Have you ever thought about how you speak to yourself? About the damage constant self criticism can do? If you struggle to be kind to yourself, why not try our two week loving kindness meditation challenge?
Would you speak to your friends the way you speak to yourself? Would you stay friends with somebody who spoke to you like that? No, we didn’t think so. If you’re liable to be hard on yourself, the practice of loving kindness might just be for you.
What is loving kindness?
When we start to practice mindfulness and notice where the mind is going, we can be surprised to hear how harsh our inner critic can be. If we spoke to our friends the way we speak to ourselves sometimes, we probably wouldn’t have many friends!
Loving kindness and self-compassion are ways to start befriending ourselves and treating ourselves a little more kindly, the way we might treat a good friend – with care, trust, respect, loyalty, kindness and love. Sometimes people think if I’m self-compassionate, then maybe I will be lazy and self-indulgent or feel sorry for myself all of the time.
However according to Dr Kristin Neff this isn’t self-compassion. She explains if we pity ourselves we tend to think of ourselves on our own; ‘poor me’. Whereas in self-compassion we are opening up to the ‘common humanity’ of suffering, that we are not alone and that we all suffer.
This awareness that we are all in this together can be very supportive at times of difficult. Neff explains that we can start to motivate ourselves from a place of self-compassion rather than just the inner critic. From this place of self-compassion, we are more likely to be less critical of ourselves when we make mistakes and actually have more successful outcomes by learning from them.
Many researchers point to these same 4 steps in the journey to building Self-compassion 🌻How have you practiced self-compassion today?
By 📷: @whole_embodied_therapist via @journey_to_wellness_ .#selfcompassion #beatdepression pic.twitter.com/X4G06IcZ8y
— Painted Brain (@ThePaintedBrain) May 8, 2018
Why is criticism so harmful?
According to Professor Paul Gilbert (2009), when we criticise ourselves we are connecting into the body’s threat-defence system. This is our fight, flight or freeze system that helped us evolve and allowed us to escape quickly when there was danger approaching. When this system is activated, the Amygdala gets triggered and there is a release of cortisol and adrenaline in the body. This system was very useful when there was a real threat to our selves, however now a days the threat of being eaten by a tiger is pretty unlikely unless we are on safari and get a little lost.
According to Gilbert, nowadays our threat is to our self-concept and identity. When we feel inadequate our self-concept is threatened, so we attack the problem. Ourselves.
So what’s loving kindness?
The Loving Kindness meditation practice is a befriending practice which can be a strong practice. Sometimes when we open up to this and realise how unkind and unfriendly we’ve been to ourselves, we can feel a little sadness.
This may allow for some of these befriending well wishes to be felt in the body. Even if we don’t feel these well wishes to start with, we are setting the intention to offer ourselves the well wishes, which is the start of forming a habit.
Some phrases we use in this practice are may I be safe and well. May I be healthy. May I be peaceful or whatever phrases feel most authentic when we sit. Opening up can be one of the most self-compassionate things we do for ourselves.
We may also want to place a hand over the heart or belly when we do these practices. This has a physiological effect on our body’s response to feeling comforted. It is part of our mammalian care giving system. This means that placing a hand on the body actually allows us to soothe ourselves, the way a baby is soothed by a parent. Another great way to stimulate the happy hormone Oxytocin is to have a present moment hug, a very supportive practice for our bodies and our well-being.
What are the benefits?
There has been a huge increase in self-compassion research linked to wellbeing which shows reductions in negative mind states: anxiety, depression, stress, rumination, shame, perfectionism and thought suppression. As well as, increases in positive mind states such as life satisfaction, self-confidence, optimism, curiousity, happiness, connectedness and gratitude.
Want to know more?
Check out Kristin Neff’s TED Talk about Self Compassion
Have a go
Give yourself a two week challenge! Alternating each day between the Loving Kindness practice, Compassionate Body Scan and the Affectionate Breathing.
Fiona O’Donnell has an 8 Week Mindful Self Compassion starting on Thursday 14th June in Dublin 2 at The Mindfulness Centre, details can her found here