In my day-to-day work as a therapist and coach, there’s often a theme that appears. It weaves its way through a week or a month. It keeps showing up, like brightly colored yarn that stands out in a multi-colored shawl. Most recently, that strand of yarn has been all about the reality that for many women, self-compassion feels hard.
Sometimes, self-compassion feels hard when we’re in the midst of important inner work.
I’ve noticed that we can be diving into the process of therapy or coaching, unearthing key insights, moving towards self understanding and experiencing aha moments. We begin to adjust our lives to reflect this.
And then, something unexpectedly derails us.
It could be almost anything: a long forgotten memory floats up, a challenging moment happens at work or in a relationship, someone you know questions why you’re even doing therapy or coaching.
If ever there was a time for self-compassion, this is it. But instead, you start to turn away from yourself. Maybe you even feel that sinking feeling in your body. Or a raft of other physical reactions.
Other times, self-compassion feels hard when we’ve actively decided to bring more of it into our lives.
I’ve experienced this recently, with a guided meditation that I created just for me.
You see, for the past year I’ve been recording these meditations for my clients. Every meditation includes personal metaphors and symbols that reflect and hold the feelings, behaviors, experiences and practices that matter most to the woman receiving it.
The meditations are very personal. And without a doubt they’re full of self-compassion. In fact, they’re created to help soothe and transform the harsh self-criticism and internalized beliefs that grip us when self-compassion feels hard.
Of course, I wanted some of this self-compassion goodness for myself, right?
But as I settled in to listen to my guided meditation for the first time, my reaction caught me off guard. Because as loving and beautiful and compassionate as it is, there was something else there for me to discover.
I wrote about it in my journal afterwards…
Right now I am deeply touched. This meditation touches me like no other because it is for me and only for me. It is a gift I’ve given myself and it is all about me and my deepest needs. And it almost feels like too much. All this goodness almost seems too much to bear, too much to take in.
In that moment I had experienced a deep truth of self-compassion: it asks us to strip down to our most vulnerable. It asks us to fully accept all parts of ourselves.
And self-compassion asks us to step out of the routine and rhythm of daily life, even if it’s just for an eight minute guided meditation. But in those eight minutes those of us who think we’re pretty good at self-compassion (like me) may find ourselves questioning: Is this okay? Do I deserve this?
No wonder self-compassion feels hard, in good times and bad.
So I began looking for other pieces of the self-compassion puzzle.
As often happens, a client tossed a big puzzle piece on the table in the midst of a session when she said, in regard to self-compassion…
I decided to give myself the same grace I would give others.
(By the way, my client has generously given me permission to use her words here, without revealing her identify, of course.)
As soon as she said it I remembered all those times clients have told me that they would never talk to others the way they talk to themselves. Maybe you’ve thought that too.
But have you ever thought of exactly what you would say to someone else? Have you ever decided to say that to yourself? To not only give yourself the grace you would give others, but actually put it into words by writing it down and then speaking it aloud?
Well, I decided to try it and made myself a list of self-compassionate declarations.
I speak them aloud now before I listen to my guided meditation, and it’s been a lovely experience. It’s opened me up to receive more fully. And now the guided meditation is truly helping me breathe in my own transformational metaphors, and each day remember what matters most to me.
Because we forget, you know?
I’ve loved it so much that I put the statements on little cards. And not long after that the entrepreneurial part of my brain rushed ahead, thinking everyone needs a card deck like this. And perhaps that should be my next project.
Then I stopped myself. Because, well, this is so personal. Your words will be different from mine. You will claim self-compassion for yourself in your own unique way.
And even though I’m delighted to share this list of things to tell yourself when self-compassion feels hard, what I really want you to do after you’ve finished reading it is get out a pen and paper, and make your own list.
10 things to tell yourself when self-compassion feels hard
- You deserve to take this time
- Be kind to yourself right now
- Perfection is not required
- You’re doing the best you can
- It’s okay to be where you are
- Your quirks are what make you unique
- You’re allowed to struggle
- Let yourself take a break
- Give yourself the grace you’d give others
- Your turn: What would you tell yourself?
It is a wonderful day in a life when one is finally able to stand before the long, deep mirror of one’s own reflection and view oneself with appreciation, acceptance, and forgiveness. On that day one breaks through the falsity of images and expectations which have blinded one’s spirit. One can only learn to see who one is when one learns to view oneself with the most intimate and forgiving compassion. -John O’Donahue