Self-compassion: What is it and why is it good for therapy?

Self-compassion: What is it and why is it good for therapy?

Self-compassion and Therapy

What it is?

Self- compassion, much like mindfulness and self-care, has earned a spotlight in the mental health community and beyond. Many confuse self-compassion with self-esteem which fluctuates and self-pity or self-indulgence- both of which can keep us in unhealthy places in our life. Self-compassion is none of these, but what is it and why does it matter?

Self-compassion is a skill. It’s not a characteristic, as it is often assumed to be. This means it can be learned and practiced. It’s a way of thinking that promotes the use of acceptance and forgiveness for self, awareness and acceptance of the failure and suffering in humanity and mindfulness of our own emotions and thoughts, which helps us to observe ourselves from a non-judgmental, open stance.

The benefits of self-compassion have been proven. Brain scans have shown an increase in the size of an area of the brain, termed the Care Circuit, following compassion training.  The Care Circuit is the part of the brain activated when we feel warmth or love. With practice, the use of self-compassion can promote greater happiness and well-being.

The Basics:

  1. Checking in with yourself- One way to check in with yourself is a body scan. “I use this technique with clients and ask that they do this on their own” says Mariam Hager, LMSW and associate therapist at Gateway to Solutions. Taking notice of your breathing and tension or relaxation in various parts of the body.
  2. Take notice of any thoughts with non-judgmental awareness. Using mindfulness practice is helpful for this process. There are many exercises, such as the thoughts on a leaf exercise from Acceptance Commitment Therapy. This uses guided imagery to demonstrate the fluidity of thoughts to come and go, helping to create distance and perspective from thoughts.
  3. Reframe/Looking at it from a different perspective- One helpful way to facilitate self-compassion draws from the idea that we all have failures. Ask yourself, how would I treat a friend in a similar situation? Using this line of thinking, compare to how you are reacting to your own situation. Try to apply the same compassion you would towards this friend for yourself.

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