When people hear the word self-compassion, they tend to think it is a once person job, which perhaps is a little misleading. Of course, there are several practices that involve you perceiving, acknowledge, and addressing suffering through self-compassion and kindness. However, it is equally important to develop a support network, with members who reinforce and perhaps add to your practice. Behind every good self-compassion practitioner is an army of people who appreciate and support their practice, even when their practice was brand new and they weren’t very good at it yet!
This entry is an opportunity to express gratitude to our support networks, our unsung heroes; our stage and lighting people who make our practice and its growth possible. It is also an opportunity to tell you how to develop a self-compassion support network, and how to develop a self-compassion language that helps them be so good at their jobs.
Why Do We Need a Self-Compassion Support System?
Every practice needs a support structure. The support structure ensures that a practice remains a priority, and that it is practiced consistently even during difficult times. You will never live in a time in which there are not many sources vying for your time. Work will want some time. Family will want some time. Friends will want some time. Food will want some time, and don’t get me started about water! If you are serious about maintaining a practice, it needs to be a priority, and for it to remain a priority it helps if there are others that support it.
Likeminded people make it easier to practice. I don’t know about you, but I think my chances of maintaining a healthy diet are pretty good amongst healthy people and healthy options, but put me in a donut shop with donut eaters and I am probably building a house in donut town. The same is true of self-compassion practice. It is much easier to practice if you are surrounded by others, who are also invested in developing or maintaining self-compassion or support your self-compassion practice. One of my favorite compassion meditation teachers used to say, “In the beginning you will ask your partner if you can go on retreat, but after they see the results they will be telling you that you need to go on retreat.” She is a smooth talker, but right.
In difficult times, this support is especially important. We have a tendency when things get difficult to take refuge in old activities that while ineffective are familiar, like drinking, or eating, or self-criticism. So, it it’s no surprise that during difficult times we need to be reminded of our effective self-compassion practice. An added benefit is that practicing self-compassion during difficult times alerts our body and brain of its usefulness, and this experiential knowledge is then easier to access down the road when difficult times come a knocking.
Why Do We Need A Self-Compassion Language?
We need a self-compassion language because our supports need to know what to say during difficult times to help us access our self-compassion skills. This is particularly important for our supports, who have not developed their own self-compassion practice. Just because self-compassion can be useful to all people does not mean that all people have to use it. Have some compassion! Seriously though, even seasoned self-compassion practitioners have their own challenges and may not have time for an involved analysis and corrective action session to help you manage your suffering and be connected to your self-compassion practice. For these very occasions and simply to transmit good will to our supporters, we come up with a self-compassion language to make these interactions easier for every one.
How to Develop a Self-Compassion Support System
Okay, so you are on your way to developing a self-compassion practice or are already a self-compassion master (congratulations!), and you need to know how to develop a self-compassion support system. The two easiest places to go would be to other self-compassion practitioners or a close family member, partner, best friend, or perhaps a therapist. All of these people will see the benefit of you having a good life with less criticism and more kindness, and here is the kicker, they will benefit from your well-being too. Not to kill the donut metaphor, but if I love donuts and support you in your donut making abilities, I am going to have access to some pretty great donuts!
If you do not have access to close family members, a best friend, or partner, think about recruiting friends who are also in need of self-compassion, who would benefit from going through this experience with you. By offering them compassion, you have now doubled your compassion. Way to go! There are also mediation centers that offer compassion meditations, and visitors that are also interested in self-compassion.
How to Develop a Self-Compassion Language
The most important three elements in any language are clarity, meaning, and simplicity. The words you use must clearly represent the feeling, thought, belief, or object that you want to represent. The words you use must have a clearly established meaning. Words with multiple meanings will only be confusing. These words must be simple. I cannot overstress this last part. If you have to say supercalifragilistic-x-bealadocious every time you need to transmit some self-compassion support, you are not going to have many supporters and the support is going to be exhausting.
Here are some examples of self-compassion language from my own practice:
The most important question in self-compassion psychology is how can you be kind to yourself? It is simple, clear, and its meaning is obvious. You are currently suffering. Notice the suffering, and make space for it. How can you address this experience with self-compassion? Or in other words, How can you be kind to yourself? Sometimes, merely asking this question is enough to get someone to begin to respond to themselves with kindness. The best part: you don’t even need an answer. Simply raising the question is an act of kindness.
Another one of my favorites: That sounds very hard. What might you do to take care of yourself? The first part starts with the acknowledgement of suffering, which gives you the opportunity to also stop and notice that you are suffering. The second part assumes that you will do something kind for yourself or that you are invested in taking care of yourself. Notice if the person begins to perseverate on what is so difficult, and help them come home to naming it and thinking about how they can draw on their self-compassion skills to begin to heal from it.
This is probably my favorite from a support because it comes from my own mother. I wish that I could make the suffering go away. If I could, I would do it in an instant. Since I can’t, how can you take care of yourself in this very moment? One of the most important parts of self-compassion phrases or meditation is that we wish for the freedom from suffering, self-acceptance, kindness, and well being for others and ourselves. Demanding that it be so is both unrealistic and damaging to our sense of empowerment when/if it does not happen. It puts pressure on us, which is, in its own right, suffering. So beginning with a wish that your partner, friend, child, or client not suffer and acknowledging that we do not control and are not responsible for suffering is powerful. The wish to end this suffering while acknowledging that you cannot do so reminds the person receiving the support that there is a wealth of compassion available inside and outside of them. Finally, we come back to how you can take care of yourself or the action part of your self-compassion practice. When people ask you how you can take care of yourself, it is because they already believe that you possess these tools; a subtle reminder that they are there even when they become imperceptible.
The hallmark of self-compassion practice is a kind, loving, and accepting intention. That is all that you need to start developing your own language. Of course, this language will evolve over time. Some of it will work and some of it just won’t. When the language fails you, remind yourself that self-compassion is about the process of being kind to yourself and others. Without some failure, you would rarely have an opportunity to practice self-compassion, and probably would not be very good at it. Let both your failures and successes lift you. Failures give you an opportunity to practice self-compassion, and your successes will reward you for doing so. A little secret is that simply by practicing self-compassion you are succeeding, both in your journey to bring well-being to yourself and others.
So go out there and start making some self-compassion supports! Remind yourself of all of the well-being you have in store for these fortunate souls, and how fortunate you are to have them in your life. Get going on developing a self-compassion language and don’t forget to make mistakes along the way, so that you can sneak in some extra opportunities to practice self-compassion. Gives yourself permission to enjoy the process. Dream big, but remember to do at least one self-compassionate thing for yourself a day. Even if you forget, you are worth it.
365 Days of Kindness. Self-Compassion. Day 43. In the Books.