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29.10.2018
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Mental HealthMindfulness & Self-Compassion

An Intro to Self-Compassion: The Self-Compassion Break

I just returned from attending this year's 7in7 conference for digital nomads in Medellin, Colombia. It was an incredible conference…

post by Melissa

I just returned from attending this year’s 7in7 conference for digital nomads in Medellin, Colombia. It was an incredible conference designed for experienced location independent professionals.  And unlike other conferences I’ve attended in the past, it combined activities relevant for attendee’s professional, as well as personal, lives. In fact, many people referred to it as a “lifestyle conference” instead of a “professional conference.”

As part of the conference, I presented a workshop with online therapist, Dr. Sonia Jaeger, titled “Creating Your Location Independent Mental Health Toolbox.” In the workshop we presented tools and exercises from Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) that can be used to care for your mental  and emotional well-being, wherever in the world you are.

These exercises are all done with an attitude of self-compassion, so towards the end of the workshop I led the group in doing a “Self-Compassion Break,” the exercise I present in the following video. Check out the video and try it out for yourself. If you’d like to know more about this exercise and the self-compassion course I attended earlier this year, you can continue reading below the video. 

The Self-Compassion Break

In July I attended a 5-day Mindful Self-Compassion (MSC) intensive course in a small town in the Netherlands. Along with 100 other people who had traveled from around the world, I spent one week learning about the practice of self-compassion from the two leaders in the field who had developed the course: Dr. Kristin Neff and Dr. Christopher Germer.

We learned a number of different exercises during the course, but one that I particularly enjoy sharing with clients is the self-compassion break that I introduced in this video. It’s something that you can do anywhere, anytime of day, and it’s fairly easy to remember. The phrases that you say to yourself are related to the three elements that make up self-compassion:

    1. Mindfulness
    1. Common humanity
  1. Self-kindness

Although self-kindness is one of the first things we think of when we hear about self-compassion, the other two elements are just as important. In order to do the self-compassion break, you first need to think of something that you feel upset or stressed about (if it’s your first time doing it then it’s best to think of something that would be around a 3 on a scale from 0 to 10).

Mindfulness

In order to practice compassion (towards ourselves or others), we first must be aware of the fact that there is suffering. By being mindful of the painful emotion that we’re feeling in that specific moment, rather than pushing it away, or over-identifying with it, we are turning towards ourselves and also, creating space between ourselves and this pain. You can say something like:

This really hurts.

This is so hard.

This is sadness/anxiety/loneliness (whatever the particular emotion is).

Common Humanity

The common humanity piece is an important reminder that we aren’t alone in this moment. It can also help us to remember that there is nothing wrong with us for feeling this particular way, that experiencing emotional pain isn’t at all abnormal. Some possible phrases are:

I’m not alone right now.

There’s nothing wrong with feeling this way.

It’s hard to feel this way, but other people hurt like this too.

Self-Kindness

In the self-kindness part of the exercise we can work to reassure ourselves that we’re going to be ok. Often saying gentle and nurturing things towards ourselves is unchartered territory so reflecting on what we’d say to a friend OR what we’d like a friend to say to us, can help us to brainstorm kind words that we can then use with ourselves. You could say things such as:

May I treat myself kindly.

I’m going to be here for you.

May I accept myself as I am.

For some people, practicing self-compassion for the first time can be an incredibly jarring experience and even create greater emotional discomfort. Neff and Germer refer to this as “backdraft,” and describe it in the following way in the MSC course manual:

“Backdraft’ is a term that firefighters use to describe how a fire can intensify when fresh air is introduced through an open door. A similar effect can occur when we open the door of our hearts when self-compassion. Most of our hearts are hot with pain accumulated over a lifetime. In order to function n our lives, we needed to shut out stressful or painful experiences. However, when the door of our hearts open and kindness flows in, old hurts are likely to come out. That’s backdraft. The discomfort we feel is not created by self-compassion practice–it’s simply being re-experienced and transformed by the power of compassion.”

If you believe you’re experiencing backdraft yourself it may be a signal that you need to move more slowly on the path of self-compassion, or that you need additional support. If you’d like to take the mindful self-compassion course yourself, you can find online (as well as in-person ones around the world) at the Center for Mindful Self-Compassion website.

I’m a Mindful Self-Compassion Teacher-in-Training myself and incorporate these tools into my individual coaching. If you’d like to learn how my coaching services could support you on your own journey towards treating yourself with greater self-compassion, schedule a free 30 minute consultation with me: Schedule Now

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