I had a long weekend off work recently and I faced a few fears during that break. I also had an ah-ha moment in regards to self-compassion and its role in helping us feel safe. In today’s podcast episode I’m diving deeper into this and sharing some learnings from a book I’ve been reading and loving.
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Links and further reading
- For an insight into driving anxiety – the running thoughts of an anxious gal
- Fierce self-compassion by Dr Kristin Neff
- Videos from Dr Kristin Neff
In this episode I want to share some learnings about self-compassion and how it provides a safety net when fear and self-doubt shows up.
Hello everyone, how are you doing? How have the last couple of weeks been? Mine have been nice, I had a long weekend recently and enjoyed some much needed time off work. During that long weekend I tackled some life admin and faced a couple of fears. One of those fears was learning a new driving route – for those who don’t know, I struggle with driving anxiety which for me means driving unfamiliar routes is really scary. But there’s a new route I wanted to learn and I decided that weekend was a good time to do it.
I also made some appointments and while I wouldn’t say I have full-on telephone phobia, making these kinds of calls really stresses me out, to the point where I’d let them pile up. So after I did the driving I pushed through and made the calls too. I’ve also recently been learning more about self-compassion and understanding more about the role it plays in feeling safe and moving through fear.
Before we get onto that though, I wanted to ask a small favour – I’m running a market research survey at the moment to learn more about my audience and I would love to get your thoughts. This will really help me ensure the content I produce is supporting you in the best way, so if you have a spare five minutes, the link can be found in the show notes there in your podcast app. I’m closing the survey on Friday the 29th of October and everyone who fills it in will be entered into a prize drawer to win a 30-minute confidence coaching session with me. I don’t actually offer 1-2-1 coaching right now, so this is a lovely opportunity for me to dip my toe back into the coaching world and help you with confidence building in a specific area in your life.
The responses I’m getting so far are super interesting so a huge thank you to those who have already filled it out.
OK then, let’s get into this topic of self-compassion. I’ve been reading a book by Dr Kristin Neff called Fierce Self-Compassion and it’s all about the different types of self-compassion we can cultivate. And these are tender self-compassion, where you give yourself the gentle support you need and fierce self-compassion where you let more powerful emotions through to stand up for yourself and affirm boundaries.
I found this book so interesting, there’s a brilliant mix of science, feminism and spirituality. And over my long weekend, I had a bit of an ah-ha moment with it all. There was a moment over the weekend where I felt fear in a really distinct and physical way and I realised, for me, fear feels like falling. There is a drop sensation in my torso where panic and loss of control take over and I feel like I’ve just stepped off the edge of a cliff. After I felt this I told myself I would be OK, that I’ve got this and that it’s OK to be afraid – I gave myself self-compassion. And then it hit me – fear is falling and self-compassion is the safety net.
Because when we have self-compassion, it’s OK to fall. It’s OK to feel fear because we know we’ll be OK because we have our own back. In contrast to this, when we’re self-critical and say to ourselves “It’s just driving, everyone else manages it, why can’t you?” or “I can’t believe you were worried about making a doctor’s appointment, you’re 35”, then the fear intensifies because we know if we fail or something goes wrong, we’ll be horrible to ourselves.
When discussing why we are so self-critical, Dr Kristin Neff explains that when our self-concept is threatened, we attack ourselves. Here is an extract:
”When our self-concept is threatened, the danger is an inward one. We are both the attacker and the attacked. So, we fight ourselves with criticism, hoping it will get rid of the weakness by forcing us to change. We psychologically flee from others by shrinking in shame, withdrawing into the oblivion of worthlessness.”
And this comes up again when we find it difficult to treat ourselves the way we treat our friends, here’s another extract:
“When we notice something about ourselves that we don’t like or when we face a life challenge, we feel personally threatened. As discussed earlier, our instinctive reaction to threat is to fight, flee, or freeze, and when we turn this on ourselves, the instinct manifests as self-criticism, isolation, and overidentification.”
And what helps with all of this is self-compassion. Learning to be kind to ourselves, accept ourselves and ultimately trust ourselves not to attack when we feel threatened. This all leads to a feeling of safety and when we have that innate sense of safety, we feel more able to take psychological risks, to face our fears and to go for what we truly want in life.
In the past I’ve used a house analogy when talking about self-worth, where I see self-worth as the foundations, self-belief as the walls and confidence as the roof. I think when we have a strong foundation of self-worth, we always have a home, no matter what may come along and knock our confidence. And well, to add self-compassion to this analogy, we can see self-compassion as the builders. The ones putting the bricks together and rebuilding after the storm. It is absolutely essential when building self-worth and perhaps a bit of an unsung hero.
So how can we start developing self-compassion? Of course my first tip would be to learn from an expert like Dr Kristin Neff, she has books, Ted Talks and courses on this work and lots of practical exercises to help with this.
But to summarise, the core elements mentioned in the book that form Kristin’s model of self-compassion are mindfulness, connecting with common humanity and kindness. Mindfulness helps us become aware of the situation, acknowledging and naming our feelings and seeing what’s really happening – not what our thoughts are trying to present to us. This stops us getting swept away by fear and self-criticism without ignoring our feelings, and this allows us to respond in a more helpful way. Connecting with common humanity is about recognising that we’re not alone. When we see this and acknowledge that humanity is flawed and still worthy, we can include ourselves in this awareness. And finally kindness is about alleviating suffering and turning our caring nature inwards. So many of us are kind and caring towards others, this is just about directing that energy towards ourselves. It’s about asking ourselves what we need in this moment and giving it to ourselves.
So when we feel fear, when we feel unworthy – if we can walk ourselves through these three elements, it can help. We can connect to mindfulness by asking how we’re feeling, what’s happening, how is this feeling manifesting physically. We can connect to common humanity by reminding ourselves that we’re not alone in how we’re feeling. And we can connect with kindness by asking ourselves what we need in that moment and how we can give it to ourselves.
Positive self-talk is something I’ve been honing for years, since my recovery from anorexia and it is an incredible tool. It feels amazing to be able to talk myself through fear, but I feel what I’ve learnt about self-compassion adds new layers to this and has helped me understand more about self-worth as a whole.
So if you feel like you’re falling, I hope self-compassion can be a safety net for you.
OK, there is so much more I could go into on this topic and I have no doubt it will come up more as I learn more, but I will leave it there for now. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this, please do come and chat to me over on Instagram, I’m @katbluejay over there and yes, if you can spare five minutes to fill in my market research survey I would really appreciate it. Thanks so much for listening and until next time, take care.
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