Self-Compassion: A Foundation for Awareness and Action
Along the way toward goal achievement, and within life generally, each of us experiences painful times and falling short of our ideals. Allowing ourselves and our clients to experience these times with self-compassion can lead to awareness and growth.
Self-compassion allows you to nurture yourself. In my own life, self-compassion has been an important tool for healing and allowed me to go beyond the current situation. When this tool is used with clients, it can be a powerful source for moving forward.
As a coach, when you encourage your clients to engage with life with self-compassion, you can liberate them from harsh self-judgment. When you show compassion to your clients, you demonstrate acceptance and caring. In so doing, you give them the permission they may need to see the fuller picture of who they are.
Kristin Neff, Ph.D., has defined self-compassion as having three main components:
- Self-kindness is being gentle toward yourself, especially with self-talk
- Common Humanity means you recognize that suffering and a sense of personal inadequacy are part of the shared human experience. You are not alone
- Mindfulness is developing awareness to take a balanced approach to uncomfortable emotions. You neither suppress nor exaggerate feelings. You become able to put your own situation into a bigger perspective
With self-compassion your clients can open up to what is beyond their immediate experience. Self-compassion allows people to get unstuck and flow forward. With kindness and an expanded perspective, clients are encouraged to move forward and take action toward their goals.
When people practice self-compassion regularly, they are more able to use it when they need it. When stressed, either by circumstances around them or their own sense of inadequacy, they will be better prepared to speak to themselves with kindness. They will know they are not alone and will be able to regain perspective. With self-compassion, people are kinder, happier and more successful, too.
Here are some examples of when self-compassion may free your clients and shift their perspective. When clients are:
- Talking negatively about themselves
- Talking about how they “should” be acting or feeling, and falling short
- Downplaying their own experience of pain within a stressful situation
- Telling you how they have let themselves down, and wondering if they can trust their judgment
One situation that comes to my mind is when I was working with a woman who was having difficulty getting back on track with a diet plan. Previously, she had been using a specific way of eating successfully for months.
When we spoke, she was saying things like, “I have the habit of laziness…I want what I want and don’t think of the consequences…I can’t make good decisions.” When I mentioned self-compassion regarding her lapse, her response was, “Why do I deserve compassion?”
I asked her about other times when she was successful with the plan. She was able to recall several times of success. These recollections reminded her that she was more than the current lack of discipline and more than a set of disappointments. She gained a broader awareness. There was an audible slowing down in her speech and more room for her to breathe. And she stated, “I’m not just disappointed, I’m mad at myself, I had been doing so well.” She was no longer downplaying her experience. She named it; I validated it.
Emotions ebb and flow. Allowing her to experience and acknowledge her emotions got her unstuck. Later, when I asked her about some of the actions that led to her success in the past, she was able to recall what worked. From there she was able to build on her success and developed a plan for future success.
Here are some ways you can encourage your clients to invoke self-compassion:
- Ask clients to speak about themselves with a gentle word – For homework, have them track their self-talk. If it is negative, have them re-write the statement using kind words to themselves. Example: “I’m incompetent.” Instead, “This situation is challenging” and then acknowledge something or things they did well this day
- Engage in a daily gratitude practice– Use the 3Ws method to ask themselves daily “What Went Well, today?” Regularly experiencing and participating in gratitude practices can actually change your brain. It helps people remember their lives are bigger than this moment
- Respond to themselves with the kindness they would extend to a close or beloved friend
Remember, self-compassion is not only for your clients, it’s available to you, too. Utilizing these techniques has better prepared me for dealing with disappointments and the perceived failures I experience regularly as a human being. The humility that comes with self-compassion has expanded my awareness and ability to be compassionate with my clients.
Take advantage and experience the benefits of self-compassion for yourself and your clients.