Struggling With Negative Self-talk? Be Kinder to Yourself

We often tend to be our own worst critic when it comes to evaluating ourselves. We tend to attack, berate and self-criticise ourselves for failures we make and be fixated on searching for reasons that prove we are not good enough. What can we do to change our negative attitude towards ourselves? One way is by showing self-compassion.

What is self-compassion?

Before we define self-compassion, it’s important to first understand the concept of compassion. Compassion is the process of being sensitive to the experience of suffering and pain, coupled with a strong sense of desire to ease that suffering. This means to experience compassion, you must first become aware and acknowledge the presence of suffering. For example, instead of swiftly walking past the homeless individual you see on the way to work. You instead pause for a moment and take the time to disconnect from your own world and see the world from their perspective and acknowledge how tough their life must be. As a result, you are able to empathise with that individual and it compels to do something to ease their burden of suffering.

Self-compassion is simply compassion focused towards one’s self, as the object of care and concern when faced with the experience of suffering. Kristian Neff conceptualised self-compassion as having three central components; self-kindness, common humanity and mindfulness. When these three components mutually interact, it forms a self-compassionate frame of mind.

How could self-compassion benefit you?

There is growing evidence suggesting that self-compassion is an important source of overall happiness and mental wellbeing. Self-compassionate people tend to suffer less and thrive more in life due to self-compassion being able to facilitate an individual’s resilience by moderating their reaction to negative events. For example, a recent research study found that when undergraduate students were exposed to a stressful situation. Individuals that were high in self-compassion displayed fewer negative emotions, more accepting thoughts and a greater tendency to put their issues into a more rational point of view. This may be related to the finding that self-compassion can reduce cortisol levels (known as the stress hormone) and increase heart-rate variability (the variation in time intervals between heart beats), which is associated with the ability to self-soothe when anxious or stressed out.

Self-compassion is also consistently connected to many psychological strengths such as emotional control, personal initiative, curiosity, the ability to adapt to changing environments, feeling connected to others and life satisfaction.

How to improve your self-compassion: The RAIN of self-compassion

Tara Branch, an American psychologist developed a simple 4-step process called RAIN to help practise and develop self-compassion.

R- Recognise what’s going on

This means constantly recognising how your thoughts, feelings, sensations and behaviours are interacting and affecting you in any given moment. For example, you may recognise feelings of anxiety and physical responses such as shakiness, muscular tension or shallow breathing.

This step can be achieved by writing things down, speaking to someone you trust or closing your eyes and visualising what is going on.

A- Allow the experience to be there, just as it is

This means being mindful of the present experience of thoughts, feelings, emotions and things around you by simply accepting that they are there, with no judgement or attempt to fix/change them.

I- Investigate with care and interest

Once you are fully aware of what’s going on, it is important to focus your attention and deepen your understanding of the reasons behind what is causing the present situation to happen. You can ask yourself questions such as 1) What needs attention? 2) How am I experiencing this in my body? 3) What am I believing? 4) Why I am experiencing feelings of fear and unworthiness?

Yet it’s important to be aware that when you first investigate these uncomfortable feelings and negative emotions you may be naturally resistant to exploring them due to feeling unsafe and vulnerable. Which is why it is critical to approach the experience gently and with care. Remember and remind yourself that you are doing this to help yourself heal.

N- Nurture with self-compassion

Once you have recognised and understood why you are suffering you can start to address the issue with self-care. This could be a message of reassurance to yourself that everything will be ok, challenging and changing your negative thoughts with a positive phrase, imagining/recalling a memory of a positive experience, deep breathing exercises or examining the evidence for your negative way of thinking i.e. what is the basis for your current negative thoughts? This can help put things into a more rational and positive perspective.