“Compassion is the antitoxin of the soul: where there is compassion even the most poisonous impulses remain relatively harmless”-Eric Hoffer
We all carry around an internal critic in our minds. We all have that little voice that points out our flaws, brings us down, and makes us feel sad and alone.
The difference between this voice is an overwhelming wave of toxicity or a mild annoyance is our self-compassion.
Self-compassion is the soothing antidote to our negative inner voice. Self-compassion tells us that we are good enough, that we are worthy of warmth and kindness, that suffering is a perfectly normal thing that everyone goes through, and we are not alone in our pain.
Having compassion and kindness for ourselves is a vital tool in our mental wellness. Despite this, it is a concept that not many are aware of. After our focus on Self-Care last week, we thought it would be good to explore self-compassion and why it is vital in moving on from trauma.
What is self-compassion?
Self-compassion is a relatively new concept but the principles behind it have actually been around for thousands of years! Over 2000 years ago, the Buddha prescribed kindness, a sense of common humanity, and mindfulness to monks who were struggling with anxiety and fear. These three principles make up the three pillars of self-compassion.
Dr. Kristin Neff developed the practice of self-compassion after studying Buddhism and practicing mindfulness meditation. When she noticed how important these three principles are to the modern mind and the journey towards mental wellness, she devoted much of her career to studying and teaching self-compassion.
Dr. Neff describes self-compassion as treating yourself with the same level of love and kindness that we treat other people with. So many of us find it so easy to be kind and forgiving of others but struggle to give ourselves the same treatment. We often say things to ourselves that we would never dream of saying to anyone else. The same goes for how we treat ourselves when we are going through a difficult time.
Instead of ignoring our problems or trying to stifle them with criticism, self-compassion teaches us to accept our pain as a part of the human condition and to say to ourselves
“This is really difficult right now, how can I take care of myself and make myself comfortable in this moment?”
Maybe next time you are having a difficult time try saying this to yourself and see how it makes you feel.
Why is Self-Compassion important after trauma?
A common symptom of PTSD is developing this kind of toxic self-talk. Trauma survivors can often find this voice telling them that they aren’t good enough or that they deserved what happened. This can often become a vicious cycle that breeds more negativity and shame.
Toxic self-talk can often develop as a way of seeking control after a traumatic event. Having a negative internal monologue can be a way of internalizing an external threat or abuser. This is also known as hyper-vigilance. This self-talk can also stem from having an overly critical or neglectful person in our lives, such as a parent, sibling, romantic partner, or friend.
Self-compassion can directly treat the three main stress responses that come as a result of trauma: Fight, Flight, and Freeze. These responses, when internalized, can become Self-criticism, self-isolation, and self-absorption respectively.
By practicing self-kindness, we can reduce our self-criticism. By looking for common humanity in our suffering, we can avoid self-isolation. By practicing mindfulness, we can mitigate self-absorption.
After experiencing a traumatic event, survivors may find themselves looking to drugs, alcohol, and a host of other negative coping mechanisms to try and relieve their pain. By developing self-compassion, we can confront the underlying emotions causing these symptoms head-on in a healthy and positive way.
How do we develop self-compassion?
The most effective way of developing self-compassion is by looking to Self-kindness, common humanity, and mindfulness, the three pillars of compassion. Including these as an emotional underpinning in your self-care routine can make a massive improvement to PTSD. Here are some ways of strengthening the three pillars.
- Watch your self-talk, when you find yourself criticizing yourself try and turn your self-talk in a more positive direction.
- Implement a positive self-care routine
- Treat yourself as you would treat a friend or family member who is struggling.
- Spend time with friends and family
- Avoid isolating yourself
- Share your problems with a trusted person and hear their problems to remind yourself that pain is part of the human condition and you are not alone
- Find a mindfulness practice that works for you
- Pause for a moment, slow down, and orient to your surroundings
- Take a deep breath (or two..or ten)
- Examine your pain without reacting to it in a negative way
Even though developing self-compassion is a personal journey, you do not have to do it alone. If you or a loved one is struggling with some of the symptoms of PTSD then please do not hesitate to book a session with one of our therapists. Giving yourself the gift of therapy may be one of the most important acts of self-compassion that one can do.