Self-compassion & Forgiveness
Constantly dwelling on mistakes we have made can cause us to feel resentful, angry and a lower sense of well being which is why it is important to forgive ourselves. Self forgiveness means that we can acknowledge the error and then try to move on from it by considering what we could do differently the next time.
If you find yourself experiencing feelings of self direction frustration, guilt and anger take a blank piece of paper and jot down a response to the following questions and prompts.
1. Describe the way you are feeling right now. Include internal sensations (e.g. embarrassment, shame) as well as physiological responses (e.g. heart palpitations, muscle tension)
2. What was the mistake you made? Write down the details of what happened.
3. How did your action or inaction affect yourself and others?
4. What can you take from this experience? Have you learned anything?
5. What could you do differently next time?
Through the process of recognising and identifying your mistakes you are taking accountability for your actions rather than blaming them on external factors. Feelings of self directed guilt, shame, embarrassment and anger after you have made a mistake are all natural emotions and experiencing regret and remorse is just part of being human. These negative feelings are very helpful because they help us to recognise when we may have behaved poorly or inappropriately and they motivate us to consistently improve on ourselves and change our behaviour for next time. While the negative emotions may be initially helpful, it is harmful and unhealthy to hold onto these emotions for too long. Through answering questions four and five you are learning to reframe negative experiences and feelings in a hopeful way, as you think about what you have gained from the experience and what you could change in the future. Through acknowledging the benefits of any given situation you are engaging in the process of self forgiveness by accepting what has happened and reflecting on the ways you can learn from it.
It can be easy to feel overwhelmed when the world can feel so fast paced and goal orientated. Life encompasses many challenges and pressures and sometimes it is normal to feel as if our best attempts aren’t good enough. Work and social pressures can make people feel as if they need to sleep less, work harder and faster, look amazing and still maintain a fulfilling family and social life. While commonly negative feelings about yourself can arise from poor decision making as mentioned above, sometimes negative feelings arise from not feeling like we are not measuring up to certain standards which are sometimes impossibly high. Part of living a happy and fulfilling life involves being kind to yourself, accepting that you are only human and forgiving yourself for all of your short comings. Take a blank piece of paper and write down a list of things that you forgive yourself for.
An example might be:
“I forgive myself for being late to work this morning”
“I forgive myself for not being productive yesterday”
“I forgive myself for going to bed too late last night”
Each time you find yourself getting angry or upset about one of your short comings or for not being perfect just remind yourself that it is okay and normal not to be perfect and what matters is that you are trying your best. Make it a habit to continually assess your feelings and emotions and to forgive yourself when you are being too hard on yourself. Often you are your own toughest critique and so it is important to show yourself the same kindness, respect and patience you would a close friend or family member.
Exercise 1: How would you treat a friend?
- Think about a time when a close friend of yours has felt bad about themselves or is really struggling in some way. How would you respond to your friend in this situation especially when you’re at your best? Write down what you would say, what you would typically do and the tone you normally use when talking with your friends.
- Now think about a time when you’ve felt bad about yourself or are struggling. How would you typically respond in these situations? Write down what you typically do and say and note down the tone in which you talk to yourself in.
- Did you notice a difference? If you did, ask yourself why. What factors or fears come into play that lead you to treat yourself and others so differently?
- Write down how you think things might change if you responded to yourself in the same manner you respond to a close friend when you’re suffering.
Why not treat yourself like a good friend and see what happens?
Exercise 2: Self Compassion Break
Think of a situation in your life that is difficult, which is causing stress. Call this situation to mind, and see if you can actually feel the stress and emotional discomfort in your body.
Say to yourself;
- This is a moment of suffering
- That’s mindfulness.
- You could also say; This hurts/ Ouch/ This is stress
- Suffering is a part of life
- That’s common humanity.
- You could also say; Other people feel this way/ I’m not alone/ We all struggle in our lives
- May I be kind to myself
- You could also say; What do I need to hear right now to express kindness to myself? Is there a phase that speaks to you in your particular situations e.g.
