Guest Post: Using Self-Compassion to Reduce Anxiety

This was an interesting article I found on Psych Central
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Using Self-Compassion to Reduce Anxiety

I’ve always had a doubting, critical voice. In the past, it showed up around my parenting skills, my relationships, my work — and my everyday life. It wasn’t until I went back to school for my master’s degree in counseling when I was in my 50’s, that I found a path to heal that critical voice.

Being back in school later in my life really activated my inner critic. I was much older than most of my fellow students. I had waited to finish my undergraduate degree until after I was married and had kids. At that time, I knew I wanted to be a therapist. I also knew it would take time and effort, as I was still raising my kids and working part-time.

All my worries and fears about not being smart enough, young enough, or just “enough” flooded me with self-doubt. I questioned my abilities as a student. And after graduation, I questioned my ability to be a therapist. My anxiety, which has always been a part of my life, left me wondering how I could possibly help others if I was struggling myself.

 

Discovering self-compassion

Fortunately, my supervisor introduced me to Dr. Kristin Neff’s work and the practice of self-compassion. As I dove into her work and began using self-compassion meditations, I realized that this critical voice wasn’t my motivator. It didn’t push me to be my best self. Instead, it made me question myself. It usually left me feeling anxious, depressed, and worthless.

The practice of self-compassion encourages us to accept ourselves and our imperfections with loving-kindness, as we would accept a loved one or dear friend. The practice embraces that we’re all human and, as humans, we experience joy and sorrow. We succeed and we fail.

For some of us, that concept can be difficult. We think that if we accept that we’re imperfect beings—that we make mistakes and we struggle—it will make us weak, or that we’ll never succeed. But research shows that when we’re kind and compassionate with ourselves when we struggle, we’re more able to complete difficult tasks and we’re more resilient. A self-compassion practice can also ease anxious and depressed feelings.

 

Healing our critical parts

So how do we embrace, heal, and quiet that critical part of ourselves? We get curious. We notice when it shows up. We offer the critical part some love for how hard it works to keep us on our toes. And we remind that part that it’s okay that we don’t have everything all figured out.

 

Getting curious

When your critical voice gets loud, try exploring that part of yourself. Talking to a therapist and journaling are great ways to get curious about different parts of yourself in a safe space.

Here are 10 journaling prompts for exploring your critical part:

  • What is the critic saying to you?
  • Is this a message you’ve been told in the past?
  • Is this a story about you that you believe is true?
  • If you could describe the critical part, what would it look like?
  • Does the part sound like someone you know?
  • Where do you feel that part of you in your body?
  • How is the part helpful or unhelpful?
  • Why does that part feel it needs to be so critical?
  • What is that part afraid might happen if it stopped being critical?
  • While doing this exercise, what did you learn about your critical part?

As we learn what drives our critical part—often it’s fear of failure or disappointing others—we can practice being more compassionate and caring when it starts to chatter.

 

Healing practices

When you find you’re feeling anxious or critical about something you said, did, felt or experienced, and your critical voice starts up, you can try some of these practices to help you build your self-compassionate voice:

Self-acceptance: Place your hand on your heart. Close your eyes, if it feels comfortable, and say these words: “This is a difficult experience. We all struggle from time-to-time. May I be kind and accept myself as I am.”

Self-kindness: When you find you’re being really hard on yourself, ask yourself what you might say to a friend or loved one who was struggling with a similar issue. My guess is you would never be as hard on your friend as you are on yourself.  Now, try offering to yourself the kind, caring words you would say to a loved one. Initially, it might feel forced or uncomfortable to be so nice to yourself, but with practice, those words will feel more genuine.

Loving-kindness meditations: When we meditate and offer words of love and compassion to ourselves and others, it helps us feel more connected and compassionate towards everyone. Each meditation is unique, but the phrases I learned as I began my self-compassion practice are: “May I be safe. May I be peaceful. May I be happy, and may I live my life with ease.”

Loving-kindness meditation asks you to offer comforting words to yourself and others you know and to those in your community, “May you be…” and finally suggests offering those words to the whole world, plants, animals, humans, “May we be…”

This meditation helps us feel more connected to our common experience as citizens of the world, generating feelings of goodwill towards ourselves and all living beings.

There are many versions of this meditation. You can find a meditation I wrote called “Connecting to Yourself and to the World” (and other loving-kindness meditations) on the app Insight Timer. Or try Googling “loving-kindness meditation” or “metta meditation,” and you’ll find many more.

My critical voice still shows up from time to time, but it’s transformed into a kinder version of its old self. It now knows that it doesn’t need to work so hard to keep me safe.  It knows that I’m not perfect, and I’m okay with that.

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