When we take up a meditation practice we discover all sort of things about our mind.
Some of which are pleasant and some unpleasant.
One of the unpleasant or potentially intriguing experiences people report, is the discovery of rather unkind voices in their head.
There’s the bossy voice, the not good enough voice, the do it better next time voice. All self critical or self judgmental voices.
When we have thoughts like “the way you handled that was terrible”, or worse, “you sounded like an idiot when…..” , our ancient reptilian brain perceives these self-critical, judgemental thoughts as a threat to its existence, and responds by activating the threat defence system. (Aka the stress response)
Once we’re down the path of self-criticism and the stress response has been activated, we may flee the situation by isolating our self, or we may freeze by ruminating over the situation, or we may fight. If we fight, it’s a fight with our self. When we self criticise, we are both the attacker and the attacked. No wonder perpetual self-criticising can lead to a state of chronic stress and anxiety.
The antidote to self-criticising and self-judgement is self-compassion. Self-compassion down regulates the stress response of the reptilian brain and activates the care response of the mammalian brain. When we practise self-compassion oxytocin and endorphins are released which help to mitigate the effects of the stress response and to encourage feelings of safety and security. Research shows that practising self-compassion helps us to widen our lens and see another perspective, rather than over identifying with our own distress.
3 steps to cultivating self-compassion
Self-compassion researcher Dr Kristin Neff has articulated 3 steps to cultivating self-compassion
First of all we need to be aware of what is happening. We need the presence of mind to pause and become aware of our thoughts and feelings, in such a way where we don’t suppress or deny our experience, but instead hold our thoughts and feelings in mindful, non judgemental awareness.
2. Common humanity
Secondly we need to remember that we’re not the only person having a difficult time. It’s part of the human experience to be vulnerable, imperfect and face challenges.
Recognising our common humanity distinguishes self-compassion from self-pity. Self pity involves thinking “poor me” or “why me?” . Self-compassion involves remembering you’re not alone and knowing that everyone suffers.
Self-compassion involves giving yourself the same care and understanding you would give to a good friend in distress. When we fail, feel rejected or frustrated self-compassion invites kindness toward our pain, rather than getting angry or beating ourselves up with more self criticism.
Self-compassion allows us to access our human-ness and is a soothing, nurturing balm in times of pain and distress.
To learn more about self-compassion and to train in mindfulness, join one of my next Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction courses starting in October.
2 - 4.30pm
Qi Yoga Manly
starting Sunday 20th October
6.30 - 9pm
Zen Collective Brookvale
starting Monday 21st October