Tools for Resilience: Cultivating Self Compassion

Linda Graham, MFT explores the power of self compassion to increase resilience.  

There are tools and techniques of “self-directed neuroplasticity” that will help you harness the capacities of your brain to rewire itself for greater resilience, lifelong – and cultivating self compassion is one of them.   It will be useful to engage in this exercise with curiosity and openness, as “experiments” rather than following fixed rules and expecting a guaranteed outcome. As you reflect on the learning your brain is encoding from it, you may notice an increasing joy and well-being from re-wiring your brain as you go along.

 Cultivating Self Compassion

  • Bring to mind a moment when it was relatively easy for you to “feel with” someone else’s heartache or sorrow. Your neighbor struggles to carry heavy bags of groceries up the driveway with a recently broken ankle. Your cousin lost his luggage two airports back before he arrived at your house for a weekend visit. Your 8-year old was late for an after school meet-up and the school bus took off for the class picnic without him; he came home and collapsed in tears. Your cat sprained his hip jumping down from too high a kitchen counter, and has limped around the house for three days.
  • Imagine this person, child or pet sitting in front of you. You could even imagine a child or pet actually sitting in your lap. Notice any warmth, concern, goodwill arising in your own heart as you sit with them. Feel the “feeling with,” the empathy, compassion and love flowing from your body, your heart to them, sitting with you.
  • When the feelings of empathy, compassion and love are steady enough, shift gears a bit and remember a moment when you were facing your own difficulty, an “Ouch; this is tough; this hurts.” However big or small, let yourself feel the pain of your own pain for a moment.
  • Then return to the feelings of warmth, concern, goodwill you felt for the person or child or pet you were first “feeling with.” Without changing anything, simply re-direct this flow of empathy, compassion and love for them to yourself. Let yourself receive your own care and concern, you own empathy and compassion for your own pain, for whatever has happened, whatever you’ve done or failed to do, at any age or level of your psyche that needs to receive it. You may express this feeling toward yourself in words, “May this suffering pass…May things resolve for me….May I feel less upset over time.”
  • Let yourself take in feeling understood and nurtured. Let your own heart relax into a more peaceful sense of understanding, compassion, and forgiveness, letting the self-compassion soak in and settle in your body. Let it re-wire your sense of yourself in this very moment.
  • Reflect on your experience of this exercise. Notice any sense of openness or approach to your own experiences now. Notice if this approach stance opens up possibilities for change and resolution of the difficulties that have concerned or hurt you before.

As you cultivate an “approach” stance toward experience, you are creating more response flexibility in your brain, thus creating the conditions for more resilience.  See Tools for Resilience: Hand on the Heart  for Calm to learn another exercise.