The Gift of Self-Compassion By Sam Aspinall – Transformative Coach
When we think of compassion, we tend to think of kindness to others, understanding and empathy for their situation, care and concern for their feelings and so on. Likewise, we hope for compassion from others when we are in a difficult situation or experiencing tough times. But what about exercising compassion for ourselves? Does this come as naturally as compassion for others? Do we deserve to feel compassion for ourselves? If not, why not?
For many people, the idea of being compassionate towards themselves is unfamiliar and a little strange. Many of us are far more used to judging ourselves harshly, criticising ourselves without restraint or ruminating at length on our faults and flaws. Research has shown that this kind of negativity, unchecked, can lead to depression and anxiety about the future.
It may be that we grew up with critical parents and have internalised our parents’ high standards or even specific words and phrases; we may have unconsciously adopted the idea that we are inherently unlovable as we are and so strive to be perfect. It may be that our brains have a strong, in-built negativity bias, or perhaps that we have made a conscious choice to measure ourselves against an inflexible and rather unforgiving set of standards.
Whatever the reasons for our intolerance and sometimes downright cruelty towards ourselves, how might things be different if we chose to treat ourselves with compassion? What might be the benefits of approaching ourselves with understanding, kindness and care?
In my work as a transformative coach, I use a playful exercise based on a technique known as perceptual positions, to counterbalance our inner critic and practice self-compassion. You might like to give it a try…
Imagine that you are standing in a court of law and that you are on trial for [insert your favourite character flaw or other imperfections here.] The prosecution stands to one side, the defence to the other, while the judge and jury wait quietly in the middle. First we hear from the prosecution: they argue clearly and articulately; they present well rehearsed arguments with detailed examples that may go back some way in time; they are confident in the strength and validity of their case.
Next, look around for the defence team. Have they even shown up to court? If they have, can you hear them? What are they saying? Have they made the effort to gather evidence and formulate the arguments to support their case? Are they equally articulate and persuasive in their delivery? If not, then we need to work on strengthening the defence until we are confident that it can present a credible alternative to the prosecution’s view of events.
Lastly, imagine you are sitting on the bench with the judge and jury, observing from an independent, objective standpoint; what do you make of both sides of the argument? Is the case clear cut?
This exercise can reveal just how much thought and energy we put into the prosecution’s case, and how little we put into our own defence. Since we can and do play all three roles in the case, it shows what investment may be needed in self-compassion, along with the need for objectivity and a sense of perspective.
Our aim is to understand and be tolerant of our thoughts and feelings, recognising that they are all part of the human condition. The best part of all is that you don’t need to wait for anyone else or any specific conditions to be present: self-compassion is a gift you can give yourself quietly, privately, all day long or whenever you feel the need.
To learn more about self-compassion, what it can do for you and how to go about it, I recommend Kristen Neff’s excellent book: “Self-compassion.”
Sam offers transformative coaching sessions at her own private space in Flackwell Heath or by phone or Skype if preferred. For more information, click on www.seedwellness.co.uk/coachingsam