Where Self-Compassion Begins

The biggest lesson mindfulness based cognitive therapy taught me wasn’t just how to pay attention, but how to pay attention with kindness and compassion. For 8 weeks, I did the work on myself and in it learned that I was far too judgmental than I hoped NOT to be. And through it I learned exactly where self-compassion could begin within me. 

How many of us have had this notion that self-compassion was a mantra we had to repeat to ourselves daily? Or perhaps an attempt to speak to ourselves like a good friend during difficulty? I think all of us have used this at least once in our lives - I know I have. It’s been my favorite cliche and prescription to many. But what mindfulness based cognitive therapy taught me was how to identify the circumstances of judgment way before it even happens. 

I know what you’re thinking, judgment has to first happen before we can become compassionate with ourselves. But as it turns out, sometimes thoughts don’t have to be the first signal. Here’s why:

Emotions are an embodied experience

When we experience something, the following sequence usually takes place:

ACTIVATING EVENT leads to THOUGHT that leads to FEELINGS / EMOTIONS that leads to BODY SENSATIONS that leads to IMPULSES

However, sometimes, it can also happen this way:

ACTIVATING EVENT prompts BODY SENSATIONS that leads to EMOTIONS that lead to THOUGHTS that lead to IMPULSES /ACTIONS.

Emotions, according to Barbara Fredrickson, PhD, are an embodied feeling state. How we feel about something has a direct effect on our facial expressions, our heart rate, posture, voice, and action urges. And whether we express it or not, all our emotions are broadcast in our subtle body language. Therefore, paying closer attention to our body sensations and mastering these with the accompanying emotions is the first step to self-compassion.

Sometimes all it takes is a few deep breaths

Wherein I could not identify it immediately, and have been overwhelmed by circumstance and feeling, I have also learned that a few deep breaths can be very helpful. It is in recognizing that we are in a particular circumstance that allows self-compassion to begin with the breath. Mindfulness taught me that when we are feeling, we can pause to take care of ourselves first.

Acknowledgement is where compassion begins

When thoughts come to mind, we tend to get so caught up in them, often struggling to solve them on the spot. Even attempts to be “kinder” and more “compassionate” become problem solving activities. However, mindfulness has taught me that when thoughts come to mind, compassion and kindness begins with acknowledging their presence and simply letting them be.

Imagine that. Wherein I have functioned on the program that compassion was a tool in solving our problems, I learned that compassion didn’t necessarily mean reacting to the situation. Instead, compassion, as it turns out, was a gentle acknowledgement and acceptance of a given situation. My favorite part? Letting it exist independently.