If my therapy office had a book of the month it would be Kristen Neff’s Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself. I have copied chapters five six and seven many times in the last month. The crux of the book, and the subject of this recent article by Kristen, is teaching fellow human beings to program kindness to the one person you will spend the most time with: yourself. It follows a therapeutic tool I have used for many years, which says imagine you are interviewing you. Imagine you are sitting with yourself. How would you treat yourself? What type of tone would you adopt as you questioned or quizzed or even tried to correct? Self-compassion goes beyond just trying to reframe our pain or trying to beat our depression. It addresses the idea that, as Kristen points out, sometimes life does really hurt; people in our deepest lives and intimate circles die, get sick, fall away, or get angry with us. We suffer transitions, job losses, missing goals, and relationship issues. We get so driven to succeed, as Elizabeth Gilbert says, “We begin to treat ourselves like an old rented mule.” Self-compassion and self-kindness during these times allows us to first notice what is there and take the opportunity to call this suffering a part of life and be kind to yourself and the pain while we are in it. I often will develop a mantra with clients which represents a phrase that represents kindness to them. Usually they are very similar across clients who have never met. “I count” “I am human” “I am not a space alien” or “I am allowed to have this pain.”
During my PHD quest at Wichita State University, I had an amazing experience working under and taking classes from Dr. Rob Zettle, a pioneer in the Acceptance and Commitment world. I’ll never forget the day he introduced our class to the idea that “You do not have to let your anxiety, depression, or anger make all of your decisions.” Acceptance and Commitment therapy showed me the way to hold all of that programming and “content” as Dr. Zettle would say. Self-compassion is such a nice addition to the space which we hold. Joseph Goldstein would say “Always the notice the tone of your noticing.”
I am going to start printing this article for my clients and recommending the book; it might save on paper rather than printing out the chapters. Kristen Neff gives an outstanding list in this one about things to help foster your sense of self compassion and how to free yourself from tools that don’t work, such as self-criticism instead of self-compassion.
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