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Self-Compassion: The antidote to the Tough Inner Critic?

In working with a tough inner critic, research highlights the benefit of using self-compassion to counterbalance harsh negative thoughts (e.g Neff) Siegel notes that research shows compassion and self compassion is protective against PTSD, facilitates good relationships, helps chronic pain (NICABM Integrating Compssion-  Based Approaches to Trauma, Date Unknown).  However, this can be difficult for some clients.  They cannot self-soothe or generate compassionate feelings, particularly where they have attachment difficulties.  Deborah Lee notes that receiving compassion from other is how we learn self-compassion (NICABM: Integrating Compassion- based Approaches).  For come clients, this may not have ever been modelled to them.   Particularly during a difficult upbringing, adverse childhood experiences or trauma. When clients have made a mistake, they perhaps lack shame resilience.  They cannot forgive themselves for a (perhaps perceived) mistake and ruminate on this.  It can be useful to ask these clients, what action they want to take next that is most in keeping with their own values, but does not keep them wallowing in shame.  Self-compassion or common humanity might highlight that we all make mistakes.  It is useful to acknowledge the mistake and take responsibility instead of blaming others, as we can learn and grow.  But equally, there is a balance to be had.  At times of stress, our negative core beliefs can be activated (Osmo et al, 2018).  We might start to think "I am useless, I am not worthwhile, I cannot succeed".  These thoughts make us feel isolated and seem believable, and clients can spend a lot of time ruminating and feeling worse.  It is useful for Pluralistic Counsellors to normalise these feelings using "we" rather than "you" in discussing difficult emotions (Siegel, NICABM Integrating Compassion-Based Approaches). As with a lot of therapeutic work,  self-compassion, inner nurturing, a sense of common humanity, practicing generating these feelings regularly is key as our brains can be lazy and tend to focus on the same thing it is used to thinking of, as with Negative Automatic Thoughts.  Also, the more a client practices self-compassion, perhaps through mindfulness meditation or CBT, this increases metacognitive awareness. Simply, clients may not realise how negative their inner worlds have become.  They may be empathetic, kind, even go the extra mile for friends and strangers, without affording themselves "common humanity"- the ability to make mistakes, to be human, to be imperfect (Neff, 2003a).  The client may wish to use safe space imagery or do a guided meditation where they meet a self-compassionate inner nurturer.  It can be helpful to work alongside clients to create a compassionate image.  Some clients can feel grounded imagining a particular moment in time, in as much sensory detail as possible, that really happened and where they had positive feelings.  These feelings could be self-compassion but if the client does not have a frame of reference for this emotion, it could be a time where they felt proud of themselves, that they were accepted, that they were held in a space or felt grounded.

Links to Further Reading on Self-Compassion


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