- May I give myself the compassion that I need
- May I learn to accept myself as I am
- May I forgive myself
- May I be strong
- May I be patient
- You could also say; What do I need to hear right now to express kindness to myself? Is there a phase that speaks to you in your particular situations e.g.
Exercise 3: Exploring self compassion through writing
- Which imperfections make you feel inadequate?
Everybody has something about themselves that they dislike, something that evokes feelings of shame, insecurity, or simply not being ‘good enough.’ Its human condition to be imperfect and feelings of failure and inadequacy are part of the experience of living a human life.
Write about an issue you have that tends to make you feel inadequate or bad about yourself. This could be issues regarding physical appearance, work or relationships. What emotions arise when you think about this aspect of yourself? Try to feel your emotions with understating them or exaggerating them. Write about them.
- Write a letter to yourself from the perspective of an unconditionally loving imaginary friend
Now imagine a friend who unconditionally loves you, accepts you, is kind and compassionate. Imagine that this friend is aware of all your strengths and weaknesses, including what you’ve been writing in this exercise. Reflect on what this friend would feel towards you, and how they love and accept you exactly as you are with all of your human imperfections. This friend recognises the limits of human nature, and is always kind and forgiving towards you. This friend understands your life history and the things that have happened in your life to create you as you are in this moment.
Write a letter to yourself from the perspective of this unconditionally loving imaginary friend. Focus on the perceived inadequacy you tend to judge yourself on. What would they say about your ‘flaws’? How would they express their compassion for you, especially in regards to the pain you feel when you harshly judge yourself? What would this friend write to you in order to remind you that you are only human and everyone has their own strengths and weaknesses? Would this friend suggest any possible changes you should make? How would these suggestions coincide with feelings of compassion and understanding? As you write to yourself from the perspective of your imaginary friend, try to focus your tone with a strong sense of kindness, care and desire for your wellbeing.
- Feel the compassion as it soothes and comforts you
After writing the letter in part 2, out it down and step away from it for a while. Come back and read it again, really allowing the words to sink in. Feel a deep sense of compassion, letting it sooth and comfort you like a cool breeze on a hot day.
Love, connection and acceptance are your birthrights. Claiming them is only a matter of looking within yourself.
Exercise 4: The criticiser, the criticised and the compassionate observer
Place 3 empty chairs in a triangular arrangement around the room. Think about an issue that often troubles you and inflicts harsh self criticism. Designate the first chair as the voice of you inner self critic, the second chair as the voice of the part of you that feels judged and criticised and the third, as the voice of the compassionate observer. You will play all 3 roles. You may find this a little strange at first, but you may be surprised at what is said when you really start to let your feeling flow freely.
- Think about your ‘issue’ and sit in the self critic chair
- Express out loud what the self critical part of you is thinking and feeling E.g. ‘I hate the fact that you’re such a whimp and aren’t self-assertive’
- Take note of the words you use and your tone of voice and how you feel. Do you feel worried, angry, self righteous, annoyed?
- Take note of your body posture; strong, rigid, upright? What emotions are coming up for you during this?
- Move to the judged and criticised chair
- Try to get in touch with how you feel being criticised in this manner. Verbalise how you feel, responding to your inner critic E.g. ‘I feel unsupported by you.’ Speak your mind.
- Again, take notice of your tone. Is it sad, discouraged, scared?
- Take note of your body posture, Is it slumped, hunched, frowning?
- Conduct a dialogue between these two parts of yourself for a while, switching back and forth between the self critic chair (1) and the criticised chair (2)
- Allow yourself to experience each side of yourself so you know how the other feels. Allow each to fully express its views and be heard.
- Move to the compassionate observer chair (3)
- Call upon your deepest wisdom, where your care and concern resides and address both the critic and the criticised.
- What does your compassionate self say to the critic? E.g. ‘I see that you’re scared, and you’re trying to help me so I don’t mess up’
- What does your compassionate self say to he criticised part? E.g. ‘All you want is to be accepted for who you are’
- Allow yourself to relax, letting your heart soften and open.
- What words of compassion come forth? What is the tone of your voice? Tender, gentle, warm? What Is your body posture like? Balanced, centred, relaxed?
