Do you compassionately speak to yourself? How is your self-talk? It’s not uncommon for people to talk down on themselves when upset, angry, or stressed. Are you your most prominent critic? Are you tearing yourself down or lifting yourself? Are you loving and kind to yourself when something goes wrong?
It can feel natural to beat ourselves up when we make a mistake. However, what would happen if we instead chose kindness, support, and compassion? This article will break down what self-talk and self-compassion are, how to use them to our advantage, and how to challenge and change our self-talk to be more positive.
What is Self-Talk?
Did you know that a person has, on average, about 15,000 thoughts per day! That’s a lot of thoughts to monitor and control. Unfortunately, sometimes our thoughts tend to be negative. However, sometimes they can be positive or even neutral. Self-talk is simply the dialogue that we have with ourselves throughout the day.
You might find yourself asking yourself, “well, that was stupid; why did you do that?” Or building yourself up, “awesome, you knew you could do it!” Or having random thoughts like, “do squirrels have emotions?”
What is Self-Compassion?
There are a lot of definitions of self-compassion with a common focus of being kind to yourself when you are struggling.
Dr. Kristen Neff, a teacher, and renowned self-compassion researcher explains three components of self-compassion:
- common humanity
Self-kindness refers to being understanding and gentle towards yourself even when making a mistake or suffering. Common humanity refers to the recognition that, as humans, all of us at times will suffer and fail. Mindfulness refers to observing, without judgment, our thoughts and feelings without getting stuck in them.
When we can implement these components into our daily talk and awareness, we can increase our self-compassion.
Test how self-compassionate you are:
I encourage you to take this test as a helpful tool to see where your self-compassion lies. This test can help you be more aware of your increase or lack of self-compassion and can help you better understand areas that may be helpful to improve.
What did your score tell you about your compassion? Did it seem accurate? It could help to be mindful of the questions on the scale that you struggle the most with and start being more aware of why and what influences these challenge areas. You can then practice using the steps below to challenge or shift your self-compassion to be more supportive.
Why is it so hard for me to be self-compassionate?
My first response to you is to take a deep breath, let out a good sigh, and pat yourself on the back just for being you. You are human and filled with lots of beautiful moments, difficult struggles, and a whole mess of feelings that can be so confusing and hard to navigate. Life can be difficult. These moments and how we respond to them can teach us about our compassion towards ourselves and others. We can be so quick to jump to blame and shame, the comparison game, and ultimately name calling our self – none of which help us feel better.
Let’s think back. When you made a mistake growing up, how did your parents or caregivers respond? Were they kind, caring, and forgiving? Or were they angry, resentful, and aggressive? When you failed a test or missed an important event, how did you respond? Were you understanding, gentle, and forgiving? Or were you cursing yourself, hitting yourself, criticizing yourself? If you’re saying yes to the latter responses instead of the kinder responses, then self-compassion may be more challenging to engage in for you.
Where did my negative self-talk come from?
While it’s essential to think about how you and your parents responded to different events growing up, it’s also necessary to think about what they didn’t respond to. For instance, when you did get good grades, were these celebrated or just expected and got minimal responses? What other events in your life went in silence? When your caregivers don’t positively reinforce things for you growing up, it can be difficult to celebrate yourself and take compliments as an adult.
Our childhood and upbringing can play a huge role in expressing our compassion and what our self-talk can look like. Early memories can stay so ingrained in our self and worldview, especially when they are negative! Suppose compassion was not modeled in your home, or you were criticized for trying to be more compassionate (maybe due to having to be “strong” or “hard”). In that case, it may take a little more time and tuning to be more comfortable and able to be self-compassionate. Don’t let that stop you because it is possible to change your self-talk! It is possible to break childhood patterns that no longer work for you, and it is possible to increase your self-compassion. Below are some tips and tools to help you be more aware of and improve your self-talk and self-compassion.
How to challenge and change self-talk:
Try to practice this Self Talk Worksheet weekly to help increase your awareness of your self-talk, and use this to begin changing your negative self-talk.
This worksheet will ask you to think of a recent situation where you had a negative thought and take you through steps to start to challenge and change that talk to be more positive and supportive. When you go through this worksheet, try to stay aware of how you feel when challenging the thought. Does it feel uncomfortable? Relieving? Different? These are common responses we may feel as this is a new shift in your thinking pattern and a new process that you are working on and may not yet be used to. Don’t worry! It will get more comfortable over time the more you stay aware and catch the negative thoughts and begin to challenge and incorporate more compassionate and positive thinking.
Self-Compassion Break Script:
It can be helpful to also try to practice this script by Dr. Kristen Neff daily. You could maybe try it at night when you are winding down from your day or first thing in the morning to set a kind intention.
Think of a situation in your life that is difficult that is causing you stress. Call the situation to mind, and see if you can actually feel the stress and emotional discomfort in your body. Now, say to yourself:
1) This is a moment of suffering
This mantra is mindfulness. Other options include:
- This hurts.
- This is stress.
2) Suffering is a part of life
Suffering is ‘common humanity.’ Other options include:
- Other people feel this way.
- I’m not alone.
- We all struggle in our lives.
Now, put your hands over your heart, feel the warmth of your hands and the gentle touch of your hands on your chest. Or adopt the soothing touch you discovered felt right for you.
Say to yourself:
3) May I be kind to myself
You can also ask yourself, “What do I need to hear right now to express kindness to myself?” Is there a phrase that speaks to you in your particular situation, such as:
- 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
By changing our self-talk to be more supportive and healthier, we can begin to heal. We don’t have to stay our biggest bully. We don’t have to be our worst critics. We can be gentle, kind, and caring. We can give ourselves the love and support we may not have been given as a child. We can begin to break negative patterns of thinking and open our eyes to new perspectives and compassion lenses to help us grow. Even if after reading this article you’re still struggling, or if you have other questions or concerns about self-talk and self-compassion, feel free to schedule an appointment at The Better You Institute with one of our Philadelphia therapists. Call us today, 267-495-4951 to set up your appointment.