“External changes will not make us happier long-term, but internal changes will” ~Shauna Shapiro
What can mindfulness and self-compassion do for you?
It is the nature of our brain to be negative and self-critical. When we dwell in shame and blame, we shut down the area of our brain that would help us to learn and grow. We can undermine and self-sabotage our best efforts. We can get stuck in ways of thinking that does not serve us and some of us are more inclined to do this than others, due to previous life experiences or genetic make-up. It is not our fault! But the good news is that we can become more responsible for the ongoing of our mind. We can learn to re-wire our brain with mindfulness and self-compassion, so we can begin to reverse this process by developing the more evolved parts of our brain, to open up to a world of positive changes and healing. We know this to be true personally because, like millions of others who have undertaken this journey, we also have had the experience of healing our negative critical mind, so we can live with courage, for more ease and joy.
As we practice mindfulness, we begin to relate to our difficulties with more clarity, calm and balance while self-compassion will enable us to respond with more kindness and understanding cultivating a better relationship with ourselves. Research has shown that mindfulness and self-compassion are powerful therapeutic approaches to facilitate emotional transformation. Together mindfulness and self-compassion can reduce stress, anxiety, anger and depression while promoting mental and physical well-being, resilience and better relationships. Our mind becomes stronger, so we can adopt new habits that will help us to maintain a healthy lifestyle such as diet and exercise as well as meet our life goals, to live our values, to promote more life satisfaction.
There is a growing number of therapies that incorporate mindfulness and self-compassion such as Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy, Compassion-Focused Therapy, Mindful Self-Compassion Therapy and Acceptance-Commitment Therapy. Each offers a practical set of evidence-based techniques derived from mindfulness and self-compassion combined with principles of Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) to address a broad range of psychological disorders.
We have personally seen how the practice of mindfulness and self-compassion has an enormous positive impact from the stressed business executive, overwhelmed teacher, concerned health worker, pressured athlete, challenged student, fearful cancer patient, chronic pain sufferer, anxious parents, apprehensive children and fearful cancer patients. There are benefits for everyone!
What is Mindfulness?
The practice of mindfulness involves paying attention, being curious, being aware of what is happening in our mind, body and surroundings, with a nonjudgmental, non-reactive and kind attitude to gain clarity. In this way, we can begin to bypass many of our old conditioning, which is causing undue sufferings. As we become more mindful, throughout the day, we pause and observe, in our mind we create a space where we can begin to choose our response rather than automatically react. In this way, we can deal with events in more skilful ways for greater equanimity and resilience.
With mindfulness, we can step back and change our relationship with our emotions so that feelings are neither suppressed nor exaggerated to allow our wise compassionate self to rise. Stressful event, unpleasant thoughts and emotions are observed with openness, kindness and curiosity, so that they are held in a mindful detached awareness. Mindfulness is cultivating a receptive mind state where we become the witness of our thoughts, feelings and events as they are, without trying to deny them or engaging with them. We discover that we are more than our thoughts, feelings or experiences. Rather than be controlled by our emotions, we become the wise kind observer, we enlarge our sense of self, enabling us to manage our thoughts and feelings with compassion and understanding, to better problem solve, to act more effectively. Mindfulness helps us to practice the serenity phrase:
"Accept what we can’t change with compassion, change what we can with courage, and know the difference with wisdom."
What mindfulness is not?
Mindfulness is not about being relaxed or thinking positively all the times. Mindfulness and meditation are not about blanking or emptying the mind or being passively accepting or complacent.
It is a practice which involves being aware, present and nonjudgmental, and through this practice, we may not always achieve calm and relaxation. We practice mindfulness without specific expectations or striving, but simply to look into our mind with clarity. We all have tendency to want immediate results and to seek pleasant experiences, while pushing away what is unpleasant or difficult. The practice of mindfulness again is to be with what is, as it is, in the moment, while we postpone judgements. And we begin wherever we are.
Mindfulness can help us to manage stress because it changes the way we relate to stress and our triggers. When we learn to simply listen to sounds or paying attention to our breath or notice our feet touching the ground, we begin a path of non-reactivity where we are conscious aware, intentional, rather than operating on automatic, knee-jerk reaction mode. In this way we begin to let it more of the joy of living because we are more present to it.
Mindfulness is not about emptying or avoiding thinking or feelings but more about being aware of our thoughts or feelings without necessarily engaging with them, especially, if they are unhelpful. We learn to dis-identify from our unhelpful thoughts, and to let them come and go like clouds coming and going in the sky of the mind. We learn to relate to our thoughts with kindness and curiosity, rather than suppressing or denying them.
Mindfulness is not about being complacency or acceptance of everything. We acknowledge whatever is happening and then take skilful actions to adjust or change the situation as appropriate. Mindfulness combined with self-compassion gives us the courage to respond in line with our values.
What is self compassion?
Self-compassion has three main aspects: self-kindness, common humanity, and mindfulness (Kristin Neff).
Having compassion for oneself is no different from having compassion for others. When we have compassion for others, we first notice that they are suffering(mindfulness), we empathise with their pain, we feel understanding and caring, plus we have a desire to comfort to assist them in some ways. So self-compassion involves acting in the same way towards our self when we are having a difficult time, fail, or notice something we don’t like about our self. Instead of ignoring our pain or harshly criticising ourselves, we can stop and tell our self:
When we develop compassion for ourselves, we can more easily deal with difficulties, forgive ourselves and others, learn from our mistakes and become more productive happy human beings.