- After the dialogue has finished (stop when it feels right to do so), reflect on what just happened
- Do you have new insights into how you treat yourself? New ways of thinking about the situation that are more productive and supportive?
- As you think about what you have learned, make you intention to relate to yourself in a kinder, healthier way in the future.
- A true can now be called in your inner war. Peace is possible. Your old habits of self criticism don’t need to be dominant.
- Listen to the voice that’s already there, even if a bit hidden – Your wise, compassionate self
Exercise 5: Changing your critical self talk
This exercise should be done over several weeks, eventually forming the foundation for changing how you relate to yourself in the long term. Some people find it useful to work on their inner critic by writing in a journal. If this doesn’t work for you, you could try internal dialogues (silently or aloud).
- Step 1 to changing the way you treat yourself is to acknowledge when you are being self critical. It may be, like many of us, that your self critical voice is so common that you don’t even realise when it’s present.
- When you’re feeling bad about something, note down what you would’ve said to yourself. What words do you actually use when you’re being self critical? Are there phrases that you repeat? What is your tone of voice? Does the voice remind you of anyone who was critical of you?
- Be aware of your inner judge to your self critic – get a clear idea of how you talk to yourself
- Try to soften your critical voice with compassion rather than self judgement. For example instead of criticising yourself, say “I know you’re worried about me and feel unsafe, but you are causing me unnecessary pain. Could you let my inner compassionate self say a few words now?”
- Try to approach your inner critic in a friendly, positive manner. If you’re struggling to do this, try thinking what a very compassionate friend would say to you in the same situation. You may want to try using physical gestures to supplement what you say such as stroking your arm. These gestures can tap into the caregiving system, even if you’re having trouble calling up kind emotions at first.
- A tip: By starting to act kindly, feelings of true warmth and compassion will eventually follow
Exercise 6: Self Compassion Journal
Try keeping a self compassion journal, reviewing the days events for one week for more. Journaling is an effective way to express emotions and enhance both mental and physical wellbeing At the end of each day, write down anything that you felt bad about, anything you judged yourself on, or any experience that caused you pain. For each event use mindfulness, a sense of common humanity, and kindness to process the event in a more self compassionate way.
This involves bringing awareness to the painful emotions that come about as a result of your self judgement or difficult circumstances. Write about how you felt (sad, ashamed, frightened, stressed etc) As you write, try to be accepting and non-judgmental of your experience. Do not under nor over state each feeling.
Write down the ways in which your experience was connected to the larger human experience. This may include acknowledging that being human means being imperfect, and that all people experience pain in some way or the other. You might want to think about the various causes and conditions underlying the painful event. For example, ‘My frustration increases by the fact I was late for my doctors appointment across town and there was a lot of traffic that day. If the circumstances had been different, I probably would’ve reacted differently.’
Write some kind and understanding words of comfort. Let yourself know that you care by adopting a gently, reassuring tone (It’s okay, you messed up but it wasn’t the end of the world. I understand that youre frustrated and just lost it. Maybe you can try being extra patient and generous to any wait staff this week…’
By practicing mindfulness, common humanity and self kindness, it will help you organise your thoughts and emotions, while helping to encode them into your memory. If you regularly practice this, your compassion practice will strengthen and translate more easily into your daily life.
Exercise 7: Identifying what we really want
- Think about the ways that you use self-criticism as a motivator
- Is there any trait that you criticise yourself for having (overweight, lazy, impulsive) because you think being hard on yourself will help you change? If this is the case, try and get in touch with the emotional pain that your self criticism causes and give yourself compassion for feeling so judged instead
- See if you can think of a kinder, more caring way to motivate yourself to make a change (if needed)
- What language would a compassionate friend, parent, teacher or mentor use to gently point out how your behaviour is unproductive, while simultaneously encouraging you to do something different. What is the most supportive message you can think of that’s in line with you underlying wish to be happy and healthy?
- Every time you catch yourself being judgmental about your unwanted trait in the future…
- Notice the pain of your self-judgement and give yourself compassion. Try think of more encouraging and supportive things to say to yourself. Remember that if you really want to motivate yourself, love is more powerful than fear.