Tag Archives: self acceptance

Self compassion takes self discipline

I say self compassion and many will think, at best it’s airy fairy, at worst it’s self indulgent or even hedonistic. But I just want to spend a few minutes putting this in perspective.

So, what is compassion?

People holding hands with caring and compassion

Firstly, you need to notice some suffering, you then need to feel moved, in some way, by this pain and thirdly, you need to feel some warmth or desire to change the situation. For most people it is fairly easy to feel compassion for someone else. For example, if you hear the plight of families in your local area who cannot afford food (step 1), if you’re moved by this (step 2) you may wish to help the situation, while doing your weekly shop, by donating some canned goods (step 3). Easy, isn’t it?!

Feeling compassion for ourselves can be a lot harder.

Most of us are incredibly quick to judge and criticise ourselves for falling short, for making mistakes and for our various inadequacies. But if we can be compassionate to fellow human beings, why do we raise the bar so high when it comes to judging ourselves? Self esteem is a fragile enough entity, why do we insist on making it so hard for ourselves?

It’s a common technique, when recovering from mental illness, to imagine how you would treat a friend in a similar situation. Some people struggle with this, if your self esteem is low enough, you’ll think you’re not good enough to be treated as a friend; but consider this, is what you’re doing, the way you speak to yourself, the way you treat yourself, at the moment, work? If not, you need to try something different.

To feel compassion and to care for ourselves may be at odds with our inner beliefs but it can have such wide ranging benefits it’s worth taking time to think about this.

Self compassion can be put as simply as feeling compassion for others: step 1 – be aware of your pain, step 2 – feel moved by the pain, step 3 – have a desire to change it. But it’s not that simple is it?!

Instead of judging ourselves we need to practice self-kindness. If you’re constantly beating yourself up for making mistakes, this only leads to a negative spiral of stress. If you’re doing your best and you fall short, it’s ok, being kind to ourselves take practice and discipline to replace habitual thought patterns.

We are all human, mortal, vulnerable and imperfect – we can find solace in sharing our humanness rather than feeling isolated in our suffering. Instead of believing we are failing and experiencing suffering as an individual, consider these experiences part of a shared human experience.

2 people looking at a figure on the ground. One person sees a 6, the other person sees a 9.

Remember, sometimes perspective is everything – if you’re a new mum or dad waist deep up nappies, you’ve not had a adult conversation for days, your baby’s got colic and you’re exhausted, it’s likely, you will feel you’re doing something wrong and you’re totally alone. If you pick up the phone and speak to a friend, how will they view the situation? They will think you’re doing an amazing job, your baby is alive aren’t they?!

In all seriousness, sharing experience puts it in perspective and helps us realise we’re all human, stumbling through life, what we perceive as our failings and imperfections are all part of the human condition.

Being mindful of our emotions allows us to experience our emotions in their fullness without suppression or exaggeration. We are able to do this when we’re able to view our emotions within our situation as a larger picture. Mindfulness allows us to view all emotions, (whether perceived as “positive” or “negative”) simply as they are, without judging them or trying to change them.

I do not believe there are negative emotions – all emotions simply serve the purpose of telling us more about a given situation (the negativity is only the judgment we place on the existence of the given emotion).

While identifying and being aware of our emotions, we will enable ourselves to avoid over-identifying and getting caught up in our emotions, thus avoiding negative reactivity.

Element of self compassion by Kristin Neff. Self kindness, recognising our common humanity, mindfulness.

This self-compassion sounds quite complicated, doesn’t it?! It’s certainly not some passive pleasure seeking, it’s an active choice that takes discipline, you decide if the benefits are worth it:

  • Improved self esteem
  • Increased sense of self worth
  • Reduce stress
  • Improved resilience

To start trying self kindness, catch your thoughts and turn them around, you don’t have to become your own cheerleader (unless you want to!) but be more gentle than harsh with yourself:

  • Replace “I’m useless” with “I’m doing my best”
  • Replace “I always mess up” with “it’s ok to make mistakes”
  • Replace “I can’t” with “I’ll try”
  • Instead of always saying “yes” to requests, consider what’s best for you and say “no” or “I’ll think about it” or “I could find time next week”

It’s going to take practice. Some people will find it helpful to write down their common harsh thoughts so that they can think of concrete replacement thoughts and seeing them in black and white can be eye opening.

“You got this” written in flouncy text

If you’re feeling overwhelmed with a situation and feeling isolated. Remember you are human, stumbling and being vulnerable is part of the human condition – talk to a friend, a problem shared really is a problem halved! But this, again, takes discipline, it’s so much easier to dwell in our self pity or not want to both anyone else but you deserve to feel better and you never know, the friend you phone may need you just as much as you need them!

Are you someone who tends to ignore your emotions or do you get carried away with them? Being mindful of emotions as they happen will aid a more balanced approach and will help prevent maladaptive coping mechanisms from kicking in. Emotions do not come with a health warning so being mindful of them, to catch them as your feeling them, to notice them, non-judgementally and allow them to just be, will take discipline and practice!

Self compassion isn’t airy-fairy-self-indulgence. You’re probably someone who finds it easier to feel compassion and care for other people. There are no simple answers but practice makes perfect and as you start to have compassion for yourself, you’ll have even more to give others!

Where do you belong?

