ACT on Self Compassion

There is a saying that “What we resist persists”. It basically means that by resisting thoughts and feelings that we don’t want, they tend to hang around. This resistance refers to any efforts we undertake to avoid pain. This is a common strategy for dealing with pain, which, unfortunately, is not effective in the long run. We actually prolong suffering. ( CK.Germer PhD. )

During the CoVid period you may have noticed an increase in reminders that we should practise Self-Care. Which means undertaking behaviour to improve our own wellbeing. This is a great idea, but is it enough? More and more people have started noticing a general sense of unease, despite practising Self-Care. So how about taking it up a notch? And practise Self-Compassion. 

There are many definitions of Self Compassion. One that I particularly like is very simple. Self compassion means Acknowledging Suffering and Responding with Kindness. In other words, extending the same warmth and kindness to self as you do to others. ( Dr. Russ Harris)

We all hurt at times and now during CoVid, we’re becoming aware that we have to find new ways of dealing with our thoughts and feelings, as our old ways, such as favourite past times, are not available anymore or are not as effective anymore.

There is a lot of research indicating that Self Compassion is a great antidote to depression, anxiety, trauma, feeling disconnected and experiencing self-doubt. It plays an increasingly important role in psychotherapies. In ACT, Acceptance & Commitment Therapy, (the acronym is pronounced as one word to highlight the importance for behavioural change), it is an intricate part of each step of the process.

For many people Self Compassion may be new, as we often don’t take the time to stand still to experience the impact of certain events, thoughts and feelings on ourselves. People may think it is not so important and prefer to skate over thoughts and feelings rather than taking a moment to stand still with them.

Funnily enough, when we do stand still, we often feel lighter, freer and more in tune with ourselves. You may feel that this is not your cup of tea. You may have even tried meditation and you’re just not cut out for that. The good news is that you do not need to meditate, be aware of your breathing or close your eyes.

Just sit quietly for a few minutes. Remember a time when you cared for a loved one and recall that feeling. You can look at your hands that provided the care for your loved ones. Now extend that same feeling to yourself. Simply by placing your hands on your opposite upper arms or on your chest. Feel the warmth of your hands and how you are present in that moment.

As you feel your body, how you sit in your chair, be aware of whatever shows up in your mind. Continue to extend the same kindness to your thoughts and feelings without pushing them away or engaging with them. Even thoughts of resistance to this exercise are great to practise with. Just give it a go and see what happens.

Now this is a more structured exercise, there are plenty of other ways how you can acknowledge suffering in your life and respond with kindness. Feel free to reflect on how you can bring more self-compassion into your life. When you put it into practice be aware of how it makes you feel. This is a great way to lay the foundation for experiencing more self-compassion in your daily life.

Written By:
Allard Mueller
Psychotherapist  and Counsellor

Sources:

• The mindful path to Self Compassion, Christopher K. Germer, PhD
• How to develop Self-compassion – in just about anyone, Dr Russ Harris

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