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Wednesday, October 29, 2014

How Self-Compassion Can Make You Happier and Healthier

This week, I was interviewed by psychotherapist Jacqueline Stone from Sydney, Australia for her Wise Stress Mastery blog.  The topic was self-compassion. We spoke about how a mindset shift to self-compassion can be a turning point in therapy. Why do we struggle so much to treat ourselves with the same kindness and forgiveness that we extend to everybody else. 
A lack of self-compassion begins when we internalize the experience of feeling  unworthy or unlovable  Because of trauma or difficult childhood circumstances, we get stuck in the belief "I am not enough."  We believe that we are not good enough, thin enough, smart enough, attractive enough, emotionally stable enough, and so on. This type of negative belief paradoxically gives us some hope for an end to the pain.  If "I" am the problem, then there is hope for a different outcome if "I" could only change.  The problem is that this belief sets us up for failure in our attempts to change entrenched emotions and behaviors.  The things we are trying to change are often behaviors  we rely on to protect ourselves from feelings of helplessness and emotional distress. Many of us need these measures until we can learn healthier ways of comforting ourselves or managing distress. When we don't succeed in acting healthier and taking better care of ourselves, we then begin to blame ourselves for that as well, thereby compounding our misery.
The way out of this Catch-22 is to learn and practice self-compassion, even if it feels awkward at first, you consider it wimpy, or you don't think you deserve it. 

Dr Stone noted that
"...during my years in this field I witnessed a recurring phenomenon. I kept noticing that self-compassion heralded a turning point for people dealing with stress and related challenges. I kept witnessing that when people were truly able to ease up on themselves and treat themselves as kindly as they treated those dear to them, the positive gains they made were striking."
In my article Why self-compassion helps you meet life’s challenges, I explain  why self-compassion works better than negative ways of motivating yourself.
  • It helps you realize how you overestimate your control over, and sole responsibility for behaviors and outcomes
  • It helps you understand that ‘your feelings are not you’ and that just because you think something doesn’t mean the thought is true
  • It gives you a perspective based on "common humanity" or the sense that everybody is human and you don't have to be perfect.
  • It helps you connect with unmet or unacknowledged needs that may conflict with your stated goals and block your progress
  • It helps you realize that failure is not final and that you can get up and start again
In the interview with Dr Stone, I also discuss some practical strategies to develop greater self-compassion. Click here to listen to the conversation.

About The Author

Dr Melanie Greenberg is a psychologist  in Mill Valley, California who offers individual and couples therapy to clients struggling with relationship issues and life stress.

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