Psychologist Carl Rogers, founder of person-centered therapy, wrote: “The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change.” Rogers was a humanistic psychologist who believed in each individual’s inherent goodness and innate desire to grow and flourish. According to Rogers, we thrive in an environment of genuineness, acceptance, and empathy. I approach my work as a therapist with a Rogerian heart, greeting and holding each client with unconditional positive regard.
What would it be like to approach oneself with this same attitude of acceptance and loving-kindness? With mindful self-compassion?
For many of us, it’s easy to slip into a pattern of negative self-talk. Sometimes, this negative chatter becomes so automatic, it runs loose and eventually becomes the familiar soundtrack of our everyday lives. We might come to realize we have automatic thoughts looping in our heads.: “I can’t believe I said that!” “What is wrong with me?” “Ugggg! That was so stupid!” “Idiot!”
Sound all too familiar?
Most of us have these types of thoughts from time to time. They are fleeting thoughts that come and go. However, when these negative thoughts become louder and more oppressive, one’s sense of self-worth can quickly deteriorate, impacting our relationships and quality of life. Left unchecked, these repetitive thoughts can leave us feeling as though we are deeply flawed, broken, or somehow “not enough.” This leads to a sense of isolation and not belonging.
There are many excellent evidence-based treatment interventions targeting this type of distorted thinking, the most popular being CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy). I have found CBT to be highly effective as a treatment tool as it is fairly simple, easy to grasp, and can be put into practice immediately.
Another very powerful tool is the practice of self-compassion. Self-compassion is probably my favorite topic these days, as I think it strikes at the heart of much of our human suffering. Dr. Kristin Neff is a pioneer in self-compassion research and its efficacy; publishing her studies and teaching courses in mindful self-compassion. She identifies the three basic elements of self-compassion as: self-kindness vs. self-judgment, common humanity vs. isolation, and mindfulness vs. over-identification.
What is self-compassion?
“With self-compassion we mindfully accept that the moment is painful, and embrace ourselves with kindness and care in response, remembering that imperfection is part of the shared human experience. This allows us to hold ourselves in love and connection, giving ourselves the support and comfort needed to bear the pain, while providing the optimal conditions for growth and transformation,” writes Dr. Neff.
Self-compassion involves active awareness of one’s own suffering and responding to oneself with care and kindness. Imagine how you might respond to a friend who is experiencing hardship or distress and apply that same warmth and care to yourself. This notion of self-compassion might evoke feelings of discomfort or a sense of laziness. For some of us it runs counter to our habitual tendency to bully or shame ourselves into action. If self-compassion feels self-indulgent or like you’re somehow letting yourself off the hook, you’re not alone. It may take some time to adjust to this type of kinder, gentler self-talk.
How to begin a self-compassion practice?
Practice nourishing self-talk. (“This is hard right now”, “It’s ok to feel sad”)
Respond to yourself as you’d respond to a close friend.
Ask yourself, “What do I need right now?”
Forgive yourself for not being perfect.
Give yourself space and permission to slow down and rest.
Create and use a self-compassion mantra. (‘I am enough’, ‘I am worthy of love’, ‘I belong’)
Practice gentle awareness of where you might feel comforted physically. Hands over your heart? Hands softly resting on your belly?
Weaving these habits into your awareness takes time, patience, and practice. I’m curious how simply lifting this notion of extending kindness and care to yourself in moments of hurt will gradually shift your sense of belonging, connection, and acceptance towards your present moment experiences.
For more resources including guided meditations and journal exercises, see Dr. Neff’s website at https://self-compassion.org/category/exercises/#exercises.
Dr. Neff’s Ted Talk on self-compassion: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IvtZBUSplr4