I grew up in a Quaker family where I was taught to serve others and consequently became a social worker which has brought great meaning into my life. However, until recently, I was never as good to myself as I was to others. As a result, I often felt depleted and even “burned out.” Fortunately, I listened to the wisdom of my teenage son and began to take better care of myself and treat myself with the same compassion I had for others.
I was gratified to discover that my efforts filled me with an abundance of happiness and inner peace I could pass onto others. I have been on a mission ever since to spread the wonders of self-compassion far and wide through the use of the following portals. I have witnessed and experienced the healing and transformative power of these portals in my work with clients and my own quest to be more self-compassionate.
BE YOUR OWN BEST FRIEND
If you “beat up” on yourself in a harsh, judgmental manner, begin speaking to yourself inside your head or out loud in a caring and helpful manner, just like you are your own best friend. For instance, when you are going through a hard time, you could say to yourself, “Hang in there, I am behind you all the way!”
DEVELOP BELIEFS THAT WORK FOR YOU
You may hold onto beliefs that cause you unhappiness, stress, etc. One of the keys to self-compassion is to identify the beliefs that are not working and replace them with ones that are more functional like you are shedding an old skin. In fact, one of the key components of my work with clients is to encourage them to “try on” new beliefs to see how well they work.
KNOW THAT YOU ARE INHERENTLY WORTHWHILE
Many people mistakenly believe that they are not worthy because they fail to live up to their own expectations, the bad treatment they have received from others or the mistakes they have made. However, worth is not something we need to achieve. We are all inherently worthy and knowing this fills us with a lightness of spirit that spreads through our entire being.
DO NOT PROJECT YOUR NEEDS ON TO OTHERS
We often make the mistake of projecting our needs onto others and feel hurt or even angry when these people do not provide us with what we are looking for. However, it is impossible for anyone else to know us well enough to consistently meet our needs. We alone know best what we need and are generally much better able to give it to ourselves than anyone else.
GIVE YOURSELF THE GIFTS OF HAPPINESS AND PEACE OF MIND
People often believe that they need their unhappiness and stress to motivate them to make changes in themselves and their lives. However, this is not the case. These negative emotional states deplete our energy and diminish our quality of life. We can strive to choose happiness and peace of mind, regardless of the challenges we face.
I learned this important lesson 30 years ago when my wife and I attended a treatment program for help with our daughter, Nicole, who has Rett Syndrome (a form of autism). Our counselor encouraged us to give up the unhappiness, stress, etc. we were experiencing because of Nicole’s lack of development and choose happiness and peace of mind instead. I eagerly made this choice because I was stuck in a painful dead end and had no other place to go.
I was amazed and relieved to discover that I was filled with positive energy I could use to make a real difference in my daughter’s life rather than drowning in my internal angst. I also realized that I could let go of my unhappiness in many other less challenging situations which led me to experience previously unknown levels of well-being and serenity.
TAKE GREAT CARE OF YOURSELF
One of the most self-compassionate things we can do is to take great care of our physical, emotional and social needs. In fact, each day presents us with countless choices about how to spend our time and focus our energies. When we respond to these opportunities in ways that bring us meaning, pleasure, comfort and good health, we feel satisfied with our lives. When we ignore our needs, we feel frustrated and even depressed. TUNE INTO
TUNE INTO YOUR “AUTHENTIC SELF"
We all have an inner realm we can access by transcending our thoughts and feelings which enables us to experience inner peace and hear our inner voice amidst the noise in our heads and the world around us. It is a permanent part of us that does not change as we experience life’s challenges or develop different outward identities. In a nutshell, it is who we are at our most basic level.
ELIMINATE NEGATIVE REACTIONS
It is very freeing to train ourselves to respond to difficult life situations in a calm and focused manner rather than with anger, frustration, etc. The key to this challenge is to recognize the visceral, physiological sensations we experience just before we have a negative emotional response and to tell ourselves in no uncertain terms that we have the choice not to act on these sensations.
APPRECIATE WHAT YOU ALREADY HAVE
A major key to happiness is to appreciate all the good things in our lives. Whether we are marveling at the unconditional love our dogs give us or appreciating the joy of reconnecting with an old friend, our ability to bask in life’s pleasures significantly improves the quality of our precious time on this earth. In fact, one of the most important decisions I have ever made is to totally appreciate every good aspect of my life.
ENJOY THE PRESENT MOMENT
There are a variety of portals into the moment that are always accessible. One is to switch our focus from our thoughts to what we are experiencing through our senses which opens us up to an entirely different world. We can also “lose ourselves” in activities (often called flow) that fully capture our attention and enable us to operate from the most expansive parts of ourselves. Finally, we can view the moments of our lives as opportunities to be savored rather than stepping stones to getting to some other place.
PASS YOUR COMPASSION ONTO OTHERS
One of the best things about achieving self-compassion it that it gives us more compassion for others. As a result, we are compelled to do what we can for our fellow human beings and build a better world by eliminating suffering and injustice.
Many people believe that it is selfish to be self-compassionate. However, there is nothing selfish about eliminating self-criticism, treating yourself with kindness, being happy, transcending your worries, finding a peaceful place within or savoring the good things in your life. In fact, your positive energy and spirit will attract others to you and inspire them to become their best selves and let their own light shine.
I invite you to experiment with these portals into self-compassion to discover which ones work best for you - it will be your gift to yourself. I hope they change your life as they have mine!
Nate Terrell, LCSW, is the author of “Achieving Self-Compassion: Giving Yourself the Gifts of Happiness and Inner Peace." Nate invites you to check out his website, www.achievingselfcompassion.com where you can sign up for his newsletter and/or self-compassion coaching. He also invites you to share your experiences on his Facebook page, “Achieving Self-Compassion."