Staff Blog: Compassion Directed Inward

Created: May 6, 2020
Last Updated: May 6, 2020

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Dr. Thomas Lindquist, Psy.D.
W & J Staff Psychologist

Self-compassion refers to having an accepting and caring orientation toward oneself. In other words, it is compassion directed inward. Research suggests that self-compassion can have a positive impact on our ability to cope and may also promote prosocial behaviors. Where do you stand when it comes to self-compassion? How can self-compassion be practiced so that it can become a more prominent part of our day-to-day life?

Two brief exercises can help you get in touch with your capacity for empathy and gain further insight and skills for self-compassion.

Experiences of compassion from another:

Take a moment and think about the last time you were struggling yet felt truly supported and understood. Take yourself back to that moment and think about what others did for you or said to you. They may have offered empathic comments such as “this must be really hard,” or “you are dealing with a lot right now.” Most likely they were present and available to listen and provide non-judgmental support. Imagine what it felt like to have this support and connect with the feeling you experienced at the time.

Experiences of compassion toward another:

Take a moment and think about the last time you were there to support a friend or loved one in need. As you recall the situation, think about what you felt and what you communicated while you provided support. You may have said something such as “you are strong,” “I know you can get through this,” “things will get better,” “I’m here for you,” and “I love you.” You may have offered empathy using statements such as “this is really hard,” or “you are dealing with a lot right now.” Close your eyes and imagine how your loved one was feeling. Imagine yourself saying these supportive statements again and being present for support.

The primary goal of these brief reflections is to help you connect with the feelings of compassion you experienced in both giving and receiving support. In a practical way, these reflections also give you a chance to reflect on the tools of self-compassion by taking a closer look at the language used to express support and the loving presence that is provided by a good supportive listener.

There is a good chance that you were incredibly helpful for your friend or loved one when you provided support. You were able to show compassion towards them in a difficult time. This same capacity for care and compassion can be directed inward when you are feeling upset, frustrated, fearful, or sad. Try closing your eyes again and repeat these same supportive comments to yourself as if you were speaking to your friend or loved one. Allow yourself to feel the love and the kindness being directed inward. If this feels a bit foreign or awkward, then you are probably doing a great job. Self-compassion is often new for many of us.

The ironic thing about this exercise is that it often feels foreign or awkward to say kind things to oneself, yet most people are fairly good at saying critical and harsh things to themselves, often without realizing it. Think about the last time you felt frustrated or upset. As you recall this situation, think about what you were feeling and thinking at the time. What was your self-talk? What were you saying to yourself? It is clear that what we say to ourselves internally has a significant impact on how we are feeling. It also influences our ability to cope with stress and tap into our resilience. This is all good news because we can work to become more aware of our self-talk and practice saying kind things to ourselves.

Here are a few ways you can practice:

If you are struggling to feel motivated, practice telling yourself “I can do this” or “I can make some progress even if I don’t finish everything.”

When you feel tired, practice telling yourself “I’m dealing with a lot right now” or “of course I’m tired, just do your best,” and “I’ll try again later, I deserve a break.”

When you struggle to accomplish a goal, practice telling yourself “I have been successful before” or “this is just a minor setback in my larger story.”

When you feel sad, practice telling yourself “it will be alright” and “you are a great person, most deserving of love and care.”

When you doubt yourself, practice telling yourself “I have a lot to offer” and “I deserve to be where I am” or “I can do this!”

When you are anxious, practice telling yourself “I can handle it, “I can be imperfect and successful,” “I’ve been here before and I know this will pass,” and “this is a good opportunity to practice.”

When you feel like giving up, practice telling yourself “I am worthwhile,” “I am a good person,” “I have something to offer,” and “I am already good enough.”

When you accomplish something, practice telling yourself, “I am proud.”

Referring to these suggestions as practice is no accident. As simple as it may sound, it takes intention and effort to be kind to yourself and talk to yourself in a kind and supportive way. If you feel uncomfortable talking to yourself in this way, it likely means you would benefit the most and it might just take more openness and practice. Next time you feel uneasy, take a moment to imagine what you might tell a friend or loved one in your shoes and connect again with the way you felt when you were supported in the past. Tell yourself the same things you would tell a loved one and pause long enough to feel what you say. The more compassion you can direct inward, the more resilient you will be when faced with adversity and the more available you will be to support others. Practicing self-compassion will also help you begin to shift away from negative self-talk or the critical automatic thoughts that can color our mood in a negative way and perpetuate self-doubt. Take a moment now to quiet your mind and speak kindly to yourself. We all are deserving of our own kindness.

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