At some time in our lives, we will all experience something that causes us incredible emotional pain, grief, loss or illness, or maybe something happening to someone we love dearly.
There is a quote that I share with others by Hilary Stantin Zunin, “The risk of love is loss, and the price of loss is grief – but the pain of grief is only a shadow when compared with the pain of never risking love.”
I have never met anyone who has said they would rather not love someone so that they don’t have to feel any pain or grief. We will inevitably be faced with some kind of emotional pain. Suffering is a part of our lives.
So how do we deal with emotional distress when it happens? How can we treat ourselves kindly whilst also experiencing the pain? I use a technique called self-compassion and I talk a lot about it in my work with clients, other therapists, and also in my personal life. I became hooked after attending a conference talk a few years ago.
Over the last couple of years, I have felt incredible emotional pain and loss. Some people would say they have ‘endured’ pain, I choose to say I have “felt it”, and am “feeling it” and I have used self-acceptance and self-compassion to move through this stage.
Self-compassion is a personal and individual journey, it’s not about taking away the pain, quite the opposite. O feel that trying to avoid the pain would somehow dismiss the wonderful experiences in my life before the loss. By practicing self-compassion, I choose to feel the loss fully, in a place of self-kindness.
In a nutshell, self-compassion is about being kind to ourselves whilst experiencing the normal feelings we may have associated with something painful that is going on in our lives. This can be easier said than done, as babies or during childhood, we may have had loving parents or carers that could soothe our pain and discomfort. As we grow and through normal development we hopefully learn how to soothe ourselves, but for some people this is not the case. Others may think, “Why would anyone want to feel this pain?” or “this soothing stuff is so unfamiliar that I don’t know how to do it.” Our normal and automatic reaction or response to pain is to make it go away.
- not about judging ourselves positively;
- it is about being kind to ourselves;
- handling the painful thoughts in an effective way;
- letting go of seeing self-criticism as the problem;
- about having compassion for our self-critic;
- understanding the purpose of our own critical voice.
Our internal critical voice has tried to keep us safe, this can seem to be contradictory, but when there is a threat to our self-concept, our body releases cortisol (the stress hormone) to try and fix the problem.
With self-compassion, you can move from that ‘fight or flight’ response to a response of warmth. When we do this our bodies release oxytocin (the connection hormone) which is released at various bonding times in our lives, like when a mother gives birth, or we hug our children, friends and family.
- Imagine that you are being kind to yourself like you would a friend in need.
- Think of something that is causing you pain.
- Think about this pain for a few moments.
- Tell yourself that “this is a moment of suffering”.
- Try and take a few relaxing breaths, or if this is too difficult, just notice the air inhaling and exhaling through your nose.
- Place your hand on your heart area, or where you can feel the pain.
- Just notice the warmth from your hand.
- Imagine you are holding someone else in pain.
- Add words such as “I’m here for you”, “It’s okay”.
- Notice that you are feeling sad, lost, grief-stricken, in anguish, or however else you may be feeling.
- Say to yourself, “May I be kind to myself right now”.
- Just as you would not judge a newborn baby for crying when it is hungry or in pain, treat yourself the same way, and do not judge your thoughts and feelings.
- Notice the thoughts of self-criticism, and don’t try to make them go away.
It is not about changing the habits you may have had for a lifetime – but about noticing when the self-criticism creeps in or smacks us in the face. Then becoming aware of what is driving that habit.
Counselling and therapy can support you in becoming more aware of when the self-criticism habit is at its strongest, and can teach you more about self-compassion strategies.
If you are interested in finding out more about anything in this article please contact Clare by email firstname.lastname@example.org