In every painful situation, there are two sorts of suffering.
The pain of the circumstances and our resistance to the situation (including our lack of compassion to ourselves).
The pain of the situation is easy to understand.
Our grief, disappointment, anger, guilt, shame and all those other challenging emotions are easy to see and feel.
However, our resistance to the situation and lack of compassion for ourselves can be harder to see, although their effects are just as debilitating.
Although EFT/Tapping makes good use of our body and mind’s natural abilities to quickly soothe painful emotional states, we can easily be caught up in self-criticism and judgement of ourselves for having the problem in the first place. We may be so used to this self-criticism that we barely notice it.
When we are with someone else who is suffering we may feel very accepting and compassionate of them and their distress and have a strong wish to ease their pain.
However, when we have a problem or experience some distress, we might not feel quite so accepting or compassionate of ourselves as we do of others.
Instead of being kind to ourselves we might think that it is wrong for us to have this problem. We might believe that being in this situation proves that we are bad, pathetic or unacceptable as a human being.
Not only do we suffer the problem we can even feel bad about feeling bad: we are a problem having a problem.
Falling off a bike can hurt in more ways than one
Recently I saw a sad demonstration of how this lack of self-compassion starts. When I was walking the dog one afternoon I saw a young schoolgirl fall off her bike, she landed in a heap, stood up and started to cry.
Her mother hurried up yelling at her “Well that was stupid, wasn’t it? … What did you think you were doing?”
The schoolgirl just stood and cried.
With obvious exasperation, her mother dusted off her knees and got the sniffling girl back on her bike and off they went.
It was an eloquent demonstration of how not to be compassionate towards someone else’s distress.
If I had been that child, I would have liked my mother to hurry up and say “Oh sweetie, what happened? That must have hurt, are you alright? “, given me a hug and comforted me before getting me back on my bike and then heading off after I had been comforted.
That kind of compassionate response is very healing.
If we get enough of that kind of care as children we learn how to internalise it and soothe ourselves.
If we don’t receive that kind of compassionate acceptance we don’t have a chance to learn how to do it for ourselves and we might even internalise the criticism of others as our default response to ourselves.
If you make a mistake do you say to yourself something like: “Oh sweetie, that hurts, are you alright?”, or something like: “Well that was stupid wasn’t it? What did you think you were doing?”
Many people are more familiar with self-condemnation than self-compassion.
How do we typically react when things fall apart? More often than not we criticise ourselves, feel ashamed, tell ourselves to pull ourselves together.
Life is full of challenges. Despite our best intentions and efforts, things go wrong and it hurts.
Self-compassion is an attitude that can soften and soothe many kinds of suffering.
Instead of fighting hard against our emotional distress we can bear witness to our own pain and respond to it with kindness and understanding – that’s self-compassion.
The Advantages Of Self-Compassion:
Self-compassion is not just a nice idea it has demonstrable mental health benefits.
Research has shown that:
- People who are more self-compassionate tend to be less anxious and depressed
- Self-compassion leads to less rumination – the engine of depression
- More self-compassion leads to less self-criticism
- Lower stress hormones such as cortisol
- Increase self-soothing, self-encouragement and other aspects of resilience
- Helps heal shortages of caring from your childhood.
What Is Self-Compassion?
Kristin Neff one of the leading researchers of self-compassion, breaks it down into three components:
- Mindfulness: the ability to hold our experience in balanced awareness without avoiding it or falling into it.
- Common humanity: the recognition that human beings have their experiences in common. No matter how obscure your difficulty or predicament there will be other people, perhaps many people, who are having the same kind of experience.
- Kindness: the ability to actively respond in a warm and caring way to distress.
Many people respond to painful emotional situations in ways that are the opposite of self-compassion:
- Avoidance or indulgence: Many people strenuously avoid thinking about or feeling the discomfort, of their experience. This ‘experiential avoidance’, as it is called, tends to put the person more at risk of depression and anxiety. At the opposite extreme, some people ‘fall into’ their negative emotions and are swept away by them.
- Isolation: Many people feel isolated as if they were the only person on the planet who has this problem or feels this way. This sense of isolation tends to reduce their ability to reach out and benefit from the kind of contact and connection that would really help alleviate their distress.
