BY: DR. MICHAEL EVANS-ZEPEDA PSY.D.
The New Year holiday is often a time for us to reflect on the year that has passed and set goals, resolutions, and intentions for the year to come. Taking the time to review our year gives us the opportunity to: acknowledge and celebrate aspects of our experience, reinforce what we have learned and identify areas for continued growth, accept and grieve any losses or disappointments, and practice gentleness with ourselves. Developing a practice of self-compassion can support us in this process and our daily lives. What is self-compassion and how do we develop it as a practice?
In her book “Self-Compassion”, Dr. Kristen Neff delineates self-compassion into three primary elements of self-kindness, common humanity, and mindfulness. Self-kindness has two primary components. The first component is taking the time to understand and accept our mistakes, failures, and areas for growth instead of punishing ourselves for them. It also encompasses an awareness of the harm we cause ourselves through constant self-judgement and criticism. The second component is engaging in behaviors that soothe and assuage our distress. Through self-kindness we respond to our own suffering as we would to the pain and distress of someone we love. We treat ourselves with the same level of kindness that we often extend to others. The next primary element of self-kindness is recognizing that our experience, though unique to us, is shared by other people in the present moment. Our experience is an interconnected one even when we feel separate and unique in our pain. The last primary element of self-kindness is mindfulness. Through mindfulness we are able to be with our felt experience as it is versus minimizing or aggrandizing it.
The next question becomes how do we practice self-compassion? How can we integrate this different way of being with ourselves into our daily lives? On her website, https://self-compassion.org/ , Dr. Neff has resources that speak to this challenge. One such exercise that I have found very helpful in my daily life is the self-compassion break. The initial step is to recognize and accept that we are experiencing a moment of suffering or pain. We can name those moments through such statements as: This is difficult, I feel stressed, I am experiencing pain, etc. The next step is to remind ourselves that we are not alone through such statements as: Other people struggle with this as well, someone else is feeling this too, I am not alone, etc. The last step is to actively be kind to ourselves. We can do this through comforting and soothing questions or statements such as: What might I need right now, may I be gentle and kind with myself, I am enough, etc. A more in depth break down of this exercise can be found at https://self-compassion.org/exercise-2-self-compassion-break/ .
Most of us are more compassionate with others than we are with ourselves, and it can be difficult to conceptualize how we might treat ourselves with more gentleness and kindness. Overtime, a practice of self-compassion can help us give the same love and care to ourselves as we so often give to others. Over the course of this New Year, I invite you to explore this and other self-care practices. I wish you and yours all the best in the New Year as we continue to navigate these challenging times.
Written by: Dr. Michael Evans-Zepeda, Psy.D., PSYCHOLOGICAL ASSISTANT PSB94024891 WORKING DIRECTLY UNDER THE SUPERVISION OF DR. MARLENE ELIZALDE-PESCHECK, LICENSED CLINICAL PSYCHOLOGIST 30285