Picture sitting opposite a client, who is getting more agitated by the minute, and exclaiming that therapy is “not working”. Or pushing a cart down the supermarket aisle as your toddler has a screaming meltdown because chocolate is not on your shopping list. Or being distracted by emails whilst the dinner burns to a crisp in the oven. In your head comes a familiar foe, your critical voice, “You’re an idiot! Look what you’ve done now! You’ve ruined it all!”
We are sometimes our own worst enemy – berating ourselves in a way that we would never dream of communicating with anyone else. This inevitably leads to us feeling worse. Instead of judging and criticising ourselves when confronted with our own mistakes, failures, or shortcomings, self-compassion means to be kind and understanding to ourselves. We are after all only human, who ever said we were supposed to be perfect?
Research indicates that self-compassionate people experience:
- Greater motivation and self-responsibility
- Improved mental-wellbeing
- Increased happiness and life satisfaction
- Healthier lifestyle behaviours
- Better interpersonal relationships
- More effective coping with difficult life experiences
A simple way to practice self-compassion is by giving yourself supportive touch. Physical touch activates the parasympathetic nervous system, releases oxytocin, soothes distressing emotions, and helps us calm down and feel safe. When you notice you’re stressed, take three deep breaths, and give yourself supportive touch. Some ways to do this are by placing your hand over your heart or on your cheek, cradling your face in your hands, softly stroking your arms, crossing your arms and giving a gentle squeeze, or cupping one hand in the other in your lap (this subtle one can be helpful in difficult sessions with clients!). Notice the gentle pressure and warmth on your skin. Linger with this feeling of physically comforting yourself, when needed.
For more information on self-compassion practice and research findings, please visit: https://self-compassion.org/
Dr Siew Soon Peng
PhD in Clinical Psychology
MSPS, Registered Psychologist