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Your relationship with yourself: Self-compassion tips and exercises

Sahara sat with her dog practicing self compassion

Ways to explore and exercise self-compassion

This post about self-compassion links back to Processing your emotions and body confidence tips. Do check it out if you’re finding life with a stoma difficult to come to terms with.

A little self-compassion goes a long way, albeit not always easy to do. We often think of compassion as kindness. We usually consider it to be a gentle thing. But think about careers that are done out of compassion. Firefighting for example. There’s nothing gentle about running into a burning building, but, there’s compassion at its core. Or a teacher or parent teaching children right from wrong, to eat a varied diet, or to share their possessions. There’s a hard edge to it. An element of being cruel to be kind, so that that child grows into a healthy, well-rounded adult, with the ability to make friends. It IS a compassionate act.

Compassion encompasses many elements, from kindness and gentility to wisdom and strength. I’m telling you this because whilst being kind to yourself matters, so does having the ability to give yourself a kick in the butt if needed too.

Research shows that people with more self-compassion are happier and more motivated. They have better relationships and physical health, and less anxiety and depression. They’re also more likely to have the resilience needed to cope with stressful life events and trauma.

So, where do you start with self-compassion? I’d suggest trying a few exercises. I find writing these things down as I go through them really useful, like it somehow processes better when written, and out.

Exercise one – A compassionate friend

Imagine you’re speaking to a good friend. They’re suffering because they’re in your situation right now. They have a stoma and they don’t feel good about themselves. They have told you how they are feeling and why. How would you respond to them? What would you do, say, and how would you say it?

Have you been responding to yourself in the same way? Think about how the responses differ between you talking to yourself and how you would talk to a friend.

Did you notice a difference? If so, why? In what way? What elements, concerns, or fears affect how and why you treat yourself and others differently?

Consider how things might change if you responded to yourself in the same way you would generally respond to a friend when suffering.

Exercise Two – Positive self-talk

Whether you’re writing it down, thinking it, or saying it out loud, this exercise should be carried out over a few weeks. The aim is to change how you talk to yourself long-term, not just during this exercise.

We’re honing in our inner critic. That voice in our head that always tells us that we’re not good enough.

First, you have to notice when you’re being critical of yourself. Not always easy when many of us do it without a second thought! When you’re feeling bad about something, think about what you’re inner critic just said. Try to be as accurate as possible.

What words were used, and what’s the tone? Do the same phrases come up regularly? Does it remind you of anyone, past or present, who criticised you?

The key is to really know and understand your inner critic and get used to recognising when they’re around.

Then, make a conscious effort to soften your tone and your wording. Do it with compassion and understanding, rather than judgement. Don’t forget, they’re actually just trying to protect you.

For example:

Your inner critic might say: “I may as well just throw all of the clothes I like away. I can’t wear them with this ostomy bag on me anyway. Everyone will be able to see it, and they will judge me.”

You might then say to your inner critic: “I understand that you’re trying to protect me, but you’re actually causing me pain. Therefore, I’d like to let my compassionate self take the reins now.”

Reframe the words from your inner critic as though you were talking to a good friend. So it becomes something like “I know you’re concerned that you won’t be able to wear what you did before because of the stoma bag. Before throwing everything away, why not experiment a little first? There are lots of options available to make it discrete. The chances are, the only person who will ever know it’s there is you. Everyone else is too busy worrying about their own insecurities.”

You might not believe the words you’re saying initially, but the more you do it, the more you’ll believe it.

Don’t forget. It’s not just about how you speak to yourself, but how you treat yourself too. Not only should you show yourself kindness in the form of words, but actions too. Give yourself time to do things that bring you joy. Give yourself time to breathe, relax, be calm, and process your emotions.

I’d love to hear if you’ve tried the exercises and whether you found them useful! Give @Sahara88uk and @FittleworthMed a tag on Twitter!

We hope you enjoyed this article from our guest blogger. They are expressing their views or knowledge on a topic because of their experience & background. Some of the opinions expressed may not reflect the views of Fittleworth or your NHS professional.

It goes without saying, but this is not clinical advice. Each person will have an individual set of medical factors to consider. So please do not to make significant changes to your diet, exercise or treatments before consulting with an NHS professional.

Picture of author - Sahara Fleetwood-Beresford

Sahara Fleetwood Beresford – Ostomy Blogger

Sahara was admitted to hospital and diagnosed with Ulcerative Colitis at the age of 19, after just two weeks of being incredibly unwell. One week later, she had emergency surgery to remove her colon and rectum, and had her first ileostomy. A turbulent journey followed; a multitude of treatments, complications, seven surgeries, a failed J-Pouch, and three ileostomies later, she is living with a permanent stoma and is a pro-active IBD and ostomy advocate.

Sahara joined the online IBD and ostomy community in 2014, and it very quickly became apparent to her that whilst awareness is important, even more important than that is providing support to others as they navigate the stormy waters of life with IBD, or an ostomy.

She runs #IBDSuperHeroes fundraising and awareness campaign, and the Facebook support group. She is a blogger for InflammatortyBowelDisease.net and an IBD Patient Consultant for merakoi – bridging the gap between patients and healthcare. She gets involved with research whenever she can, and is a volunteer for Cure Crohn’s Colitis, where she donates her time and expertise in social media marketing and content creation.