Is it easy for you to be kind to yourself?
If you’re like many people, the answer is a big, clear-cut no. It’s not easy at all. Instead you’re more used to berating yourself. Instead you’re more used to criticizing your every move. To being impatient. To minimizing your struggles. To minimizing yourself.
Being harsh feels more natural, doesn’t it? Even more comfortable than kindness. Because we feel more comfortable glossing over our pain and even blaming ourselves for it.
But this can change.
That’s because self-compassion is something you can cultivate. It’s something you can practice. It’s an action you can take. It isn’t some magical, mystical, unattainable thing. Which is why I like sharing different strategies with you.
In her new practical and empowering book The Assertiveness Guide for Women: How to Communicate Your Needs, Set Healthy Boundaries, and Transform Your Relationships, author and therapist Julie de Azevedo Hanks, PhD, MSW, LCSW, shares the below valuable exercise for practicing self-compassion. For accessing self-compassion from within.
According to Julie, think of a recent situation where you experienced pain, whether from a physical injury or an emotional one. It might be anything from a fight with a friend to a breakup to someone’s passing. She suggests asking ourselves these questions:
- “What did I tell myself about my pain?
- Was my self-talk nurturing or was it critical?
- Did I validate my suffering or minimize it?
- How did I behave toward myself when I was hurting?
- Was I able to provide nurturing, comfort and validation to myself?”
Next Julie suggests thinking of a child you know—maybe it’s your own child or a friend’s child. Think of this child experiencing a similar pain. Then ask yourself these questions:
- “What would I say to her? Would my words be nurturing or lean toward criticism and judgment?
- How would I behave?
- Would I validate her suffering with empathy or would I minimize her pain?
- How is my imagined response to a child’s suffering different or similar to how I respond to my own pain?”
If your response to yourself is harsh and punitive, try to picture this child every time you’re struggling. Try to approach your pain in the same way that you’d help them approach theirs.
Another technique is to picture yourself as a child. Maybe you even carry a photo of yourself as a little girl or boy. Every time you’re in pain, think of yourself as a child. Look at the photo. Or visualize your younger, more vulnerable self. What do you say to that child when they’re struggling? How do you comfort them?
After all, that child is within you still. And it can help to think of yourself as someone who’s nurturing, soothing and protecting that inner child.
Again, when it comes to self-compassion, please know that it’s a skill you can learn and foster. And please know that you can start right now.