Written by Dr Kate Beaven-Marks
Who would you rather be sitting next to someone on a long train journey? The person who looks with curiosity at the passing scenery, whether slums, fields, built up or wonderous views. Or, the person who offers a running negative commentary. The latter would likely make the journey feel a lot longer and less pleasant. If you are not treating yourself with self-compassion, you could be that critical passenger. This blog explores some of the ways hypnotherapists can be more self-compassionate with themselves and how to translate those strategies into helping their clients.
There are many different definitions of ‘self-compassion’, yet all are similar in their description of how we treat ourselves with kindness and understanding, rather than ignoring some aspects of our experience or beating ourselves up with self-criticism.
Would you talk to your friends the way you talk to yourself? Are you quick to judge? Or can you accept that as humans we all make mistakes. Rather than criticise, can you approach a situation from a position of kindness and a willingness to understand.
As a hypnotherapist, are you in the best place to help others if you won’t help yourself? If you can remember the last time you were on a plane (it might have been a while ago!), the air safety briefing includes the instruction to put on your own oxygen mask before you help others with theirs. At a time when many people are experiencing challenges to their mental health, hypnotherapists can feel under pressure, with an increased workload. Making time and space for self-care is even more important. Yet a positive mindset towards allowing this will help. Think for a moment how you feel when you willingly choose to help someone else. Do you feel put upon? More likely you will feel a warmth towards them, or a desire to help in some way. Rather than thinking of self-care as a chore, it can be useful to think of it as a way of nurturing your personal and professional development. You might even like to engage in an online quiz and assess how self-compassionate you are and notice any areas for development.
Self-compassion is a growing field, with emerging research is areas from healthcare, eating behaviours and sexuality, through to interpersonal issues, performance and learning. Whatever your client base, the absence of self-compassion is likely to present itself at some point. How do you work with clients who are really hard on themselves? When 99% is never enough and that missing 1% means they are a failure. They might care and give kindness to their friends, colleagues, even an unknown person in the street, yet to apply the same principles to themselves may not even be considered.
When addressing self-compassion, it can help clients to offer some specific yet simple strategies. Including,
Are you living according to your core values, to the qualities and attributes that matter most to you? If not, then this can have huge impact on your self-perception and self-worth. With clients you may find it helpful to conduct a core values assessment. This will help a client find their top three or top five core values and guide their goals and decision-making. For example, if a client is presently in a job that is mundane and repetitive, live alone and has few friends, yet their core values are creativity, family and togetherness, there is going to be a mismatch which can be unsettling. Identifying core values gives a client insight into what they need for themselves.
Awareness not avoidance
Is self-compassion all ‘smiley-noddy’ and fake? Not at all. Rather than pretend you are not having a bad time, taking time to be compassionate towards yourself can allow you to recognise, “this is unpleasant at the moment” and allow yourself more care, rather than less. Giving yourself time for self-compassion can start with awareness. Rather than simply ignoring anything unhelpful (thoughts, feelings, behaviours), by being aware, mindful of your experience, you can have a more balanced perspective, recognising both helpful and unhelpful components. Teaching a client simple mindful ‘noticing’ strategies can be highly beneficial. As hypnotherapists, we are all aware of the power of focus of attention. If you focus on the problems, being judgmental and critical, then then that is what you are nurturing. In contrast, if you recognise and accept yourself, good and bad, you can become more balanced, and, stronger.
Can you recognise that life can have positive and negative times, challenges and success, and that you may not always get exactly what you want at that moment in time. Rather than rail at the injustice of it and be self-critical about what you didn’t do or couldn’t do, it can be more helpful to recognise this is a normal part of life and allow yourself to move forward.
Are you the only person to have ever experienced this situation? A client may feel they are the only person ever to be in that situation and that no-one would ever understand; that they are alone in their suffering. It can help to question if they had 100 or 1000 people in a room, is it likely that at least one person would have had a comparable experience?
The inner friend technique
Ask the client to imagine that an aspect of themselves is like the best friend ever! This friend is supportive, encouraging and there for them, no matter what. Ask them to think about how they would treat that friend when they are struggling in some way. Consider what they might say, what they might do and how they would treat them. Then ask them to about that same situation and consider how they might respond to themself in that situation and consider any difference. What can they learn from this? You might ask the following questions and help the client explore their answers to:
- What do you gain by talking to yourself critically?
- What does it cost you to talk to yourself critically?
- What might you lose if you talked with kindness to yourself?
- What might you gain if you talked with kindness to yourself?
The count to five technique
Whenever a client is noticing that they are in a situation which they have labelled as unpleasant, then they can spend five seconds noticing mindfully, without labelling anything. Simply put one palm over the other palm (as though going to clap) and just become aware of all that they can be aware of for those five seconds. Then, if necessary, take another five seconds, then another. Simply allowing themself enough time to recognise the entire situation, rather than labelling it and considering it from only one perspective.
The ‘me today’ diary: Recognise and release
Rather than repeatedly punish themself for any real or perceived errors, mistakes or failings, it can be beneficial to take a moment to recognise the key aspects of the situation, take any learnings from the failure and then release it. You can suggest to a client that they let go of anything that no longer benefits them. If they find themself looping back to it, then simply release it again. This helps avoid the negative rumination and focus on what isn’t helpful, which can lead to disturbance. Instead, they can use it as a learning experience and grow from it. Whilst it can be most effective to do the recognise and release activity ‘in the moment’, it can also be beneficial to keep a diary or personal journal and note the learnings from the day. This helps develop a positive development mindset and builds inner strength and resilience.
Ultimately, to be an effective therapist for others, taking time for yourself, being kind to yourself, can help you be the best therapist that you can be, both for yourself and your clients.
We hope that this blog about working with self-compassion has been helpful. If you have any questions about this topic or anything else for that matter, do please get in touch, because we’re always happy to help!
– written by Dr Kate Beaven-Marks