: When we can forgive ourselves for our past mistakes we are being kind to ourselves. When we accept ourselves as we are in this moment, we are also being kind to ourselves. Acceptance isn’t about liking every single thing we’ve done (or even wanting to change certain things), it’s about acknowledging this how things are at the moment, and letting them be (including physical sensations like pain, and our emotions).
- Mindfulness. Mindfulness doesn’t have to be meditations (just to be clear). In this case I am going to recommend a certain type of meditation called Lovingkindness. It is a meditation that purposely helps us to extend kindness towards ourselves and to others. You can find a guided version here:
- Do things you enjoy. Engage in meaningful, fun, values-based activities. Even if you can’t do all the things you used to be able to, find the things that you can, and then do them! This is a powerful way to be self-compassionate while engaging in life in ways that will likely make it better.
There are many other ways to be kind to yourself. The first step is always noticing when you’re not. Once you’ve noticed, you can make the choice to take a step toward self-compassion. With enough practice, you may just see changes in your physical and emotional pain.