Self Compassion and Change

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“The first step toward change is awareness. The second step is acceptance.”

-Nathaniel Branden  

If you read my blog on Friday you are aware that I am preparing for potential change in my life. I have accepted this journey, and look forward to digging into the mystery of why I started drinking. I would add to the list above, “The third step is self-compassion”.

I wanted to run headlong into the process and do everything NOW. And why stop at that mystery? Why not expand to other mysteries and try to add more on to the already daunting journey I have before me? I want change everything immediately, but I know this is not possible. Yet I kick myself around for not immediately implementing change in my life. I had a great opportunity this weekend to do things differently and guess what? I didn’t. I let it unfold as it always does and then berated myself for being weak. Unmotivated to change.  

Then I remembered my life coach’s word at the end of our session—practice self-compassion. So what could I do/think to be more self-compassionate? I decided to do some research, and found the following that resonated with me:

1.) Progress, Not Perfection. This idea, long promoted by 12-step groups, says it all. You’re not going to break old behaviors, thinking habits, or emotional reactions overnight. Remember that even noticing what you’re doing, or trying to think differently, is a change in the right direction, even if the whole pattern hasn’t budged much. When you find yourself being harsh, remind yourself that it’s a process, not an all-at-once event.

This is where I went astray. I thought I would change all my habits this weekend because I was so motivated and ready. I realized I am not 100% ready and that is OK. I did notice and reflect on the weekend and that was a step in the right direction. There will be starts, stalls and fails, but as long as I keep moving forward things will progress.

2.) Watch Your Words. Here, again, are pieces of the pattern that won’t change all at once. These pieces comprise all the words and phrases that keep self-criticism in place. Try to catch yourself using terms like “I cheated” or “I’m a pig” — any negative terms that you wouldn’t use with a friend or with a child you were trying to support in making changes. Try to not say these words out loud. Notice when you think them. In time try to replace them with more supportive terms, like those you’d say to that friend or child — “maybe that wasn’t a great choice … but this is a hard thing … I’ll figure this out … I’ll keep going …” 

While I did not call myself mean names, I did yell at myself. I did not treat me as I would treat a friend or a child. I berated myself for falling into the same routines as in the past and that I should be doing better at this now. Why could I not break these patterns? Well, duh, that is what my upcoming journey is about. It will take time to unravel the mystery, and time to put new thoughts and actions in place.

3.) What Happened? Give yourself permission to see each lapse (episode when you do what you want to stop doing) as a place to examine “what happened.” What thoughts or emotions or situations or physical states made you vulnerable to doing something impulsive or self-sabotaging? What might have helped prevent it? What can you do to help protect or bolster yourself in the future? Approach this examination with as much neutrality as you can — again, as you would for a friend or child.

I need to put this into action and practice reflecting on certain situations and planning for future situations. I did have a discussion with my husband about how I would like to spend weekends together, and got his input on a variety of topics. It is important to me that he feel a part of my process and we talk openly about any potential changes (or perceived changes on his part).

4.) Small Choices Add Up. Remember — and remind yourself often — that every choice you make in the new direction helps your body and brain to assimilate a new habit. You don’t necessarily have to change everything for positive change to be happening.

I especially like that last line. I am committed to the process and I need to let things unfold as they may.


Why does self-compassion work? “Ironically, harsh self-criticism seems to create an inner rebelliousness that makes us want to give up on our healthy goals. Self-compassion acknowledges the reality that it’s an unhealthy moment, not an unhealthy life, and we have a choice what the next moment is going to be. And it shows us that we can be on our own side as we walk the path.” (“Self-Compassion Helps You Meet Life’s Challenges”, Melanie Greenberg Ph.D,

I am very familiar with that inner rebelliousness. Now I just need to get MORE familiar with being on my own side.   

“Without change, something sleeps inside us, and seldom awakens. The sleeper must awaken.”

-Frank Herbert

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