A Powerful Self-Compassion Technique for HSPs
An Excerpt from the book, The Empowered Highly Sensitive Person, by Julie Bjelland
If your compassion does not include yourself, it is incomplete. — Buddhist saying
Practicing self-compassion can be life changing. It’s like having a supportive friend with you whenever needed. It has transformed my life and the lives of hundreds, if not thousands, of HSPs I have taught. One of the pieces I find most fascinating about this trait is that we are the most compassionate people (toward others) that I have ever seen. In fact, when I witness forms of strong compassion, it is usually from an HSP. But we often severely lack self-compassion.
Unlike self-criticism, which asks if you’re good enough, self-compassion asks what’s good for you? — Kristin Neff
One piece that may motivate you to build the self-compassion muscle is that you directly impact others with your mood and they, in turn, impact your mood. If you have been practicing compassion only for others, you will likely become burnt out and have a lower mood. But if you practice self-compassion, you will be more balanced and those around you will feel that balance. This is especially important for the HSP because we are impacted by other people’s moods a great deal. If you are burnt out and irritable, those around you will start firing those same brain-mirror neurons and start becoming burnt out and irritable, and that will then circle back and impact you! Practice building this skill of self-compassion to help everyone around you!
There was a powerful video I witnessed once of two best friends who were instructed to tell each other the unfiltered self-talk they tell themselves. The words that came out of their mouths were so cruel and harsh that they were both in tears. They would never dream of speaking to each other that way normally. But that is how they were speaking to themselves. One said something like this: I know why no one wants you because you are too fat. The other said something similar to this: You are so ugly. Look at those pimples on your face. They thought things like that about themselves and often said them inside their own head. Of course, we cannot imagine saying those things to someone we care about. Why, then, are we talking so harshly to ourselves?
Try paying attention to your inner talk. What if we were to use self- compassion instead? I know when I first started learning this it seemed impossible to really believe. But when I learned about how the brain literally grows a particular part that becomes easier to access the more you practice it, I started to try it out. Because this is a brain exercise, you get better at it the more you practice. Think of it like building a muscle. If you keep doing it, you get stronger at it. One of my favorite methods is adapted from Kristin Neff, a psychologist who studies self-compassion. There are three steps:
1. Put your hand on your chest because it activates a calming response and then acknowledge the suffering. (i.e., I feel overwhelmed, sad, scared, fearful, abandoned, unworthy, etc.). When you can name an emotion you activate the cognitive part of the brain and can start to cut the pain in half just by doing this first step.
2. In the second step, we need to validate and normalize. For example, you might say to yourself, “It makes sense to me that I feel [fill in the blank] (validations). Other people would likely feel the same way if they were experiencing this too.” (normalizing). This step is incredibly powerful for HSPs and cannot be skipped.
3. In the final step, you want to check in with your needs. Ask yourself in a loving tone what you need right in this moment. I might also say, “I know this feeling is temporary, and I am going to get through it. Maybe I’m tired right now and need a break or to eat something.” Sometimes, it’s simple like that. Or maybe you realize you need to get some support. The point of these steps is that they activate a soothing response.
Here’s a video example of this technique.
Think about what compassion does for others in need. It makes them feel better and more able to cope with whatever they are facing. Self- compassion can be like that too, and we can access it anytime we need it. Practice these three steps every day and any time you feel a difficult emotion or whenever you could use some soothing.
To give ourselves compassion, we first have to recognize that we are suffering. We can’t heal what we can’t feel.— Kristin Neff
As Rick Hanson says in his book Resilient, “The key to growing any psychological resource, including compassion, is to have repeated experiences of it that get turned into lasting changes in neural structure or function.” The more you keep doing it the more your brain learns it.
One of the benefits of self-compassion is that it makes us more resilient. When I feel like I made a mistake or said something wrong or did something wrong, if I turn to self-compassion, I can slow my heart rate and soften the experience. It is an incredible stress reliever too. You can lower your stress levels if you use self-compassion.
From this moment on, try treating yourself like a supportive friend. When you feel bad about something, try telling yourself things like this: It’s okay. You will get through this. This feeling is temporary. Ask yourself “What do I need?” You can add in phrasing such as “I’m important too.” Sometimes, it helps to imagine feeling the level of caring you have for a friend, loved one, or even a pet and then bring that feeling back to yourself too. You deserve to be your own best friend. You deserve to be someone who can feel self-compassion and self-love. Keep practicing, and you will feel it more and more!
Continue reading from the book, The Empowered Highly Sensitive Person, by Julie Bjelland
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~Julie Bjelland is a psychotherapist, global HSP consultant, author of several books, and expert in the field of high sensitivity who has helped thousands of highly sensitive people around the world. As an HSP herself, and mother of highly sensitive children, Julie understands what it is like to live with high sensitivity and strong emotions. Her mission is to spread awareness and education of the trait and to help HSPs reduce the challenges so they can access their many gifts! Julie invites you to explore her website that is full of HSP resources: www.juliebjelland.com.