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Can we learn to be our own best friend? The benefits of learning to practice Self-Compassion

14 April 2016

Can we learn to be our own best friend? The benefits of learning to practice Self-Compassion

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Why is it that we say things to ourselves that we would never say to a friend or colleague? Do you find yourself running a constant critical self-commentary and then wonder why you have no self-belief? Or expect yourself to have superhuman reactions to stressful life events? Depression and anxiety is one of the most pressing concerns cited by the World Health Organisation. It is said that 1 in 4 of us will experience a form of mental or emotional ill-health at some point in our lives. Improving the quality of our internal dialogue by learning to be kinder to our self is a critical factor in building up our personal resilience. Psychotherapy and counselling are increasingly aimed at helping clients to learn how to practice self-compassion. What does this mean?

Self-Kindness

We have evolved to be relational creatures. Tapping into our support networks at times of trauma is found to be highly beneficial at reducing Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) type symptoms. However, life in the UK in 2016 also has lots of everyday stressors and strains. We cannot expect friends and family to be there for us 24/7. Current psychological research has evidenced the merits of developing an understanding and encouraging inner voice.

This compassionate internal communication system would be saying things like; “I care about you and I don’t want you to suffer” or “This is hard but you can do this”. So when you are next upset about something, why not think what a really good friend might say to comfort and encourage you. Then start to tell yourself the same things. Self-kindness is not self-indulgent; real friends want the best for us and are prepared to express their concerns. They may well say “Do not eat that extra piece of cake just to make yourself feel better! Why not try going for a gentle walk in the park instead?”

Being aware that we all experience emotional pain and suffering

Knowing that all of us experience disappointment, failure, loss, anger, ill-health etc. helps us to feel less isolated emotionally in the darker days of our life. This gives us permission to acknowledge that this is one of those times for us to experience emotional pain and recognise that therefore it is appropriate to offer self-comfort and care. This concern for your own needs in times of stress can reduce the release of stress hormones and bring our physiological and psychological systems back into regulation.

Mindfulness Meditations and Relaxation

Relaxation and mindfulness meditations can help us to slow down and notice and tend to our internal worlds.

The human brain has evolved to keep us safe. The large frontal cortex is the executive function centre of the mind. This system has a pre-disposition to focus on the threats and negative triggers in our environment with the clear aim of avoiding danger. However, this negative bias can also result in our minds getting stuck in a downward spiral of anger, anxiety and pressure.

Creating periods of calm and balance in our daily life allows us to build up selfawareness of the current state of our internal world. When we stop and listen to the thoughts and feelings whirling around us we can start to notice what is going on inside and accept these reactions in a non-judgmental way. We are all human after all. Allowing responses to be observed as just a passing emotional reaction to a challenging situation may tell us that we need to take immediate action to address the original source of the stress, rather than to blame ourselves for over-reacting to it.