What is Mindfulness and Self-compassion?
Mindfulness is now-moment awareness of one’s inner experiences, sensations, emotions, and thoughts. Self-compassion refers to the conscious application of a kind, accepting, and self-loving mindset when observing one’s subjective experience.
Most people find it relatively easy to access feelings of compassion and to behave in kind, loving ways to friends and loved ones. The challenge comes when we observe our own perceived flaws or failings, where we typically take a harsher view of our struggles.
In traditional eastern meditation practices, mindful awareness is a state that is meant to take place with compassion. However, many Westerners, especially women and anyone with a trauma background, mental health problems, and/or addiction, self-compassion is nonexistent.
For most people in this category, it is necessary to proactively work on fortifying the presence of self-compassion. Mindfulness and self-compassion therapy goes a step beyond traditional mindfulness to specifically emphasize and reinforce self-compassion as a helpful ingredient for healing and recovery.
It is very common for women who’ve survived trauma, mental health problems, and/or addiction, to live at the mercy of severe, harsh inner voice which is very self-critical.
For those of us starting out with little or no self-compassion, we will do better in life once we learn how to soothe, comfort, and motivate ourselves through loving encouragement. Self-compassion is especially important when we are suffering, as self-compassion often goes out the window when we struggle (when we need compassion the most!).
Self-compassion will help us be kinder and more compassionate to those around us, but it starts with learning how to treat ourselves with love, understanding, and tolerance first before we worry about taking care of other people’s needs for acceptance.
How Mindfulness and Self-compassion Works
Mindfulness and self-compassion therapy works through training the body and mind to create states of compassionate self-witness.
Compassionate self-witness is a necessary ingredient for people who are healing. It is a form of love, the kind that human beings need in order to feel healthy and happy.
True, healing love is made up of the right amount of permission, combined with unconditional inclusion and connection. We must be free to unfold our authentic nature, while feeling assured that we are connected with bonds of loving and belonging to all of life.
Mindfulness and Self-compassion Therapy teaches women to self-provide the qualities of true love, by coaching spaciousness and nonattachment (the mindfulness side) while also providing warmth, love, and connection (the compassion part).
Mindful self-compassion works at the biological level by coaching practices that work on the nervous system to create states of calm, or regulation. Deep breathing, simple witnessing, and other awareness-opening methods are known to operate on the body as a natural sedative, allowing us to exit out of states of nervous system overactivation.
The Self-Compassion side of the practice works through addressing a second aspect of the science of self-soothing, which is related to our need to feel connected in bonds of love and affection in order to feel safe.
As mammals, we require something called co-regulation to be ok, which relies on sufficient experiences of attunement (connection, being in sync) with other, safe people. Love and belonging to our family, friends and community is a requirement for survival at the biological level.
Self-Compassion teaches us to provide this love and belonging internally. Most women who struggle with addiction, trauma and mental health challenges are missing this kind of love. Self-Compassion is a way of taking charge of this scenario and choosing to give ourselves what we require at the psychological and nervous system level in order to feel safe and ok enough in this world to thrive and do well.
The Benefits of Mindfulness and Self-Compassion Therapy
The benefits of mindfulness and self-compassion are extensive. The most immediate benefits include:
- changing how we relate to people for the better, even difficult people and relationships from our past
- being kinder to oneself, releasing the need to perfectionize, judge, and control
- reduction of feelings of shame and low self-esteem
- handling challenging emotions more smoothly
- stress reduction and its many positive impacts on health
- joy and agency in life overall
For people in recovery, benefits additionally include a massive improvement in awareness of triggers. Mindfulness and Self-Compassion provides recognition of the negative beliefs, painful emotions, and trauma states that precede the choice to use substances. This is very helpful for establishing recovery, maintaining well-being over time, and relapse prevention.
Mindful self-compassion provides the ability to experience emotions without being overwhelmed by them. This opens up the world of emotions for us, becoming a more friendly, less frightening place than it previously was to us.
Mindful self-compassion also helps us embrace those split off, shadow-bound parts of us that we have been avoiding all our lives. This self-reunion process, in which we liberate our own inner psychological energies from being imprisoned behind walls of fear, anger, shame, and guilt, is enormously restorative and energizing, returning many aspects of ourselves and our true life purpose.
Mindfulness and Self-Compassion Therapy During Addiction and Mental Health Recovery
Mindfulness and Self-compassion therapy is a powerful methodology for people recovering from addiction, trauma and mental health struggles.
Addiction, mental health problems, and trauma are associated with the presence of severe self-judgment. This judgment gets in the way of our ability to access the healing force, as we struggle to feel we deserve our own self-healing powers.
Disorders are manifestations of the shame that is created through exposure to traumatizing events and/or abuse. All outer level imbalances represent an attempt to cope with unresolved feelings relating to self-worth and our rights to exist without violation, infringement or exploitation. Disorders also reflect wounds relating to our right to receive the nourishment, support, and protection from harm that we need at deep levels of our being.
It is the background condition of self-hatred, shame, and lack of certainty as to whether we deserve love, kindness and support that drives self-avoidance. People with addiction and other mental health problems rely on strategies of delay and avoidance to escape the onslaughts of negative feelings and sensations which seem to await them on every corner.
Through learning mindfulness and self-compassion, this pattern of being enslaved to avoiding, defending and deflecting against one’s own emotional world can be healed. In a context of enough self-acceptance, self-forgiveness, and kind witness of the truth of what’s really going on in the psyche, anything can be faced.
If whatever the truth is, we know it will be witnessed kindly, we don’t have to be so afraid to admit the truth to ourselves and to others. Since as they say in AA “secrets keep us sick”, the ability to know and speak the truth is the key that unlocks the doors of healing.
Self-compassion has been demonstrated to aid in reduction of cravings, help manage stressors in early recovery, and aid people to receive the support available in recovery communities and positive friendships.
Mindfulness and Self-compassion Therapy Options
Mindfulness and self-compassion therapy helps for every aspect of trauma work, mental-emotional healing, and recovery, through combining truthful self-witness (versus denial and rationalization driven by shame) with loving support.
Mindfulness and Self-compassion therapy teaches us to have a loving relationship with ourselves, so that instead of being tormented every day by inner voices of cruelty, we live life from a place of self-connection and self-support.
From such a condition of inner loving witness, we are more available and resourced to spread kindness and happiness around the world, give meaningful support to our loved ones. We make choices from a place of feeling ok inside, versus reacting against predictions of future pain.
Mindfulness and self-compassion therapy is offered and emphasized at Villa Kali Ma, throughout our holistic programs for women on a healing path. Some of our practitioners are trained in its use and can directly coach the practices.
Further, the general mindset of mindfulness and self-compassion therapy underlies all of our approaches, as we understand the importance of uniting radical compassion with the ability to self-witness.
Our yoga curriculum, nutritional therapies, creative therapies, community activities, breathwork, and spiritual healing offerings, as well as all of our clinical groups and individual therapy and treatment modalities, are integrated with mindfulness and self-compassion as key philosophical underpinnings of our community. We encourage you to investigate for yourself whether our holistic programs may be right for you and what you’re looking for at this stage of your healing path.
For those looking to start at home, you can also begin by looking into the work of the method’s co-founder, Kristin Neff. She offers several free tools, including guided meditations and exercises you can try independently. Her website provides resources for finding other groups and practitioners online or in your local community, who have trained in her methodology.
All in all, we encourage you to find the wellspring of compassionate witness inside you, as it is greatly aids any healing endeavors.