Our Therapists, Dr.Tina Fernandes is interview Estelle Franklin help us understand what self-compassion is and how we can practice and experience it in our daily lives. 

They begin this conversation with Estelle asking Dr.Tina 

A lot of therapists and people talk about practicing self-compassion, loving ourselves, accepting ourselves, being kind to ourselves but if you have to define it what would you say?

Dr.Tina shares, I love the definition given by Kristian Neff , she says, self compassion means being gentle, kind, understanding with yourself, accepting that you’re not perfect, understanding that there is potential for learning and growth in every mistake you make. It gives us the three components or elements of self-compassion, which I really truly love, the first component she talks about is 

1. Self-kindness vs self-judgement : the ability to recognise that failing, suffering, inadequacy, pain and experiencing life’s difficulties is inevitable, so can we try to be gentle with ourselves, when faced with difficult experiences rather than getting angry or tortured or met?

2. Common humanity vs Isolation: being human minds us and she keeps asking us that we are human and keep reminding ourselves about being mortal, vulnerable, imperfect, inadequate as well as ‘we will always or sometimes go through all these feelings and rather than being something that happens to only me alone, that I’m part of humanity. 

3. Mindfulness vs Over-Identification : She says mindfulness is a non-judgemental, receptive mind state in which one observes thoughts, feelings as they are without tying to suppress or deny them. Mindfulness requires us not to be over-identified with our emotions, our thoughts, our feelings. It also makes us aware that we are caught up, engaged and swept away by negative reactivity and how to come back to the present. 

Estelle asks her “Do you do it in your personal life? Apply these components? And if you do , then how do you do it?”

I’ve noticed that when I look at the past, with the multiple roles I’ve played, as a woman, as a daughter , as a sister as a wife, a daughter in law, a mother, a teacher, a mentor and an employee, I notice I have the inclination to be perfect in all ways and that made me be in a constant state of auto-pilot, my stress levels were high, I was tired all the time, I realised I was suffering from blood pressure , I was flipping at my kids and I was being incredibly hard on myself, always feeling that whatever I did wasn’t good enough or wasn’t what it should’ve been and all the time muttering to myself, there’s so much to do-do-do.

I was raised in a family that emphasised the importance of service , that it is very important for my family- that we do things for each other and for others. I assumed that spending time and energy, being kind and caring towards myself automatically meant that I must be neglecting somebody else or everybody else for my own selfish ends. I wanted to be more caring more empathetic and more giving towards others but it was self compassion that helped me go way beyond accepting my experience as it is, my grief, my anger, my fury, my rage, my fears, my shame, my sadness and added something more , it helped me embrace the experience with warmth and as my students would call it “the tender loving care”, when my experiences were painful. 

Self compassion helps me even now to give myself that care, support to meet many of my own needs directly so that I have more emotional resources to give my kids, my family, my clients and the outer world.

There have been times when I feel totally helpless, hopeless, overwhelmed with the things I need to do and do and do, at these moments I remember to say the words like “this is so difficult for me, it’s difficult for you Tina girl, I’m sorry that this is happening , this is a moment of suffering, this is real, this feeling is real , I feel so hurt, I feel grief, I feel sadness , I feel scared, I feel anxious, I feel worried, I feel regret and I’m human to feel whatever I’m feeling and when I used to bring common humanity, I used to think about other people also, are feeling something like this? They too are Multi tasking and I’m not alone, I know this is hard, can I offer some comfort to my emotional experience? I would then place a hand on my heart and say, it’s okay to feel like this , it’s okay dear one, feel stuck. And then I would like to call my higher self, my Holy Spirit, my angels , my saints and the loved ones who have passed away and repeat again and again, we are here for you, we never leave you , we’re always there for you, it’s going to be okay, we care for you. And this is how I’ve used loving self-compassion in my life. 

Estelle says, “that’s so beautiful ma’am, just as you were sharing I was just imagining what would it look like for me personally you know to just spend moments where there’s no compassion to allow myself and to say it’s okay, how all of us whoever is watching here, will learn to say it’s okay and this is how it is and call upon a higher self – who can help us practice self-compassion and she moves on to ask how do you talk about this in your sessions? 

