Last week was the week of love, or so western culture indicates, and society including good old social media, repeatedly reminds us.
Don’t get me wrong, I have got nothing against Valentine’s Day, and it is always good to be reminded to appreciate those we love, romantically or otherwise. It can however be a difficult time for people, in a relationship or not. Once again, we are in a position whereby it is easy to compare the perceived best parts of another’s lives, to the worst of our own; and boy, how quick can our thoughts go from, ‘look at what they have in their lives’ to, ‘there must be something wrong with me’.
The love and kindness we give and receive, whether with a partner, parent, child, friend or acquaintance, is without a doubt of great importance. However, the difficult truth is that these relationships cannot be guaranteed to be constant. Some of them will end and some may become more distant, either geographically or emotionally, during particular stages of life.
The person we spend all of our time with, and the person we will be with until the day we die, is of course ourselves; and who do we tend to find it most difficult to be loving and kind towards? Yep, you’ve got it! Ourselves!
The irony is that it is in those moments we need to be kind to ourselves the most, we typically find it most difficult to give ourselves the love, care and patience we need. When we are feeling in any way vulnerable, mentally or physically, we tend to actually become harder on, criticise ourselves, and in all honesty become really blooming mean towards ourselves. We are a complicated bunch, us human beings.
This difficulty of loving ourselves and being self compassionate is the most common theme I have observed throughout my work as a Clinical Psychologist, and in life in general. I am sure if you think of yourself, your loved ones, or indeed society as a whole, you have observed a similar pattern.
Personally, I have actually found that being a Clinical Psychologist has often resulted in me berating myself more. Even though I know how important self compassion is, I frequently find myself thinking:
I have all this knowledge and I am able to help others, therefore I should somehow be able to ‘fix’ my chronic pain condition, and continuously be in a zen state of mind.
Completely illogical I know! The fact of the matter is none of us are immune to the trials and tribulations of life, and the rollercoaster of emotions that go with them.
We spend all day every day, of this tumultuous, beautiful yet incredibly challenging journey, communicating to ourselves with our inner dialogue. We have countless opportunities to be patient, loving and kind towards ourselves, yet most of us repeatedly say things to ourselves that we would never say to another human being.
As we near the end of yet another week, with its inevitable ups and downs, perhaps it is time to acknowledge how important it is that we become kinder, more loving and compassionate towards ourselves.
Why not give yourself a gift this week and try out this brief exercise on learning to love yourself.
An exercise on learning to love yourself
The first step in making any change in our lives, is to acknowledge how things really are. Take a moment to think about some of the things you say to yourself when criticising and being hard on yourself. This particular voice inside your head is often referred to as your Inner Critic. Write your thoughts down if you can.
When you have finished doing this, take time to think of some of the things you could say to yourself which would be kinder and more loving. What kind of things could you say to yourself instead? Again, try writing them down.
This may be more challenging than you might anticipate; perhaps because you are caught up in a particularly difficult experience, or the idea of actively being kind and patient towards ourselves can feel extremely alien.
Tip 1: If you do find it difficult, remember try not to be hard on yourself for being hard on yourself.
Inside each and every one of us is an Inner Child. Just because we are adults, that does not mean we do not need to be nurtured and loved. This is something we need throughout our lives, so how amazing would it be if we could provide at least some of it to ourselves.
Tip 2: A good way to start this exercise is to ask yourself, what does my Inner Child need to hear?
To help with this I have put together two illustrations. The first shows some of the common critical things people (including myself) say to themselves. The second is a similar illustration, showing statements which can be used to counteract this Inner Critic, and nurture your Inner Child.
As this blog is specifically aimed at increasing awareness of chronic illness, and helping people with such difficulties, the examples are perhaps particularly representative of these issues. However, this exercise is something I would encourage everybody to do. We all experience emotional and physical pain, and we all need to be loved and nurtured.
You can navigate the two images below, by pressing the pause button when you are at the image you wish to look at, and the arrow buttons to move backwards and forwards between them.
Tip 3: Look at a picture of yourself when you were a child, and think, what does this child need to hear? Remembering the child is you. I understand doing this might feel a little silly, so to help, and so you know you are not alone, here is a picture of me now, and as a child. I find it much more difficult to say loving things to the adult me, and much easier to say such compassionate things to the child me. Doing this might bring up some difficult emotions, so know that is okay too.
Me as an Adult Me as a Child
There is so much more to write about self compassion, and the many things that we can do to help ourselves develop the ability to nurture and build upon this part of ourselves. In the same way some people train different muscles during physical exercises, we can also train different muscles in our brain by taking care of our minds in a similar way.
I promise to talk more about this soon, but in the meantime if you are interested in learning more about self compassion, here are two of my favourite books on the compassion of the mind.
Just click on the links below to be brought to Amazon, where you can find out more.
Peace and love to all