3. This week’s exercises: Awakening your Compassion
Are you your own worst enemy or best friend?
This week we practise self-compassion.We can do this by taking good care of ourselves and giving ourselves supportive, friendly messages through our inner voice. A compassionate inner voice balances the self-criticism that easily comes up in our minds. Harsh self-criticism often is often related to perfectionism.
What does my self-critical self want?
Sometimes when trying to reduce self-critical thinking, we try to get rid of it completely. However, that is unrealistic. Instead, one can learn to have dialogue and listen to what that self-critical inner voice wants to achieve.
Self-criticism may have good intentions, even if it doesn’t always sound that way. Your self-critical frame of mind may have noticed a threat looming ahead (for example, a potential failure at something). It may be trying to give you advice in order to avoid the threat. Unfortunately, this core message may remain unheeded, for self-criticism’s style of communicating is often aggressive and accusatory. The underlying intention may be good, but the implementation is not constructive.
By engaging in a dialogue with your self-critical state of mind, you can start to form a new relationship with it. The dialogue may even help you see solutions and learning opportunities. Little by little, it is possible to learn to use self-criticism as a form of constructive criticism. The next table shows a comparison between self-criticism and constructive criticism. If you were hiring a personal trainer, which one would you choose?
Focusses on traits and things that cannot be changed.
Focusses on behaviour or practical things that can be changed.
Is hostile or unpleasant
Is warm-hearted and kind
Puts you down and causes despair
Encourages and gives hope
Is unclear and does not tell you what you should change
Gives clear examples and tells you what you should do differently in the future
In the next exercise, we try to examine what need(s) may be driving your self-criticism. You can do this exercise anytime you notice self-criticism raising its head. Alternatively, you can think about something that you often criticise yourself for.
- First notice the presence of self-criticism. How does it feel?
- Try to awaken your self-compassionate state of mind in whatever way suits you.
- Turn to your self-criticism and engage in a dialogue with it:
- What does your self-critical voice wish to accomplish?
- What bad things could happen if the critical voice was not warning you?
- What does the self-critical voice want you to do differently?
- Ask your self-criticism to tell you clearly and constructively what it would like you to learn or do otherwise.
- On the basis of your dialogue, assess from a self-compassionate viewpoint whether your self-criticism provided some helpful feedback for you. If yes, accept that feedback with compassion.
- Finally, thank your self-critical state of mind and stop the exercise.
exercise was adapted from Ronnie Grandell’s book Itsemyötätunto (Tammi,
This week’s new exercise will be loving-kindness meditation, which helps you train kind and compassionate intention, meaning here the will to be compassionate to towards yourself. When we train ourselves in self-compassion or in willing to be compassionate towards ourselves, we will find self-compassion easier when we need it the most. We will have formed a compassionate way of thinking that we can make use of when we notice we are being critical and too demanding of ourselves.
- Loving-Kindness meditation by Kristin Neff (audio)
Once you’ve completed the exercise, you can ponder the following:
1. When you are faced with a challenge, how would you want yourself to deal with it?
2. Take a moment to think about your life from early childhood to old age. Each and every day you have an internal dialogue with yourself. What would you like that dialogue to be like?
Continue doing also the exercises you learnt earlier so that you get about 30 minutes of exercise per day.
Ways to show compassion towards yourself
- Taking care of your body: physical exercise, sufficient rest and nutrition are ways to show compassion towards yourself.
- Allowing your thoughts to come and go. Try to let your thoughts be as they are – you do not need to cling to any of the thoughts you can just let them be.
- Acceptance of emotions: our emotions communicate our needs to us, which means that even unpleasant feelings are useful. However, emotions are not always easy to accept, so we may want to keep them away. Facing your emotions and accepting them is something that can be practised. Even the unpleasant emotions are tolerable when you give yourself permission to face your feelings as they are.
- Connecting with other people: you can be kind to yourself by spending time with people whom you genuinely enjoy being with. Sharing ideas and emotions with others deepens our personal relationships. When we become compassionate towards ourselves, we can grow more compassionate towards other people, too.
- Doing things that have value for us: kindness towards yourself also means doing things that are meaningful and important to you personally.
Food for thought:
- How do you already show kindness and compassion towards yourself?
- What kinds of new ways could you try? What could be a small concrete change you could make as a first step?