Would you talk to your 5 year old self like that? Unlocking the Power of Self-Compassion: From Self-Criticism to Self-Love

I was with my daughter this weekend, and we, as many do, took some selfies.  When looking at them I made a comment like ‘looks like I have a weird head in these pictures!’.  She turned, looked me in the eye, and said something I taught her years ago ‘would you talk like that to your 5 year old self?’  It stopped me, of course I wouldn’t.  And I would never had even had those thoughts about my daughter, I would only see how amazing she is.

Have you ever felt it? The ease with which we offer compassion to others, yet the struggle to extend that same kindness to ourselves? Rick Hanson, in his book “Resilient,” defines compassion as “the recognition of pain with the desire to relieve it.” Imagine treating yourself like you would a best friend: supportive, understanding, and radiating warmth. This shift from self-criticism to self-love can be transformative.

In Chinese Medicine, compassion is deeply connected to the Earth element, symbolizing our core and grounding. A balanced Earth element manifests as healthy compassion towards ourselves and others. Imbalance shows up as difficulty giving or receiving compassion, constantly seeking it, or being overly compassionate without boundaries. Interestingly, compassion embodies both yin (stillness) and yang (action). Brain studies reveal that when we experience compassion, areas responsible for motor planning activate, preparing us to take action.

The good news? Cultivating self-compassion is within reach, and your brain is your ally. Recall a time you felt cared for, be it by loved ones or even a pet. Immerse yourself in that feeling of being nurtured. Now, think of someone you feel compassion for and let your warmth flow towards them. Allow it to fill you up and overflow. Finally, direct that same loving energy towards yourself.

Savor this experience of self-compassion. What makes it enjoyable? Be specific and detailed. Dwelling on these positive feelings triggers the release of dopamine and norepinephrine, reinforcing the neural pathways associated with self-compassion.

Compassion is not just a warm feeling; it’s an inner strength we can cultivate, enriching our lives and the lives of those around us. So, let’s embark on this journey of self-compassion, one kind thought at a time. Remember, you deserve the same love and care you so readily give to others.

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Hanson, Rick. (2018). Resilient: How to Grow an Unshakable Core of Calm, Strength, and Happiness. Harmony Books.