04/12/2017 04:13 EDT | Updated 04/12/2017 04:14 EDT

3 Pathways To Develop Self-Compassion

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I am in a course on "Mindful Self-Compassion". I wish you could be there with me.

After the very first session, I noticed a shift...I felt softer, I felt more loving, I felt more patient and kind. Each of those feelings were directed toward mySELF...and I noticed right away how they affected the feelings I had to important people in my life.

Kristin Neff says that 'self-compassion' means you are kind and understanding when confronted with personal failings. Well, I've had a few personal failings. I'll bet you have too. I know I have not been very kind to myself during those times. Have you?

Kristin goes on to say that "Having compassion for oneself is really no different than having compassion for others. Think about what the experience of compassion feels like. First, to have compassion for others you must notice that they are suffering. If you ignore that homeless person on the street, you can't feel compassion for how difficult his or her experience is. Second, compassion involves feeling moved by others' suffering so that your heart responds to their pain (the word compassion literally means to "suffer with"). When this occurs, you feel warmth, caring, and the desire to help the suffering person in some way.

Having compassion also means that you offer understanding and kindness to others when they fail or make mistakes, rather than judging them harshly. Finally, when you feel compassion for another (rather than mere pity), it means that you realize that suffering, failure, and imperfection is part of the shared human experience."

In Neff's research, the three elements of self-compassion are:

Self-Kindness vs Self-Judgment: Being warm and understanding toward ourselves when we suffer, fail, or feel inadequate, rather than ignoring our pain or flagellating ourselves with self-criticism.

Common Humanity vs Isolation: Recognizing that suffering and personal inadequacy is part of the shared human experience - something that we all go through rather than being something that happens to "me" alone.

Mindfulness vs Over-Identification: Mindfulness is a non-judgmental, receptive mind state in which one observes thoughts and feelings as they are, without trying to suppress or deny them. We cannot ignore our pain and feel compassion for it at the same time. At the same time, mindfulness requires that we not be "over-identified" with thoughts and feelings, so that we are caught up and swept away by negative reactivity.

Here are three strategies from 'Wake Up to Your Habits' that will provide practical pathways to develop more Self-Compassion:

If you want to be more: Caring, Compassionate, Tender

Ask yourself these questions to help Connect to Your Heart:

  • Who or what brings out tenderness in me?
  • What touches my heart?
  • How can I care for myself and/or others?

Try this body exercise to 'Blink":

Sit in front of a mirror. Close your eyes and imagine that you are sitting face to face with someone you love. Pay attention to your feelings of care and tenderness. Now open your eyes.

If you want to be more: Loving, Affectionate, Liking

Ask yourself these questions to Appreciate What Matters:

  • What do I appreciate about myself?
  • What effect am I looking for?
  • What matters?

Try this body exercise to 'Express Appreciation":

Stand tall. Notice what you apreciate about your body - your feet, legs, torso, shoulders, head. What do you like about your senses - smell, taste, touch, hearing, and sight? Expand your affection to all of you.

If you want to be more: Self-Confident, Self-Assured, Aligned

Ask yourself these questions to experience 'Unconditional Acceptance':

  • What do I like about myself?
  • If I accepted myself unconditionally, what would be different?
  • What does life in alignment look like?

Try this body exercise to 'Accept What Is':

Stand with your feed hip-width apart, with your arms and hands hanging loosely at your sides. Look into the mirror and say, "I accept all of who I am". Now turn 90 degrees and repeat, "I accept all of who I am". Turn 90 degrees twice more until you are facing the mirror. Repeat, turning in the opposite direction.

I love this quote by Rumi - I think it sums up what Mindful Self-Compassion is all about:

"Close Your Eyes. Fall In Love. Stay There."

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