The Self-Compassion Cheat Sheet

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One of the hurdles most of us run into when trying to become more self-compassionate is not knowing what “self-compassion” looks like. If you’ve ever been in a situation where English isn’t the preferred language, you’ve likely experienced having trouble finding the words to ask for/express/get what you want. Without language, it’s pretty difficult to communicate. You find yourself gesturing and pointing and feeling distressed and frustrated. So, when you’re in the process of changing your relationship to yourself, you’ll likely experience similar feelings. Remember trying to learn French or Spanish or Japanese or ASL? It didn’t come naturally; it was foreign.

For many people, the language of self-compassion is foreign. It feels weird, forced, confusing, even anxiety-provoking. But, similar to the way a new language comes more and more naturally with practice, reinforcement, and time, the language of self-compassion is the same way.

A formula I follow with myself and with my clients is as follows:

1. Empathize with your feelings

“It’s understandable that I’m feeling (insert feeling here) because (reason as to why it makes sense you are feeling that way).” Remember, this is focused on your perception. It doesn’t matter if after the fact you learn something that would have made you feel differently in the moment had you known it then. We are looking at empathizing with the feelings you are experiencing right now.

2. Explain the behavior

“It’s understandable that I (behavior you are judging, if there is one) because (reason anyone else in your shoes might have done the same thing/made the same ‘mistake,’ etc.) I’m not condoning my behavior, nor am I saying I want it to happen again. However, I accept that it has happened, that I am an imperfect human being programmed to err. I can either beat myself up, or I can recognize the value in my intentions, and choose to learn and grow from where I believe I screwed up.” Note that you are not finding a scapegoat or “making up excuses;” rather, you are recognizing the external and contextual factors that contributed to whatever you’re being hard on yourself about.

3. Acknowledge what you did do well

Don’t immediately dismiss this step and say “Nothing.” If you really can’t think of anything after an honest effort, acknowledge that something you did well was become aware something occurred that does not align with your values. Awareness is the first step in change. So, “Something I still did well was ______________.”

4. Acknowledge how you’d want things to be different next time

“Something I’d like to do differently, if I find myself in a similar experience again is ______________.” This allows us to learn from our behavior, and integrate our knowledge into a concrete, tangible change piece.

5. Find the positive

“In addition to this experience being illuminating for me due to the learning it’s provided, a positive that might come of this/has come of this is ______________.” What opportunities does this situation allow for? We all know a form of the Helen Keller quote, “When one door closes, another opens, but we often look so regretfully upon the closed door that we neglect to see the one that’s opened for us.” You might not be able to see a concrete positive just yet, but consider possibilities that might arise. Trust that something will come of it.

6. Cultivate a compassionate image

Imagine in a person or being in your life whom you have shown compassion and/or who has shown you compassion. Perhaps it’s your grandmother, your god, or your dog. Imagine what it’s like to give compassion to them, and imagine what it’s like to receive it. Thinking of this might lead you to feel vulnerable. Breathe into that softened, vulnerable place with warmth and love.

7. Find compassion for yourself

What would I say to a friend in this situation? Say it.

8. Find some more compassion for yourself

What would I say to my son or daughter in this situation? Say it. This might be very similar to what you might say to a friend, but for some people it helps them access a compassion they might not have been able to otherwise.

Give it a try (if you’re like many of us, there’s no shortage of situations you can practice). The critic in you will tell you nothing good could possibly come of your experience, or that you’re making up excuses for your behavior; but remember that as you’re likely fluent in the language of self-criticism, learning the language of self-compassion won’t make you forget how to be hard on yourself. Self-compassion is simply a tool you can add to your vocabulary so you can have the choice to use it when it will serve you better (which I think is pretty much always, but I’m a bit biased!). That’s your homework until our next Self-Compassion 101 class.



Dr. Bradley Nelson On How to Break Down Our Heart Walls

Breaking down the heart wall bradley nelson

After the year of a global pandemic, more people are experiencing levels of depression and anxiety than ever before. 

A recent episode of “Open Minds” with Regina Meredith, explores our subconscious response to the past year’s tribulations in a conversation with Dr. Bradley Nelson, author of “The Emotion Code,” and the forthcoming book “The Body Code.” The two discuss Nelson’s work breaking down our “heart walls,” helping us to live with more joy, connection, and vibrational health, while also allowing us to thrive in difficult times. 

Overwriting Negative Tendencies in Our Subconscious

The past year’s collective experience opened new insights into our innate need for connection and belonging. “We’re designed to be together,” Dr. Nelson explains. “We’re not designed to be apart.”

Nelson explains that the unfamiliar landscape we’ve been living in has resulted in our bodies shutting down, especially if there is already a tendency to bury intense and overwhelming emotions. He believes more people are now forming what he refers to as “heart walls,” a protective energy field around the heart, the organ Nelson defines as being “the seat of the soul, the source of love and creativity…the seed of the subconscious.”

Composed of mostly nervous tissue, scientists and holistic practitioners alike have viewed the heart as being another brain. Nelson shares that the majority of the messages between the heart and the brain are sent from the heart. With the amount of continuous stress, worry, or grief over lost loved ones, the heart’s response is one of feeling broken or being in extreme danger. In response, the heart erects a “wall” around it to protect our essential self — the heart wall.  

Nelson explains that while this stress response is appropriate during times of crisis when the heart moves into a bunker, the heart wall pattern can live on after things have returned to “normal.” These protective layers, after a crisis has passed, can make it difficult for us to live in health or to give and receive love and affection—a basic function that is key to living our full potential. 

Nelson’s work to help people break down the heart wall has had significant and positive impacts on suicidally depressed people. He believes that breaking the heart wall down is the most important work that any of us can do and is accessible by simply tuning into our subconscious self and ability to love. 

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