During times of struggle, the last thing any of us needs is a critical voice pointing out all of our shortcomings and vulnerabilities. Yet, when things aren’t working out in life or when we are experience inevitable emotional pain from the hurts of being human, our inner critic is right there waiting to judge, shame, and guilt us as motivation to do better, right? WRONG. Our minds are wired to focus on the negative aspects of ourselves, others, and the world as a means of ensuring that we are protecting ourselves from potential threats.
Does any of this sound familiar?: You can’t do anything right. You can’t handle this. You’re not good enough. Something is wrong with you. Making mistakes, disappointing others, and experiencing physical or emotional distress are just a few experiences that the mind can interpret as threatening; so, it habitually responds aggressively via our ‘fight response’. Whereas other times, the mind responds passively to our ‘flight response’ by motivating us to give up, to isolate, and to withdraw from challenges. It can feed us an it’s hopeless and you’re hopeless inner-narrative that can be very convincing and self-defeating.
The things that we say to ourselves, and often believe, during a moment of pain, loss, or suffering, we would never consider saying to a dear friend or beloved family member. Why do we listen to our reactive minds? Why do we buy into all the self-criticism and negative self-stories that our emotional and defensive minds feed us? Because we often don’t know any better. This critical voice has been there with us for most of our lives, it’s second nature, and familiar. There is also a misconception that if we criticize ourselves it will motivate us to do better and to be better than we are. However, the reality is that beating ourselves up when we are already down isn’t the most helpful at building up our confidence, strength, and resilience when we need it most. Just think if a dear friend was hurting after being dumped by his or her significant other, would you say, “It’s because you’re not worth it, he/she probably found someone better than you?” Probably not. This is not the most kind or compassionate approach, right? When someone we care about is in pain, we lean in with loving attention, emotional care and support. We may even offer a comforting touch or warm embrace to help them feel connected to someone who cares. However, when we experience a very similar pain we instead, beat ourselves down emotionally and isolate ourselves from the world. This often creates even more suffering.
It’s time for a revolution to be more aware of how we treat ourselves during moments of pain and provide ourselves with the tender love and care that we truly need most. It’s time to be your own best friend! This personal journey begins with adding the quality of self-compassion into your daily life, especially during moments of pain and suffering. Start by cultivating a self-compassionate voice and attitude by practicing self-kindness and care in daily living.
Steps for Cultivating a Self-Compassionate Voice & Attitude
- Physically– daily or weekly exercise, eating a nutritious/balanced diet, yoga, massage, warm bath, cup of tea, full night’s rest, stretching
- Mentally/Emotionally– meditation, therapy, inspirational reading, journaling, hobbies, crying, support groups, book club
- Relationally– quality time with loved others, send a loving card to someone, initiate a new activity with friends and family, tell a loved-one something you like about them
- Spiritually– get out in nature, acts of generosity or kindness for a stranger; find a mentor, volunteer for a meaningful cause
Comforting Touch Exercises for Moments of Pain & Suffering
- Acknowledge any painful emotions that are present, and then notice where you experience that pain in your body. Provide caring and kind attention to your pain, just like you would for a dear friend who was also experiencing a similar struggle.
- Place one or both hands on the body part(s) where you sense discomfort/emotional pain/suffering residing. Common areas we tend to experience emotional pain in our bodies are the chest, heart space, hands, forehead/temples, neck, and stomach.
- Label any emotions or pain present in these areas (e.g., This is what sadness and fear feels like in my chest).
- Hold yourself and your pain in warmth and nurturing touch. Think I am here for myself. Allow the natural heat generated from self-touch to soothe and comfort your pain (similar to giving a friend a hug or gentle touch on the shoulder when they are experiencing pain).
Most importantly, try talking to yourself the way that you would speak to a dear friend who was in pain and in need. As the Buddha once said, “You, yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection.”