Emerge Therapy

Developing Self Compassion


The Dalai Lama tells us “If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.”


We live in a very narcissistic age epitomized by social media and the selfie. On the one hand, there is a growing sense that we can be authentic, expressing our true nature wherever and whenever possible, yet at the same time, there seems to be an ever-increasing cost to being outside the group, whatever that may be. Speak out of line and you risk extreme condemnation from the anonymous hordes of social media that send out own inner critic into overdrive. No wonder rates of anxiety are rocketing throughout the Western World. If we are not careful we find ourselves striving towards an imagined state of perfection that we can never achieve. As a result, our own inner critic increases in volume leaving us feeling anxious, depressed or simply empty.

The most effective antidote to our narcissistic culture and our own quest for ever greater self-esteem is to develop self-compassion

At its core anger can be seen as a cry for help, like a babies cry when it needs feeding or changing. Anger is often a symptom that our needs are not being met, either physically, emotionally or relationally. Like the baby’s cry, our anger stems from some perceived threat as well as anguish–feelings such as anxiety, fear, shame, powerlessness, and self-doubt. In this context, anger becomes a desperate cry for connection and love. In some ways, a desperate but failed attempt at self-compassion. Instead if nurturing us, our anger drives others away leaving us feeling disconnected, lonely yet filled with guilt for our so-called bad behaviour.

As author and American Buddhist Pema Chödrön (1998 says), “As the barriers come down around our own hearts, we are less afraid of other people. We are more able to hear what is being said, see what is in front of our eyes, and work in accord with what happens rather than struggle against it” (p. 237). In other words, when you have compassion for yourself, it’s easier to be compassionate toward others. You’re more likely to be able to put yourself in others’ shoes and understand what would make their hearts sing. Self-compassion has been linked to greater well-being, including diminished anxiety and depression, better emotional coping skills and compassion for others.

Dr. Kristen Neff is an expert on self-compassion and the author of “Self-Compassion: Stop Beating Yourself Up and Leave Insecurity Behind”. She defines Self-compassion as “what you’d show a loved one struggling with a similar situation.”

Neff identifies 3 core components to self-compassion: Self-kindness, common humanity and mindfulness. Put simply self-kindness is the ability to be gentle and understanding with yourself in times of suffering. Common humanity is about understanding how your experience may be common to many. It helps you realize that you are not alone in your suffering. Finally, mindfulness, as we have shown before, helps improve your ability to observe life in a non-judgemental way without getting caught in the flow of drama that may surround you.

So how do we go about building self-compassion? Dr. Neff outlines a 5 step process.

Firstly consider how you would treat somebody else. If a friend or loved one is in your situation how would you treat them? What would you want to say to them? It is amazing how often we can find compassion and empathy for others and not for ourselves.

Secondly be mindful of your language. Frequently when working with clients I notice that their language is harsh and self-critical, and often they are not aware of this until I reflect their words back to them. Listen to your self-talk – would you talk to a loved one like this?

Comfort yourself with a physical gesture. Using touch, or any kind physical gestures have an immediate effect on our bodies, activating the bodies soothing parasympathetic system, Physical gestures have the ability to take us out of the whirlpool of our mind and into an experience of our body. This can be important as the mind has a tendency to get carried away with the storylines in our head. Putting your hand over your heart, touching an arm or simply giving yourself a loving hug can be very powerful acts of self-compassion.

Memorize a set of compassionate phrases ready to use when you hear yourself being self-critical. Find statements that resonate with you and your values. Neff offers us the following phrases but feel free to develop your own:

This is a moment of suffering.
Suffering is part of life.
May I be kind to myself in this moment?
May I give myself the compassion I need?

Adding a physical gesture to your mantra increases the power of this exercise.

5. Practice meditation. Mediation can play a role in helping you retrain the brain in ways that make you more compassionate and empathic. By practicing meditation self-compassionate gestures and self-soothing become more natural.

If you want to silence the nagging inner critic in your head the answer is simple. Be kind to yourself!

Chödrön, P. (1998). “A Practice of Compassion,” In Inner Knowing by H. Palmer, Ed.

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The Dalai Lama tells us “If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.”

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