- Self-criticism: Many people criticise, blame or even hate themselves for having this problem thereby adding immensely to their suffering.
If you go through those kinds of responses to difficult situations self- compassion may help you alleviate a lot of suffering.
In her excellent book Self Compassion Kristin Neff describes several ways of cultivating self-compassion including using a “mantra” to remind yourself of the necessary attitudes when you find yourself in painful circumstances.
- This is a moment of suffering (encourages mindfulness of the experience)
- Suffering is part of everybody’s life (reminder of shared human condition)
- May I be kind to myself in this moment (brings compassion to situation)
- May I give myself the compassion I need (sets intention to bring self-compassion to bear)
By reciting your mantra at times of distress you can encourage yourself to adopt a more self-compassionate attitude towards yourself and your distress.
How can I tap for self-compassion?
If you know how to tap you can add EFT to this approach to reduce a lot of the emotional static that might get in the way of being self-compassionate.
The simple tapping routine is designed to help you bring a self-compassionate attitude to bear on whatever emotional issues you are working on. It’s not designed to ‘solve the problem’, although any softening of the problem situation would be a welcome by-product of the process.
I suggest using this process as the first few tapping rounds when working with any emotional distress to help you adopt a self-compassionate attitude that will make whatever other tapping you do more effective.
- Think of your issue giving it an intensity score from 0 – 10. Tip: Identify one of the feelings of this issue to use as a tapping target. For example – I am angry at my brother.
- Start the tapping routine on the eyebrow point (no setup statement) with the ‘problem’ as a reminder phrase. After each reminder phrase continue tapping for one full breath, before moving to the next tapping point.
- EB: [the problem] e.g. I am angry at my brother.
- SE: In how many different ways does this hurt?
- UE: How many other people in all the world have ever felt like this?
- UN: In how many different ways can I be kind to myself in this moment?
- CH: [the problem] e.g. I am angry at my brother.
- CB: In how many different ways does this hurt?
- UA: How many other people in all the world have ever felt like this?
- TH: In how many different ways can I be kind to myself in this moment?
- Think of this issue now. How does it feel and how do you feel about it?
- Repeat the process as necessary
Note: This process may provoke other thoughts, feelings and beliefs about the situation. For example: “I am angry at my brother” may morph into “It’s not fair”. Use the same process with these aspects if they arise.
How does this process work?
- No set-up phrase: This tapping sequence starts without the set-up statement and karate chop point tapping, this is to avoid any resistance to the last part of the set-up statement which is usually an appeal to ‘love, accept and forgive yourself’, if you are not loving, accepting and forgiving of yourself this will probably cause some tension and resistance as all the tail-enders to these thoughts arise. Rather than start with an internal fight, this tapping routine aims to go directly to soothing the distress.
- First reminder phrase: Is a simple statement of the problem as you might expect from EFT/Tapping. This is simple tapping for the problem, the remaining three reminder phrases are designed to develop a sense of self-compassion for the person who is having the problem.
- Second reminder phrase: “In how many different ways does this hurt?” is an invitation to be mindful or aware of all the different aspects of itself. By asking a question while tapping the other-than-conscious mind can go searching for the answers and present them to awareness for tapping to do its work. Taking a breath after saying the line and continuing to tap allows this process to continue for a few seconds.
- Third reminder phrase: How many other people in all the world have ever felt like this? is an invitation for the mind to recognise that what you are experiencing as an individual has been experienced many times before by many other individuals which means you are not alone with this experience. What you are going through is a part of our common humanity. Once again taking the full breath while continuing to tap allows that recognition to process at a below-conscious level.
- Fourth reminder phrase: In how many different ways can I be kind to myself in this moment? is an invitation to come up with different ways to be kind to ourselves, to experience kindness from ourselves to ourselves. Once again asking it in the form of a question gives our other-than-conscious mind full reign to come up with lots of alternatives. Once again tapping while taking a full breath allows those ideas to develop.
Why use this approach?
Each problem we tap on, whatever it may be, is not just a problem in itself it is an opportunity for us to learn how to be kind and accepting to ourselves in our predicament as human beings with all the challenges that brings.
The more self-compassionate we are the more resilient we can become and the better we will be able to handle life’s future challenges.