Self-compassion, is “yin”, being gentle, comforting and nurturing to ourselves, but there are situations which call for actions, for the “yang” of compassion to motivate, to protect or to provide. We learn to be kind to ourselves, but we also develop inner resources to harness our courage to defend and to protect what we care about, with wisdom.
You don't need to be perfect to be worthy of your own love and kindness!
What self compassion is not?
Self-compassion, is not about loosing your edge. It is about supporting yourself while being discerning and responsible for your actions. Extending compassion towards oneself is not selfish but is an act of survival. In fact, the research has shown that, when we give ourselves the care that we need, we can better ease our difficult emotions to deal with our challenges, so we are in a position where we can help others more effectively.
Self-compassion is very different from self-pity, where we see ourselves as a victim or self-indulgence where we let go of our goals. Self-compassion means that we become our own best coach, where we are heroes in our mind and take on actions that are in our best interests in the long term because we are worth it!
Another misgiving about self-compassion, is that it will lower our motivation or desire to improve. Actually, the research indicates that self-compassion increases our ability to learn, to improve, to grow and that individuals with self-compassion have realistic goals and achieve a great deal.
Who can benefit from Mindfulness and Self-Compassion?
Mindfulness and Self-Compassion is for everyone who struggles, who experiences:
It is for people who are especially hard on themselves, who beat themselves up with blame and shame; feeling different, defective or never good enough.
What you will learn:
You will be guided through a variety of breathing exercises, body scan meditation, guided imagery, grounding exercises and simple strategies, that you can initially practice in the therapy session and that you can use at home to assist you in dealing with your everyday situations and challenges. The aim is to ease your stress, anxiety, anger, depression or other difficult mental state.
Mindfulness and self-compassion will help you to integrate your brain for the better, by activating higher brain functions where you will learn:
Hopefully in time you will realise that as a human being, you also, are a worthy recipient of your compassion so that you can let go of toxic self-blame and shame.
In mindfulness and self-compassion, you will discover how to be your own best ally. You will uncover your own compassionate inner voice to replace the unhealthy harsh inner critic so that difficult emotions can be handled with more calm and clarity.
Learning to relate to yourself in your own mind as a good friend, as a supportive coach, will help you:
When you can consciously generate compassion from within for yourself, you experience more well-being and resilience but also you are better able to connect with others to form better relationships.
Mindfulness and self-compassion are not a one-size-fits-all approach
We realise that not everyone wants to learn to meditate. You can become very mindful without the constant practice of meditation, choosing instead more informal practices that also can assist you in being aware, present and self-compassionate.
It is worth mentioning that there are multiple practices to choose from in mindfulness and self-compassion. There are formal meditation practices as well as informal, simple and quick mindful tools you can use throughout your day. You can explore what best fit your situation, taking in consideration your needs, personality, lifestyle and challenges. Most of the informal practices are easy and can be used anywhere, anytime to assist you in your personal and working life.
The research behind mindfulness and self-compassion
Mindfulness and self-compassion have been shown in neuroscience research to strengthen the parts of the brain that make us happier, more resilient, and more attuned to others. It can comfort, soothe difficult emotions in the present, heal painful memories from the past, and change the inner unhelpful dialogue within, to create a better future.
There is a growing field of research that explores how mindfulness, but, more specifically self-compassion, have powerful positive impacts on mental and physical health. Scientists have documented how mindfulness and compassion increase the ability to:
• be aware and focus so we can notice possibilities
• understand another person’s perspective
• concentrate and perform better complex cognitive tasks
• motivate our self to meet our goals
• regulate difficult emotions
• overcome challenges and bounce back
Research indicates that self-compassionate individuals experience greater mental health than those who lack self-compassion. Self-compassion is positively associated with life satisfaction, wisdom, happiness, optimism, curiosity, learning goals, social connectedness, personal responsibility, and emotional resilience. At the same time, it is associated with a lower tendency for self-criticism, depression, anxiety, rumination, perfectionism, chronic pain, post-traumatic stress and disordered eating habits as well as decrease the incidence of heart disease and cancer. Some other benefits are to strengthen the immune system, facilitate sleep, slow the ageing process as well as promoting better relationships. In addition, self-compassion has been found to assist parents in their roles of caring for their children, especially if the child has a special need or disability.
Research has also shown that mindfulness and self-compassion can prevent developing compassion fatigue, caregiver stress burnout or vicarious trauma, conditions experienced following providing extensive care to others. Individuals who have as much compassion for their self as well as for others are usually more able to remain able to attend to their own needs, to maintain physical and mental well-being.
The neuroscience is showing us again and again that mindfulness and self-compassion have great powers to heal and transform our suffering. During our struggles at home or at work, when we are met with acceptance and comfort from someone else, but, especially from ourselves there is a shift towards empowerment. We can better access our inner resources to deal with the challenges with more wisdom and ease, so we can bounce back.
The aim of using mindfulness and self-compassion in therapy is to ease the struggles and increase your capacity for happiness by changing your inner landscape in your mind and acting wisely and skilfully.
It’s never too late to learn to re-wire our brain. We begin wherever we are, harnessing the power of our good intentions. Taking slow and steady steps in the right direction. We are at our best when we are compassionate, either towards ourselves or towards others.
Burleigh Waters, Gold Coast, Qld 4220