Dr.Tina says, I’ve been noticing that Kristin Neff came early in 2010 in my life and I’ve used this with my students and right now with my clients, many clients come to express their imperfections that make them feel inadequate , they also come to talk about things they don’t like about themselves, when do they feel not good enough, not deserving enough , not smart enough. They come to talk to me about insecurities about self and others, conflicts in communication, how they judge, they criticise, they evaluate themselves constantly and experience a lot of shame,  sadness , anxiety , worry, fear, panic , oh my god-phobias! 

Depending on the number of sessions , I do inform some of them that human beings have evolved with three key systems to regulate emotion. 

I talk to them a little bit about the brain an nervous system, I talk to them about the threat system which alert a person to danger. I also talk to them about the drive system which motivates us to seek our goals, reach our goals and strive. And the third thing I talk to them is our soothing system, which gives a person the sense of safety. 

Building self-compassion is not a quick fix , there’s no single behaviour that goes with self-compassion. Depending upon one situation and circumstance where there are about different types of behaviours which could be helpful for any person. 

The three categories for self-compassionate behaviour involve : 

  1. Taking care of ourselves 
  2. Taking care of others 
  3. Taking care of doing things and choosing things we need to do and choosing alternate or healthy behaviours. 

The aim of all these session is not to take away the emotional pain or to solve or fix or mend a problem at hand but to see what happens when you choose to be kind to yourself, by involving yourself in self-soothing activities.

Estelle says, that was wonderful ma’am , what stood out from that bit of your sharing, the aim is not to take away the emotional pain but how we can soothe it and how that itself can bring about so much of compassion and self-compassion, she also asks “What acts can be classified as self-compassion and how can one practice it in some little-big ways?” 

Dr.Tina shares, self-compassion is a practice of good will not good feelings but good will, I would love it if you consider a self compassion pause, now self compassion is a radically new way of relating to ourselves, it a kind-a-new stance towards myself and we need to practice being gentle with ourselves and that’s why l love that word “self-compassion pause”, we mindfully take breaks and pauses during the day to accept the moment as painful – oh my god, it hurts and then embrace ourselves with care and kindness, remembering that imperfection is the part of a human experience, this allows us to hold ourselves, hold our breath, our emotions, our sensations, our thoughts , our emotions , our experiences, our behavioural reactions and responses and the different parts that emerge in sessions and outside sessions with gentle awareness.

Giving ourselves the support and comfort, how can we do that? The pause can be just taking a long-slow-deep-breath or affectionately breathing into that rhythm of the experience of breathing because breathing deeply gives me, gives us a sense of safety and comfort , there are times can I wrap my pain in a warm blanket of love, can we coach our inner voice to talk to ourselves the way I would talk to a best friend, can we take pauses to inhale some soothing smells, can we sometime take breaks and pauses to eat our food mindfully , especially the food that you love. I love to have my comforting soup or May be I love rasam too, sometime I spend time in writing , I grab a journal or a notebook and write down , my negative thoughts, because acknowledging them and giving them space is so important and then at the end of it all, I tell myself, I’m not my negative thoughts, they don’t define me, so , this helps me. And in another way one can take a break is try writing, write a kind letter to myself, the time when you’re feeling “happy go-lucky” and feeling grateful and feeling happy, write a kind letter to yourself, there are times you could even sing a soothing song or listen to soothing music and there are times when you pause and ask yourself, what is it I want to listen to right now? What is it I want someone to whisper in my ears right now? 

There are also times apart from wrapping your pain, can I soothe myself with a gentle touch, can I place a hand on my heart, she also asks Estelle if she could do that for her – if she could place her hand on her heart , just feel the presence , the touch of your hand on your heart, just take a long-slow-deep-breath and whisper what you want somebody to whisper to you? Can you sometime give a gentle hug to yourself? 

Sometimes in these moments , I remember my mother placing her hand/her palm on my forehead and so when I miss her , I need to feel her presence, I do keep my hand on my forehead. You could also try compassionate pause by sitting with yourself and calling upon unconditionally loving, kind, compassionate and accepting friend , it could be imaginary or real, that’s why I love to call my angels, and I love when they tell me I know you’ve made a mistake, you have done something hurtful, but just the angel, the presence of this compassionate friend , the higher self, the higher power , knowing that are quick to forgive and understand helps me to come back to the NOW and helps me to deal with what’s going on in the now, right now.

Part II continues… To listen to our podcast of this interview you can click here