As human we are designed to belong. Although, we default to ensuring our basic needs (food, water, warmth) are met – if we’re going to feel secure, feel valued and grow we need to belong. If we do not belong we fell empty, unhappy and in pain.
For most of us, we’ll feel we belong to a family. This may be just a couple of people, it does not have to be the conventional 2.4 kids type family, its members may be step, half or adopted, it doesn’t really matter. If your family is where you belong, they will be people you know you can rely on.
Other people will not have a family unit and will need to seek belonging elsewhere. Some people will feel valued at work and will have a group of colleagues they can rely on, others will find a hobby that fits the bill – there’s no shame in spending hours with the model railway club, the local cycling club or being an active member of the neighbourhood watch scheme, as long as doing this gives you a sense of who you are.
Some people will belong to a faith group. Most religions use language such as “family of God”, “church family” or “society of friends” when describing the group of people who gather for fellowship. The family extends beyond the weekly meetings – there’s a feeling of belonging to a global network.
If you do not have a strong sense of belonging, unfortunately there will be a sense of something being missing but there may not but, not necessarily, an understanding of exactly what it is and the gap may be filled in other ways.
Substance misuse is a common gap filler. The alcohol or drugs will never let you down, they are always there for you and the feeling is predictable. Substances do a good job of temporarily filling the gap – unfortunately, human beings need human contact and substance misuse tends to push people away. The person may turn away from the addiction, become ‘clean’, but if they still do not belong anywhere, their addiction inevitably will return.
Young adults from troubled backgrounds may offend and find a sense of belonging in prison. We wonder why people re-offend – when released ex-offenders are given £46, low employment hopes and limited support. If they do not have family or friends, trying to find where they belong can be impossible, the pull of the ready-made group in prison is understandable.
Mental illness can be both be a symptom of, be perpetuated by and perpetuate a lack of belonging. A lack of belonging may lead to the mental illness, prevalence of anxiety and depression and particularly high but people may develop all sorts of symptoms to cope with what is lacking in their lives. When mentally unwell you feel ‘other’, ‘odd’, like no one understands – if you lack a sense of belonging, the psychiatric world can provide that for you. It can be helpful to be immersed in self help groups, support groups and therapy – these are all going to help with recovery. But there comes a time when you need to find belonging elsewhere – who else are you? Do you identify as ‘disordered’ or could you find identity within a family, group of friends or in the work place?
In a world where we can be in contact 24/7 we’re less connected than ever – this can impact our sense of belonging. Is there anything you’re using to fill the gap?
Are you constantly on the look out for the location of you next selfie? Could you leave your phone at home for 48 hours?
Do you put exercise ahead of meeting friends? Could you choose a more sociable exercise? Or, do you need to re-priorities?
Are you a family who eat in front of the TV? Try turning the TV off and talking to each other, maybe just once a week to start with! Really connecting with those around you is important, our well-being depends on it!
Where do you want to belong? Will they fulfil your needs? Will they value you? Will you feel secure and loved by these people?
Beware though, accepting yourself has to be a priority – belonging to other people cannot fill a void left by not loving yourself.

Taking responsibility is empowering

It’s very easy to blame other people for our feelings. We may say “he made me so angry” or “you’re so irritating”, we all do it in the heat of the moment. But by using this language we are shirking responsibility for our own emotions.

It’s also quite attacking if someone says something like this. I once asked some honest questions of a friend, meant in the kindest way, I asked if she felt she was making progress in her recovery or whether the treatment she was receiving was keeping her stuck. I always want the best for my friends and living in hospital isn’t the life I want for anyone, let alone someone I care about. I later heard that following my visit she self harmed and was blaming me for this. Of course, I felt awful but I was also confused – I did not give her the harmful implement, I did not stand over her and make her do it – how could I be responsible for her harming herself? In this moment I vowed never to blame anyone else for my behaviour. If I self harmed (something I haven’t done for many years) I knew it was me that chose to do it – yes, at times, it did not feel like a choice but no one else made me do it, therefore responsibility lay with me.

Taking responsibility for our own feelings and actions can be difficult, even scary but I think it’s a vital part of mental health recovery. It can also be a helpful thing for anyone indulging in harmful behaviour. How easy is it to say, “I’ve had such a stressful day, I need a drink” for example.

If we stop and think about the thoughts we’re having and the feelings that have developed, we can choose how we behave. How empowering is that?!
If I’ve had a stressful day, it’s natural for me to lose my appetite, for other people, they may be inclined to eat more, or drink alcohol, or behave in a snappy way towards other people. But ultimately, no matter what feels natural, we can choose to go along with this or we can choose to act in an opposing way.

Anorexia is a illness where the sufferer converts distressing thoughts and feelings into avoiding food. For me, the thoughts and feelings were unbearable but avoiding food was something tangible I could do. In recovery, the neural pathways that connected painful feelings with avoiding food were well trodden. I was told, to recover, I needed to eat but no one could make me eat. It was me who had to make the effort. If I managed to get through a challenging meal, that was down to me. Yes, I’d appreciate any support given, but I was responsible for my actions.

I’m definitely not saying that mental illness is a choice – no one would deliberately choose for their brain to malfunction! If we are at a point where we’re able to engage in therapy and/or if medication is helping with the chemical imbalances, we can start to take back our lives, bit by bit, we can choose how we react to our changing condition. Of course, mental illness recovery is a lot more complicated than a few simple choices but if we do not take responsibility, we’re never going to get anywhere!

Anyone can fall into habitual behaviour. For example always having a drink with a meal or staying in bed when feeling low or anxious. These neural pathways are familiar and feel ok, familiar, safe, “normal” even!

It can be incredibly diffciult to break familiar patterns of behaviour or to build new patterns, especially if there are elements of behavioural or chemical addiction involved. When breaking or making habits, we often talk about will power and we feel like we don’t have enough of this elusive product! However, we can choose to be disciplined by making this decision:

What do we want now? vs what do we want most?

Do I want to have a drink, to binge, to sit on the sofa, to say ‘yes’ to something that will tire me out, to say ‘no’ to something because I’m scared…

Or

Do I want to take responsibility for being a healthy, happpier me?

I know it’s not easy! But it is possible for us to take responsibility for our decision and take control of our lives!