18 May

Self-Compassion is not

Demystifying self-compassion

In my last blog post I introduced the concept of self-compassion. In short, it is the ability to look at your own physical and emotional distress, realizing that you are experiencing some form of human suffering, and asking yourself “What do I need in this moment to make my suffering less?”. It is the realization that all suffering will pass, that suffering is a global human experience, and that you have the ability to move your life onto a healthy and happy journey.

Sounds great right?

Read my last blog post on “Taming your Inner Critic” here

If it was that easy, we would all be very self-compassionate. One of the pitfalls we allow ourselves to fall into, is to mistake self-compassion for inner experiences such as self-criticism and self-pity. We tend to hold ourselves up to very high standards, perfectionism if you will. This may be cultural, taught in childhood, or brought about by social norms. As people, we like to have an explanation for everything. It creates the illusion of control. Self-compassion teaches us that not everything is within our control, and that is ok.

Self-compassion is not…

Self-Criticism. There are two different kinds of self-criticism: the positive kind, just like positive self-feedback. And the negative kind, the one I am referring to. The mean, harsh, and unnecessary self-talk such as “I’m no good” and “I’m a failure”. We feel that punitive self-criticism is somehow needed for motivation, that it will allow us to do better, to strive for perfection (there is that word again).
“I am such a loser, why can’t I get this right?”
How are those thoughts working out for you?
Self-criticism is based on fear “I am not ok if I fail, so I must succeed”. This way of thinking can lead to depressive thoughts, losing faith in yourself and creating a fear of failure. It’s like the picture of a carrot and a stick. I want to get that carrot, but I’m afraid how much the stick will hurt me if I fail.

In the words of the English poet Alexander Pope “To err is human”.

Self-compassion is to motivate yourself, by realizing you are human and can make mistakes. It means to ask yourself what you need to encourage yourself.

Self-Improvement. Again, this leads to creating a false sense of control, wanting to be perfect. If I can’t improve myself, if I can’t be prettier, or run faster, or write better blog posts, it means that I have failed. Therefor I’m a failure, so why even bother?

In the words of American Psychologist Carl rogers “The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I change”.

Self-compassion is about self-acceptance, to see yourself clearly, accepting your flaws, and working with what is within your control.

Self-Pity. It is not a way of telling yourself “Poor me”, rather a sense of “This experience would be hard for anyone”. Self-pity emphasizes ego-centric thoughts and feelings, creating a notion that you are alone in the world. That no-one has ever experienced a similar event. This creates a false sense of self-soothing, feeling better in the short term but feeling guilty and ashamed in the long term. Self-compassion is allowing yourself to see yourself and the world around you clearly, to be vulnerable and to take responsibility for your mistakes. Followed by the question “What would I need to make this suffering less?”.

Self-Indulgence. This allows for avoidance of painful feelings and emotions, while indulging yourself in some form of short term emotional release. Have you ever thought “I had a rough day, I’m going to sit on the couch, with a tub of ice cream, and watch movies for the rest of the day”?
Self-compassion is not allowing yourself to do whatever you want to do. It is realizing that sometimes you need to do things you don’t feel like doing, because you realize that it will be beneficial to you later on. It means to realize what you need in the moment to make yourself feel better about you in the long run.

Self-Esteem. Feeling good about yourself and your achievements, meaning that (again) if you have not succeeded and have not reached perfection, you failed. Self-esteem has long been a measure of our mental well-being. If you feel good about yourself, you must be in a good head space. But, if you’re not feeling good about yourself, [enter the self-criticizing thoughts]. In our North American society, it is not ok to be average. Imagine receiving an average grade on a test, or an average review on your work performance, or being described as average by your friends. Of course, this would want us to reach perfection, otherwise we’re not good enough.

Self-compassion is being true to yourself, realizing that sometimes we will not succeed at something. But that is a human experience, and it’s ok to not always succeed. What do I need to not make the same mistakes next time?

11 May

Taming your inner critic

[A stress management technique]

David is a typical Grade 12 student, he strives to get good grades, does his homework assignments on time once in a while but prefers to hang out with his friends. His final exams are coming up and he has just realized that his procrastination has gotten in the way of his studying. He is starting to feel anxious as the first exam date comes into sight. Sleepless nights, worrying, and even a slight feeling of panic. As his parent, or older sibling, or teacher what would you tell him to do?

“Stop your wining, just focus on what you have to do. Worrying about what you have to do
won’t help you. You did this to yourself. You need to be more disciplined or you will never make it in life.”

Or would your approach sound more like this

“It’s not too late to come up with an action plan. You’ve got this, I have faith in you. Let’s sit down together and figure it out. But first, let’s work on calming you down. What do you  think about a walk around the block? We’ll go get you your favourite ice cream.”

I am hoping you would choose the second approach, showing David compassion, empathy and kindness. You would show David that you understand, try and motivate him with your words, and distract him from his anxiety so he can be more productive.

How about your self-talk? Think back of the last time you were feeling stressed, or anxious, or worried. How did you talk to yourself? What words did you choose? Were you compassionate and understanding? Or self-critical and self-judgmental?

I’m willing to bet that your thoughts are mostly self-critical, harsh, and unmotivated. It seems to be easier to show compassion for someone else, than to be self-compassionate. But what does it mean to have compassion? The three main components are
1. Notice that the person is suffering
2. Feeling the suffering of others, a desire to help, a kindness towards the person for their mistakes
3. An understanding that suffering and pain are part of the human experience

Self-compassion is all this, towards yourself. It is realizing that you are in some form of discomfort, be it physical pain, emotional distress, or when you dislike something about yourself. And with this realization you add a sense of acknowledgement and you ask yourself

“What do I need at this moment to make myself feel less stressed/anxious/angry/etc…?”.

