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Why Being Kind To Yourself Is So Important For Our Mental Health & What To Do About It!

Why Being Kind To Yourself Is So Important For Our Mental Health & What To Do About It!

Written By Mimi Fakhri - Hypnotherapist

Have you ever found yourself thinking you’re useless?  Telling yourself you’re an idiot?  Or worse?  If so, you are not alone.  Often, we believe hard on ourselves can motivate us to do better next time.  We fear being kind to ourselves, in case that will somehow make us lazy or stop trying.  The truth is that, when we are hard on ourselves, we feel worse, and that actually makes it harder to motivate ourselves, and more likely we will give up trying altogether.

Consider two coaches: Coach 1 is always shouting at her team, telling them they are useless, pathetic idiots and pointing out all their mistakes.  Coach 2 encourages her team, praising their strengths and efforts as well as pointing out how they could do better next time.  *Which team do you think is more likely to quit?  And which team is more likely to build on their strengths and be motivated to do better next time?

Learning to be kinder to ourselves, and not always listening to our critical inner voice, can improve our mental wellbeing and help us keep going with the things that are important to us – whether that be living a healthy lifestyle, studying, or building better relationships.

“Physiotherapy For The Mind”

The good news is that we can learn to be kinder to ourselves, counteracting that self-criticism.  Paul Gilbert, a psychologist who has done a huge amount of work in this area, pioneered something called compassionate mind training – learning to be kind and compassionate to ourselves, and to others.  He describes it as “physiotherapy for the mind”.

Compassionate mind training involves simple exercises to help develop our ability to be kind and compassionate towards ourselves, activating our in-built soothing and contentment system.  Research suggests that compassionate mind training helps us learn to soothe negative emotions and improves our feelings of contentment and wellbeing. 

Try This: A Quick Self-Compassion Exercise

This exercise is designed to help you develop your ability to be kind and compassionate towards yourself. 

This exercise may be hard at first, particularly if you have a tendency to be critical or hard on yourself (which probably describes most of us!).  So be patient and curious about your experience, and know that, the more you practice, the easier it gets. 

Please do not attempt this exercise by yourself if you have a history of trauma or abuse.

Before you begin, think of a loved one, who you have a great amount of love for.  That could be a person, but it could also be an animal, perhaps a dearly-loved pet.  It doesn’t matter, as long as it’s a person or creature you have a huge amount of love for.  Once you have a loved one in mind, follow these instructions:

  1. Find a time and place where you can sit or lie down quietly and undisturbed for 5-10 minutes
  2. Close your eyes, and bring your loved one to mind.  Focus on the all the feelings of love, warmth and care you feel for your loved one.  Notice how that feels in your body – you might notice sensations of warmth or openness.
  3. Now imagine you are hugging your loved one – and imagine all those feelings of love, warmth, care and compassion flowing into your loved one.  Notice how it feels to have those feelings flowing into your loved one
  4. Now imagine that you are the one being hugged – and all those feelings of love, warmth, care and compassion are flowing into you
  5. Now swap back, and imagine you are again hugging your loved one.  Focus on the care and love you feel for your loved one, and imagine those feelings of love, warmth, care and compassion flowing into them. 
  6. Once again, imagine that you are the one being hugged – with all those feelings of love, warmth, care and compassion flowing into you. 
  7. Notice what it feels like, to have those feelings flowing into you, what it is like to allow yourself to experience warmth, love and compassion for yourself – perhaps a feeling of safety or contentment.  Perhaps it is harder for you to imagine receiving those feelings, than it is to imagine giving those feelings to someone else.  Whatever your response, just notice…  and know that, the more you practice, the easier it is to learn to experience feelings of warmth, love and compassion for yourself.
  8. When you are ready, gently open your eyes, and bring your attention back to the here and now

*Most people think that Coach 1’s team would quit, and Coach 2 would be motivated to keep going!

 

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