If you are someone who is prone to self-criticism and feelings of unworthiness, I’m sharing these self-compassion activities for YOU. They are gentle ways to practice being kind to yourself, no matter how bad you are feeling.
The activities I’ve chosen are by three women who are all remarkable leaders in the field of self-compassion – Kristin Neff, Tara Brach and Sarah Blondin.
Safe Place Exercise
Before beginning the self-compassion activities, I’d like to say a few words about safety.
If you find yourself becoming resistant, uncomfortable or angry during the self-compassion exercises, stop. Take some long, slow, deep breaths and focus on your surroundings. What can you see and hear around you? Acknowledge that you are finding it difficult to be kind toward yourself. Don’t use it as an excuse to be self-critical. This stuff takes practice.
Before you begin the self-compassion activities, you may like to try doing a simple Safe Place exercise. The purpose of this, is to provide a safe, solid anchor for you to return to if at any point you feel overwhelmed.
- Find somewhere comfortable and quiet to sit.
- Close your eyes and take 3 long, slow, deep breaths, in and out.
- Imagine somewhere that feels very safe and calm for you. It may be a real or made-up place. For example, it could be your warm bed while it’s raining outside, or being held by someone you love, or lying in the sun on a tropical beach.
- Spend some time now really bringing that place to life for yourself. Notice in great detail what you can see, hear, smell, feel and taste.
- Notice how you feel in this place. How do you feel in your body?
Know that any time you feel shaky or overwhelmed, you can stop what you are doing and connect back into this safe place.
Activity 1. How Would You Treat a Friend?
This first activity is an adaptation from Dr Kristin Neff, an internationally renowned researcher and expert in self-compassion.
Kristin says of her exericse, “How do you think things might change if you responded to yourself in the same way you typically respond to a close friend when he or she is suffering? This exercise walks you through it.”
This is a short writing exercise, so you’ll need some paper and a pen. By writing down your answers, you’ll find this exercise far more powerful than just thinking it through in your head.
- Think of a time when someone you really care about was feeling unworthy. Consider what you would say to this friend and how you would support them.
- Now remember a time when you have been self-critical, or felt shame or a sense of unworthiness. How did you respond to yourself? What did you tell yourself and what tone did you use?
- What is different between the way you would respond to a friend and the way you would respond to yourself? Get curious about this. What do you know about the way you treat yourself? Can you identify times in your past when someone else treated you with such harsh judgement or intolerance?
- How would you feel differently if you responded to yourself when in pain, in the same way you do to a darling friend?
Kristin’s original exercise can be found here: How would you treat a friend?
For more information and exercises from Kristin Neff, please visit her website: Self Compassion.
Activity 2. The RAIN of Self Compassion
This next activity is a guided meditation by Tara Brach. Tara is a clinical psychologist, leading mindfulness meditation teacher and author.
In this meditation, Tara speaks of the “trance of unworthiness” and of “being at war with yourself”. It is one that I personally have returned to again and again.
RAIN is a simple tool for practicing mindfulness and self-compassion and stands for:
- Recognize what is happening.
- Allow the experience to be there, just as it is.
- Investigate with interest and care.
- Nurture with self-compassion.
RAIN can be used as a meditation, or as a self-compassion tool whenever you find you’re judging yourself, feeling unworthy or overwhelmed.
Activity 3. Practicing Gentle Kindness Toward Ourselves
“I know you feel hollow at times…
That you find it hard to move without knowing what’s next…
That you live in the shallow end and forget to breathe deep…
That you forget to meet yourself in the quiet and breathe yourself full again…
You are human my dear one, my dearest love, you are human.
You are allowed…
You are not wrong…
You are not failing because you still get lost in dark rivers…
Be gentle when doubt comes…
Spend special care to bring love to your own self…” Sarah Blondin
I’d like to say a few words about a concept known as backdraft.
Backdraft, identified by Clinical Psychologist and self-compassion expert Christopher Germer, is a common experience in people new to self-compassion, particularly for those who suffer from strong feelings of unworthiness.
“When a fire is deprived of oxygen and fresh air is suddenly let in, an explosion often occurs (the process known by firefighters as backdraft). Similarly, people who are used to constant self-criticism often erupt with anger and intense negativity when they first try to take a kinder, more gentle approach with themselves. It’s as if their sense of self has been so invested in feeling inadequate that this ‘worthless self’ fights for survival when it’s threatened.” Kristin Neff
Having said all of the above, loads of people do not experience backdraft. For many people, self-compassion exercises are simply a welcomed breath of fresh air. A chance to relax and let go of some self-directed harshness.
I’d love to hear your experience of trying out these activities. How did you find them? What did you notice? Please leave me a comment below.
For more information on practicing Self-Compassion, read 10 Ways to Practice Self-Compassion.
About Toni Jackson
Toni is a women’s Psychotherapist who specialises in body image and trauma. Many women seek therapy with Toni due to experiencing: anxiety, depression, low self-worth and eating disorders. Toni uses self-compassion, mindfulness, body awareness,HAES, feminism, trauma therapy, gestalt therapy and art therapy in her practice.
Toni is a Psychotherapist and Counsellor in Fremantle, Western Australia. She also works in Mundaring, Perth, Western Australia, and provides Online Video Counselling sessions to urban and remote women around the world.
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