Recently I was asked, “How do I offer myself compassion?” Before attempting an answer, I want to acknowledge that there can be big obstacles to offering ourselves compassion. Of these, we can include the fact that our negative emotions themselves are very good at capturing our attention—so much so that it may take hours or even days to notice the fact that we’ve been suffering. Another possible snag is that we could be telling ourselves we shouldn’t feel the way we do. Then, if you think about it, there probably are hundreds of ways to avoid the negative feelings altogether—like comfort food, TV, video games, or another glass of wine. Clearly, compassion isn’t always our first go-to. So, this person’s question is very on point. Given these obstacles how do we offer ourselves compassion?
The answer, I think, starts with noticing when something isn’t going well. That queasy feeling, chest tightness, tension in the face or shoulders, and an upwelling of tears are all signals we can use to stop and notice that we’re suffering. Maybe we notice negative physical and emotional sensations, or maybe we notice we’re caught up by being either deeply absorbed in the feelings, or fervently trying to avoid or disregard them. Like the other day when I was upset about something and before I realized what I was doing I was standing in front of the refrigerator.
Once we notice the physical/emotional experience we can name it: “This is sadness” “This is disappointment.” “This is frustration.” Or we can name it by naming the body sensations: “My stomach’s tense.” “My hands and jaw are clenched.” “My heart is aching.” Or, even simply, “This is suffering.” This naming engages the prefrontal cortex, allowing our full self (our aware self) to step in and help with compassion.
Try this out: Next time you notice that things aren’t working well, see if you can pause, notice, and practice naming the experience. Then take a few moments to offer yourself compassion. Here are examples of things we can do and say:
- Hug ourselves.
- Pat our cheek.
- Put our hands over our heart.
- Imagine we’re receiving a hug or an encouraging gesture from someone who cares about us.
We can say to the part of us that is suffering:
- “I’m here for you.”
- “I’m listening to you.”
- “I hear how hard this is.”
- “I’m here and I’m not going anywhere.”
- “You’re not alone.”
- “I’ll take care of you.”
- “It’s going to be OK.”
Let me know how it goes.