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Some of us have no idea of what it means to be soothed and comforted. Maybe we never got the experience as a child. Maybe we were left alone with our shame when we had been disobedient and told-off by our caregivers. This can lead to difficulties in incorporating the deep sense of security in our own systems.

In my book on self-compassion, the assistant professor in psychology, Katja Bergsten from the University of Uppsala, Sweden, says it can be "extremely serious for children not to know how it feels to have the adults' support, or not to know how it feels to be valuable, just as you are." She further explains that a total lack of self-compassion may be the reason behind suicide and suicide attempts. In case you have no clue of how it feels like to be comforted by someone else, you need to manage a lot on your own as a child. It can even become "unbearable to be in your own company when you feel scared or alone."

To be able to support ourselves as adults may therefore need training. I myself have needed a lot of such training. I have been helped by Kristin Neff’s and Christopher Germer’s methods and developed a self-compassion pause-technique that suits me when I experience difficult feelings.

First, I pause – often by using the word self-compassion as a stop signal – and try to understand what is going on inside. 

The next step is to admit: Yes, this is tough right now! Then, by merely labeling the emotion, some of the pressure is released. As a result, I begin to almost believe in my own reassurement that I am not that bad a person, even though I have just committed a mistake or messed up for others. I can accept that I am like any other human being in the world, which means I am definitely not perfect.

Still, I need to practice the warm feeling of supporting myself. This means, in the midst of being hard on myself, that I imagine putting an arm round my shoulder, signalling that I am not abandoning myself, which I do when I beat myself up because of my setbacks.

After learning about self-compassion, I have managed to be that supportive to myself several times, meaning I really have been standing on my own side through the difficult times. I promise, the ’feeling bad’-feeling has passed much faster. And I do not as often tell myself off (”you’re the world's worst person”), but rather see myself as an ordinary human being. 

This is so relieving.

One of those people who has helped me along the way to see my reactions, and not the least my anger, is the MIndful Self-compassion teacher Christine Braehler. When I interviewed her, she told me that she herself learned something valuable when she could ”meet the hard feeling of anger with compassion, that is so soft”. 

Your turn
Read my interview with psychologist Christine Braehler Shamed of Your Anger? Be Proud!