Today I am compelled to write on the topic of self-compassion, following a particular session I had with a client who expressed anxiety about their health. Our work together has involved visiting their trauma; first by identifying emotions, and then locating them in the body.
What can we do to help clients accept their feelings?
When working to untangle a piece of a client’s life where they say they feel “stuck,” CI offers various ways to open up the conversation. Today I began with the client relating the elements of her experience to me, and then I mirrored back to the client what I heard. I ask her to consider a baby step in moving forward, and after that a possible next step. I invite her to share what is coming up for her as we consider these baby steps: “A lot of anxiety” she responds. My question to her is: how can we make that ok? What might that inner dialogue sound like?
This is unfamiliar territory for her. I ask her if she is open to hearing a suggestion. When she says ‘yes’ I suggest it could sound something like this:
“As I drop into my body I am noticing tension in my belly and chest. I think this is anxiety. It’s ok that I am feeling this right now. These sensations are helpful data right now.”
I notice as I say these words, that she begins to relax more into her seat, and instead of avoiding eye-contact as usual, she looks directly at me and says “Yes, I can try that.”
If your client is struggling with anxiety arising in response to considering baby steps, another suggestion for a self-compassionate internal dialogue could be something like this:
“It’s okay to feel anxious; it’s a natural response when we’re facing something new or challenging. What would I say to a friend who is feeling this way?
How can I offer myself the same understanding and support? Perhaps it’s about acknowledging the anxiety without judgment and reminding myself that it’s a part of the process. What small actions can I take to care for myself in the midst of these feelings?”
Encouraging your client to explore and cultivate a compassionate inner dialogue can go a long way to helping them process any anxiety that comes up in the process, and pave the way to working with deeper material that surfaces in your sessions together.
Putting Health and Wellness first
My own personal journey toward self-compassion and authenticity started with unlearning patterns where inauthenticity was rewarded, and where voicing my own desires and needs felt unwelcome.
My training in Compassionate Inquiry has played a crucial role in helping me explore these stuck parts and allowing them to find a voice. Through extending compassion to myself, I learned to integrate these frozen aspects, which happened primarily through a process of soothing them. This meant starting to recognize the sensations of a regulated nervous system, which eventually enabled me to transition from a pattern of frequent self-abandonment to a mindset where I prioritize my health and wellness.
My journey closely aligns with the path my aforementioned client is navigating — understanding felt sensations, creating space for emotions, and affirming that it’s okay to embrace the present moment. Now, the next step involves asking myself, “What do I need right now?” Whether it’s a nap, a refreshing glass of water, time with a good book, yoga, or connecting with a friend – prioritizing these needs has become a pivotal practice in my self-care routine.
Moreover, I could say that these behaviors now manifest as acts of self-respect. The question that always arises is, “can I extend the same level of kindness and consideration to myself as I do to others?” Why? Because aligning my self-talk and self-interactions with that same level of respect is a crucial key to fostering a harmonious and positive relationship with myself. This also maintains a congruence between my work and personal life, where I not only speak about but also fully embody what I’m encouraging others to do.
In sum, the needs of our clients, as well as ourselves, change moment-to-moment. Self-care and self-compassion therefore, cannot become purely routine but must be an active response to the demands of our lives. We have to stay present to ourselves in the same way that we are present with our clients, thereby keeping the inquiry alive and relevant. Embracing our natural responses and learning to speak to ourselves compassionately and without judgment can be a challenging process, but it’s one that can offer rewards that help us for a lifetime.