How Can Self Compassion Improve Mental Health?
Posted: March 20, 2018
Self Compassion Therapy is a relatively new form of therapy that incorporates Buddhist principles of loving-kindness with some of the more traditional models of cognitive therapy. Loving-kindness can take the form of a basic meditation practice where you engage in wishing yourself and others wellness, happiness, and peace. Numerous fMRI studies have been conducted on Buddhist monks who have logged thousands of hours of loving-kindness meditation. The results demonstrated that the areas of the brain responsible for happiness and empathy were the most active scans researchers had ever seen. Some researchers even went on to demonstrate that someone with only a few hours of loving-kindness training can be happier.
Subjects have also been found to be more positive and have less anxiety. To put it simply; our thoughts and intentions have been shown to have significant, and potentially positive influences on the emotional and anxiety centers of our brains.
How can you engage in a self-compassion practice?
Find a comfortable place where you can sit undisturbed. If you’re sitting in a chair, then place your feet flat on the floor and your palms in your lap. Now, close your eyes and begin to focus on your breath. Just notice the gentle rising and falling of your belly as you breathe in, and as you breathe out. Slowly and gently begin to say to yourself; “May I be happy…..may I be well…..and may I be at peace.” Repeat this five times while focusing on the intention of sending yourself kindness and love.
Next, bring to mind someone in your life who is important to you. Again, repeat; “May they be happy, may they be well and may they be at peace.” Focus on their image in your mind’s eye and imagine sending them this message of loving-kindness.
Finally, bring to mind someone you have a difficult time accepting. Maybe it is someone who has hurt you or hurt someone you love. Maybe it was the driver who cut you off in traffic this morning or your boss who constantly berates you for not doing a good enough job. “May they be happy, may they be well and may they be at peace.”
Some practitioners add a fourth component where you wish all beings happiness, wellness, and peace.
As you end your practice and slowly open your eyes, set an intention to move through the rest of your day with a deeper sense of empathy, kindness, and love towards yourself and all you encounter.
If you are interested in further reading on self-compassion, then I highly recommend checking out books written by Kristin Neff, Paul Gilbert or Tim Desmond.
And, as always, if you are struggling with more intense feelings of sadness, fear, trauma or anger, then please seek the assistance of a professional counselor.