Have you ever stopped and really paid attention to the thoughts running through your head? Ever really listened to what your thoughts say to you about you? Notice how it can feel like you have the harshest critic in the world living in your own head? Our thoughts can be total jerks! As human beings, we have this tendency to talk to ourselves in ways we would never dream of speaking to anyone else, and this is especially true for us HSPs (highly sensitive people).
As HSPs, we tend to be big-hearted and generous. We have an amazing ability to empathize and really put ourselves into other people’s shoes. This can make us so kind. We really can understand how another person is feeling or struggling, and we very naturally want to offer help, support and caring. (It’s also totally okay and normal not to always be like this. OF COURSE, we get frustrated, angry and can be short-tempered too. I’m just speaking generally here.) When it comes to ourselves, however, watch out! We’ll rip ourselves apart from the inside out.
Because we care so much and tend to have really high standards, when we don’t like or approve of something we do, we can go from 0-100 in berating ourselves in 2 seconds flat. “Why would you say that? You’re such an idiot!” “I can’t believe I only got an ‘exceeds expectations’ on my job performance review. I’m such a failure!” “I’m no good at anything.” I’m worthless.” Any of this sound familiar? Don’t you want to just reach out and hug the person thinking these things?
So, hug yourself!
Lol, yes, I’m partly kidding, but there’s actually something to this idea. Cue the topic of self-compassion. The basic premise of self-compassion recognizes that we deserve to talk to ourselves the way we would talk to a good friend or loved one. Self-compassion acknowledges that, as human beings, we can be very hard on ourselves when what we actually deserve is kindness. Self-compassion is also based on the premise that we are worthy and deserving of such caring simply because we’re alive. In fact, it’s argued that self-compassion is even more helpful than self-esteem, which requires us to rate ourselves and our abilities. Self-compassion, on the other hand, is not earned; it’s a basic right.
Back to the hugging.
There are various ways of offering yourself self-compassion, and one technique involves using physical touch to offer kindness and caring to yourself. This can be done by actually squeezing yourself, as if you were giving yourself a hug. Yes, yes, this sounds awkward and bizarre, and you’d probably only want to do this when you’re alone, but . . . are you ready for your mind to be blown? Some research shows our bodies don’t actually know the difference between someone else hugging us or between us hugging ourselves! Both acts can produce a calming effect. Similarly, bringing a soft smile to your lips sends a message to your body to calm down and relax. Again, our brains don’t recognize the difference between “the real thing” and a fake-it-til-you-make-it gesture.
Another physical technique for offering yourself compassion is to gently place a hand on your heart. You can keep your hand on your heart and repeat a simple mantra like “I’m okay” or “I’m loved,” or you can wish yourself well while your hand is on your heart, saying something like, “May I have peace and calm right now.” And, if you find this difficult to do for yourself, I really invite you to think about what comfort you would offer to someone else. This is a great time to let your HSP tenderness shine through to your own suffering too. Life is hard for all of us sometimes, especially for such sensitive souls.
Which brings me to my last point—we can use our actual self-talk to offer compassion and to validate our experience. Now, dear HSP, I know you may have a tendency to compare your suffering to someone else’s or to decide that you don’t deserve this compassion when there are so many others in the world who need it. I’m going to invite you to hold the knowledge that both are true—there are so many people and creatures and situations in the world that warrant compassion (especially in present times) AND your suffering and struggles are real and valid and and hard and deserve compassion too. This isn’t a contest of “who needs it more.”
This is about recognizing that we are all human and that being human is really f*@king hard sometimes.
We, especially we HSPs, don’t need comparisons or judgements or put downs. We just need some kindness. Kristin Neff, PhD, one of the main researchers on the topic of self-compassion offers this mantra in her book, Self-Compassion: The proven power of being kind to yourself, and I’ll extend this recognition and wish to all of you:
“This is a moment of suffering.
Suffering is a part of life.
May I be kind to myself in this moment.
May I give myself the compassion I need.”
PS--Would you like more support around your sensitivity? Check out my HSP online support group starting in mid-January. We'd love to support you there too!