Short Self-Compassion Breaks
For me the subject of mindfulness is vital and so basic. I love finding simple exercises to bring it ‘more’ into every-day life. For me, mindfulness and self-compassion both fall into the ‘fundamental’ category of ‘things we must have’.
I have found mindfulness and self-compassion seep in to so many areas of my life. The more I become aware of them, the more they happen! And then the richer my life becomes! Which is why I want to share this!
Thank you to Kristin Neff PhD, Tara Brach PhD and Kelly McGonigal PhD (among many others) for their work in mindfulness and self-compassion. This first exercise (below) comes from Kristin Neff.
First (like Kelly McGonigal!) I believe in explaining an exercise thoroughly. In fact, the explanation can take way longer than the exercise itself! My kids would all groan (they didn’t like my long explanations?!) but I believe that if your brain really understands why – and how – something works, it (the brain) learns it well.
You Think This Self-Compassion Stuff is Silly…
You find yourself ‘flying level’ in life. You’re proud of that. You don’t want to change it and think all this talk of mindfulness and compassion is silly.
Sometimes find yourself wishing that, maybe, you felt a little bit more joy. Other than that… You don’t have mood swings, and for that you’re grateful. But instinctively you feel something might be missing? Mostly you can ignore it, but… This might be worth reading?
Or you know ‘technically’ that there are a number of things that you ‘should’ feel. But you don’t really feel much? Good or bad. You’re glad you aren’t a drama queen or king.
Has your way to survive life has been to steamroller through the difficulties and ‘carry on’? It’s been successful. And in your line of work, it’s just as well. But…
Or do you minimize those difficulties (“way worse things happen to others every day” or “some people don’t even have food or a home”) and push your own feelings to one side and lock them up tight?
These are all ways we disconnect from ourselves and this exercise is one of many ways to – slowly, kindly and gently – reconnect with your self and your heart.
“Why Would I Want To Connect More? Just So I Can Feel More Pain?”
One mysterious and wonderful thing that the body does when you experience overwhelming stress is to ‘lock it away’. It will ‘block it out’, so you can survive and not feel the pain. This is a natural survival technique. Often this happens when you are simply too young to deal with that stress and you couldn’t have survived if you had felt what was happening around you. Young babies and children, for example, simply do not have the ability to soothe themselves. Now, as an adult, you have this ability.
Thank your body for supporting you to get through a difficult time by ‘switching off’ your feelings in that moment. It got you through a tough time. It was helpful to miss the connection between the reality of what was happening to you and the way you felt it. The body was protecting you from feeling sad or angry or depressed. Which, temporarily, is a good thing.
In order to survive, it may have been the very smartest thing the body could do? It was a great survival technique. The body and mind work together to support our survival. That is one of the miracles of nature!
“So Why Would I Want To Change That?“
Because time has passed and life is easier now, perhaps… Reality is no longer so difficult. There is time for joy! It’s ‘your turn’. But you’re not sure if you are really feeling it?
If your feelings have been ‘switched off for a long time, you could be ‘stuck’ in not-feeling.
A reaction that nature turned on to help you survive has now become an unhelpful habit.
When feeling ‘bad ’ is switched off, the good things don’t register so strongly either.
Happiness and joy and satisfaction, warm feelings and real pleasure, these just don’t feel so wonderful. Negative feelings and positive feeling are equally blunted. Dulled. The pain isn’t so painful. But the joy isn’t as wonderful as you believe it could be either.
It seems we have to feel the pain (that is already present anyway) in order that we are able to feel that lovely warm glow or a shiver of pleasure when those good feelings come along!
“I Am Very Sensitive and If I Let Myself Feel ‘More’ I Know It Would Be Too Much…“
Trust your body and your instincts to decide what is safe and right for you? Acknowledging the pain that is already present and sitting in your suffering, just for a brief moment, will allow you to start reconnecting with ‘you’.
When you reconnect with yourself, yes you do feel the emotional pain more. You also realize it’s not the end of the world. In some strange way it may even even feel positive? Eventually hope and love and self=compassion seep into your life… Which is the way we humans build resiliency.
Likewise, when you are flooded with troubling feelings, self-compassion helps you harness them and feel calmer and more settled.
Delightful, exciting, warm, beautiful moments gleam brighter!
And that’s the real benefit of trusting yourself to feel! The benefit of self-compassion.
This self-compassion exercise is a good way of growing self-compassion and of reconnecting with yourself: the whole ‘you‘.
ConnectionCue Cards may help with the exercise
Use ConnectionCue cards when you feel underwhelmed. When you don’t really know how you are feeling . When you feel numb, CueCards offer suggestion words to fit with what you’ve experienced. You may not actually feel these words right now but CueCards help you guess at what you imagine you might feel. Let the ConnectionCue cards help you to build a bridge to your locked-away inner self.
ConnectionCue cards help when you feel overwhelmed too. When there is ‘so much going on that you can’t even begin to break it down’. CueCards put a simple word to each piece of the flood of feelings. You can see your feelings, all clearly lined up and acknowledged.
Trust yourself? You are not sure right at this moment what you think, know that you can choose ‘if’ and ‘when’ to trust yourself. ry this exercise later. Perhaps you want a loved one to ‘spot’ you and be there with you? Reading this article could be your first step.
The Self-Compassion Break Exercise
1.Close your eyes (to shut out distractions)
2. Think of a situation right now in your life that is difficult. If you are just now starting this practice, choose something that’s not too overwhelming so that you can learn this process more easily. Think about the situation. Feel the tension in your body. Take care not to choose something overwhelming.
3. Find phrases to help you stay and focus on that feeling – the following are examples:
a) Mindfulness. “This a moment of suffering…” or “ This is really hard.” Or “I am feeling so upset”. Name what is happening. Turn toward it. Acknowledge it and validate the situation with your acknowledgment.
b) Humanity. Difficulty is part of humanity. Part of being human. “I’m not the only one who feels this way” or “I’m not the only one who feels this way in this situation” or simply “Me too”. “I’m not alone in this’. Ground yourself in the knowledge that you are part of this humanness.
c) Kindness. Soothe and support yourself. Try soothing physical touch: put your warm hands on your heart. Or somewhere else on your body ie your belly or face. Caring soothing touch. Use kind words – just what you need to hear. “You are doing the best you can” or “It’s OK to be imperfectly perfect”” or “It’s OK to make mistakes” or just “It’s OK, you’ll be OK”.
Hint: What if a loved one was going through the same thing? What would you say to them? We often find it easier to soothe someone else.
4. When you’re ready, open your eyes.
Sometimes when you open your heart to yourself, practicing self-compassion, it can be activating. In other words you may feel worse for a while. Set your intention to be more compassionate to yourself and accept yourself, however it is that you feel. Feelings of sadness or hurt or even anger could flood in. It’s OK. Give yourself more self-compassion. Simply see these feelings, name them and accept that ‘there they are’.
The purpose of self-compassion isn’t to make our feelings go away. Or even just to feel better. The purpose is to connect with what is really inside of our own hearts and to live, more and more, in harmony with ourselves and in the way we choose.
Thank you for reading this article! If you have any questions, please ask me!
Warm wishes, Julie