Developing a Compassionate Mind
What does it mean to be compassionate? When we think of compassion, we usually think about compassion towards others. However, how do we become more compassionate towards ourselves? When we start looking inside of ourselves into our inner world, what do we observe? How do we talk to ourselves? What does our self-talk consist of? Is our inner critic taking over? Do we criticize ourselves harshly and negatively judge our actions? Do we put ourselves down?
Steve is a 30-year-old male, who lives predominantly in his head. He tends to judge his actions harshly, frequently putting himself down. When he forgets to purchase something at the grocery store, he reacts with “What’s wrong with you? Can’t you get anything right?”. He pays the wrong bill online when he’s tired and his inner critic responds with “you are such an idiot, when are you going to get your act together?”. He tries to smile at an attractive female walking by, without any response back from her and he says to himself “You are such a loser, you will die alone”. With years of these harsh words floating in his mind, he internalizes his negative self-talk making it part of his identity.
Just like Steve, we tend to forget to be kind to ourselves. Can you relate to Steve? What is your approach towards yourself? Are you compassionate towards yourself by allowing yourself to make mistakes and giving yourself permission to be human? Do you give room for yourself to feel what you feel without judging your reactions or your thoughts, understanding that you are just finding the best way to cope in a situation you are faced with? Strangely enough, we tend to be better at taking care of others and tend to find it easier to put others ahead of us. We might be trying to distract from our own pain by neglecting our emotional needs by focusing on helping others. However, how are we in a position to care for others when we may feel emptiness inside from self-neglect?
We may feel undeserving of compassion due to our feelings of self-criticism and blame, where we may feel like “I deserve to be punished”, “I’m a bad person”, “I don't deserve a good life”. We adopt an illusion of control where we believe that if we blame ourselves, we may be in a better place to do something about it. Through the self-criticism we face, we becoming our worst enemies and limit our potential to become great and make an impact on others. Some people feel that they deserve to suffer, that suffering gives them character, makes them stronger so they don't appear weak. Others don’t allow themselves to show emotions or find it hard to feel emotions and tend to find ways to distract from what they are feeling. Life should not be about suffering but about embracing compassion in our lives, making a conscious choice to find ways to improve ourselves, become the person we want to be.
Common negative self-talk comes in the form of “I'm not good enough”, “I’m not worthy of love”, “I’m not smart enough”, “I’m not pretty enough”. Through taking this harsh approach, we are not allowing ourselves to be our best selves, our true selves. We become small and fearful. Similar to Steve, we tend to forget that we come first and with compassion, we can begin to understand it not as an act of selfishness but rather an act of self-worth and self-love. When we neglect our emotional needs, it can have significant impact on our mental health with emerging feelings of worthlessness and powerlessness. Through compassion, we can get on the path of commitment towards ourselves to live life fully and enhance our quality of life that we deserve. Everyone is entitled to compassion, including ourselves.
Once we accept the realization of just how amazing we are, we are able to accomplish greatness because we feel invincible and powerful. We are capable of achieving anything we set our minds to with just a simple power of thought and intention. We can attract our desires and dreams into our world if we find more compassion towards ourselves and remove the negative blockage in our minds.
It is within our control to change the way we look at a situation and to change our behaviour. Since thought, behaviour, environment and emotion are interrelated, by changing one area we naturally impact the other areas of our lives. If we find ways to become more compassionate towards ourselves through positive self-talk and positive actions, our mood will improve and our environment will start to look a lot more optimistic. Through embracing openness and acceptance of our situation, we will naturally find room for improved problem-solving skills to assist us in achieving the quality of life that we are looking. By taking action and embracing a more kind, compassionate, empathetic approach towards our experiences, our feelings and our thoughts, we can become more tolerant of our distress and increase our quality of life.
To assist with developing compassion in ourselves, bring your awareness into your inner world. Check in with yourself. What you are feeling? Notice your thought process, notice if there is any sense of distress. Through this awareness we can find opportunities to comfort ourselves. Ask yourself “why am I feeling like this?”, “What could I do to make myself feel better?”, “What do I need to learn and develop in order to change this?”. Be non-judgmental in your approach and allow for an authentic human experience by not attaching meaning to your emotions. Embrace a sense of detachment and compassion towards yourself. Resist attaching yourself to any negative thoughts entering your mind, simply notice them and counteract with a more positive response.
Here are some positive affirmations you could try to train your mind to become more compassionate:
- I am strong and I can overcome anything
- I am determined and successful
- I am a good person and I have a lot to offer
- I am confident and competent
- I deserve love in my life
- I’m moving towards my goals and dreams
- I make wise decisions based on what I know
- I am in control of my choices
- My life has meaning and purpose
- I know I can master anything once I commit to continual practice
- I can achieve anything I want to achieve
- My life purpose can be whatever I choose it to be
- All is well, right here right now
- I have inner strength and resources
- I am doing the best I can to get by, there’s no need to beat myself up
- I can’t change others, but I can change myself
- I am grateful for all that I have
- There are people who care about me
- I am courageous
- I can be as happy as I choose to be
- I can get through this
- Everything is going to be okay
Here are some compassionate actions that you could take towards yourself to improve your quality of life:
- Eat balanced food that helps you feel good
- Balanced sleep, not too much, not too little so you feel rested and energized
- Find ways to be more active even if it’s walking to the grocery store or walking the dog
- Read an interesting book to stimulate your mind
- Wrap yourself in a warm blanket
- Meditate in a quiet space to increase focus and concentration
- Drink your favourite beverage such as a fruity smoothie or warm herbal tea
- Take a warm bubble bath with soft music in the background
- Get a massage from a loved one
- Wear your best outfit and meet up with a friend in a public place
- Go to theatre and pick a movie that you would like to see
- Write a journal entry expressing what you are thankful for
- List aspects of yourself that you admire or things you have accomplished in the last 5 years
Here are some distress tolerance techniques taken from Dialectical Behavioural Therapy to help you feel negative and difficult emotions and then apply compassion to comfort yourself:
IMPROVE the Moment
Imagery – imagine a safe place eg. comfort of your room, ocean beach, top of a mountain
Meaning – finding meaning in a difficult situation, making lemonade out of lemons
Prayer – open yourself to the moment and accept your emotion, as difficult as it may be
Relaxation – find a way to relax and soothe your body
One thing in the moment – remember that the only pain one has to survive is in this moment, avoid thinking about the past or future and just focus on the present moment
Vacation – take a break from your daily responsibilities for the day to regroup
Encouragement – talk to yourself in a positive way using positive affirmations mentioned above
Connect with a counsellor or therapist that you trust and work on becoming more compassionate towards yourself. Make it a priority because you are worth it. You create your own reality so take control and improve your quality of life now.