The goal of self-compassion is striving towards feeling happy and healthy in the long run, that you honor your own humanness, allowing yourself to make mistakes without beating yourself up for it.

What does your inner-critic sound like? When you are feeling stressed or worried, write down your thoughts. What do you sound like? What words do you use? Are they helpful? Do your words motivate you? And lastly, ask yourself “In order to not feel stressed/anxious/worried, what do I need?”.

20 Dec

When Christmas is not your most wonderful time if year

In my work as a psychotherapist, I see a lot of people working through feelings of grief and trauma. Any other time of year, it is pretty tough to try to wrap your head around rollercoaster-like emotions and upsetting thoughts. It’s about re-establishing a new you, in a new reality, while making an effort to keep moving forward. And at the same time, mentally preparing yourself for those “first occasions after”, the first birthday of the loved one who passed away or the first time you will go back to work after the incident. It feels like you’ve taking three steps forward and two steps back.

Now Christmas time is a whole different ball game. Happy carols blasting out of every speaker system in all stores, radio VJ’s broadcasting all the fun can’t-miss-out-on festivities in Toronto, and most “fun” of all – wishing complete strangers a “Merry Christmas”. A lot of people I work with do not find Christmas the most wonderful time of year. In fact, they dread this time of year more so than any other first-occasion-after.

Norman Vincent Peale could not have said it any better

Change your thoughts and you change your world

Easier said than done, but the principle behind thinking positively has been widely tested and confirmed. I’m not saying that it’s simply a matter of repeating to yourself “It’s the most wonderful time of year” and that you’ll start believing it. What I am saying is that changing the wording of your thoughts will have a big impact on how you feel. What makes this season different from other seasons? Personally, I love it when it’s cold outside and I can see my own breath, wearing sunglasses because the sun is so bright, whilst being bundled up in a comfy sweater and rocking big winter boots. This is not just a Christmas feeling, I could have the same feeling when it started snowing in November or when there is still snow on the ground in March. That is my wonderful time of the year.

Another great quote on the same topic is from Roy Bennett

Start each day with a positive thought and a grateful heart.

When we are faced with loss or a trauma, we tend to avoid thinking as this usually leads to painful thoughts. People will try to isolate themselves so not to be engaged in conversation, they distract themselves in an attempt to block hurtful thoughts. Everyone needs a little reminding of the positive at times. One thing you can help yourself with is starting a gratitude journal. Name three things that happened today that you are grateful for, happy about or made you laugh. They cannot be the same things as yesterday.

A last quote comes Abraham Lincoln

Most folks are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.

This is not the same as avoiding feeling upset or ignoring the past. It’s about changing your outlook on things, trying to see the glass half full instead of half empty (gotta love those cliché’s). What you are going through at the moment is not ever lasting. It is temporary and has an expiration date, when that will be depends largely on your frame of mind, self care practices and resilience. Having a goal to work towards to, having a daily routine, and working out are all great ways to keep your mind focused and resilient.

05 Apr

Mindful Reset: Noticing

By: Marleen Filimon

The 5-senses grounding technique

Name 5 things you see

Name 5 things you hear

Name 5 things you smell

Name 5 things you physically feel on your body

Name 5 things you taste

02 Mar

Mindful Reset: Do things backwards

By: Marleen Filimon

Stop leading your life on auto-pilot. Do things backwards today.

Try doing a routine task, such as brushing your teeth, taking a shower, or getting dressed the “wrong way”. Instead of first putting on your socks, then your shirt, then your pants, mix it up and first put on your pants, then your shirt, then your socks.

Observe what feelings and emotions come up.

What effect does it have on your anxiety or mood?

18 Feb

Why mindfulness can help relieve symptoms of PTSD

By: Marleen Filimon

PTSD, or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, is a very normal reaction to a very abnormal situation. It is a way for our brains to protect the body, while still retaining the ability to somewhat function in everyday life.

Under non-trauma circumstances, a person’s stress hormone levels will temporary rise in reaction to a threat. When the threat has passed, these levels will return back to normal. What a great machine our body is!

For people with PTSD, the system still works the way it is meant to. The person encounters a threatening situation, stress levels rise and… take much longer to return back to their baseline. In addition, because now the fight-or-flight response is continuously operating in the background, the stress hormone levels spike in response to even very mildly stressful situations.

These constant elevated levels of stress hormones contribute to an array of different factors: memory and attention problems, difficulty concentrating, feeling irritable and easily agitated digestive issues and trouble sleeping. If you think about why this is happening; when your body is in a constant state of stress, your brain is more preoccupied with keeping you alive than having you solve mathematical equations or finish reading a Harry Potter book. Makes sense right?

Another indicator that your system is still working the way it is supposed to. Except now, in the case of PTSD, you are on high alert.

Being traumatized means that you are, subconsciously, organizing your life as if the trauma is still happening. Sights and sounds in daily life trigger you to have flashbacks about the trauma, your emotions are hypervigilant and in constant alertness to any kind of danger, and your energy is focused on silencing the inner chaos.

And this is exactly why practicing mindfulness is so important!

I’m not talking about meditating for hours on end. Mindfulness is so much more than just that. In case you are not too familiar with mindfulness, it is the practice of being in the here-and-now, without judgement towards yourself or others, and having a curiosity towards the things around you.

Visualization is a form of mindfulness. This teaches your brain to calm down, relax, and acts as a reset button. Day dreaming is a form of visualization. Picture yourself on your favourite vacation, whether that is on the beach in Cayos Coco, or on a trail walking across Europe. Use visualization to envision what happiness feels like, or what your perfect day looks like, or even what you will be cooking for dinner.

Five minutes, that is all it takes.

Practice makes perfect, you won’t expect your child to be an Olympic swimmer in one day?