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  • Writer's pictureKim Gibson, MS, ATR, LPCC

Self Compassion & Should Statements...ways to challenge them + some art therapy activities to try

It is Sunday. How are you? No, really how are you doing? Because this collective chapter IS hard. H-A-R-D. Teachers are trying to teach online. Parents are trying to now teach at home. Everyone is home and some don’t want to be home. Maybe home is away from loved ones or maybe home is not a comfortable place to be. People are lonely. Some are worried about meeting current needs and future employment Some are stuck in their own thoughts. This is HARD.

Making it even harder, is the self judgment people are placing on their own thoughts, feelings and behaviors. Maybe your inner dialogue is sounding like….“I should be more productive….” “I should be grateful to have a safe place to live….” “I should learn how to meditate right now like my friend is….”

If you are stuck in a round of “should” statements...or “ought to”, press pause & take a moment and look at all those “shoulds”...How are your should statements impacting you? We use should statements as a way to motivate ourselves but they often have the opposite impact. Ex: “I should lose ten pounds.” "I should be a better friend." Should statements are a form of self judgment. They leave us feeling pressured & feeling guilty. And when we direct shoulds to others, we often feel resentful. Example: “He should be more helpful…”

So how does one challenge these should statements? First, catch yourself. Our thoughts are automatic & fleeting and they impact our mood before we even realize it, so it takes work to catch them. When you catch your mind hooking onto a should statement...slow down and really reflect on:

  1. Where did this belief come from? If you’re not sure what belief underlies your statement, try to finish the sentence with what you think will happen if you do or don’t follow your rule...for example: “I should never lose my cool around my kids, if I do, they won’t love me.”

  2. Is your should statement an absolute?

  3. Is this belief helpful?

  4. Would you hold a friend or loved one to the same standard?

  5. Challenge yourself to word your should belief as a preference. For example, “I should have done better on that project” into “I would have preferred to have done better on that project.”

And finally, most importantly, have compassion for yourself. If your thought is “I should be handling this better” or “I should be more productive”...remind yourself that it is OK to feel the way you do. Self-compassion is extending compassion to one's self in situations where we feel inadequate, feel like a failure, or in general suffering. Self-compassion has three main components – self-kindness, common humanity, and mindfulness.

Here are some self compassion statements to reflect on:

“I’m doing the best I can in a really hard situation.”

“This is hard. This is new for everyone.”

“I am taking a lot on at once. I deserve to be patient and kind with myself.”

“Three weeks ago my life was’s OK to make space for myself to breathe and adapt.”

“Adapting, adjusting, stretching….”

“However I feel right now is OK.”

“It’s a pandemic! Of course, I’m not ______.”

“It’s like that now.”

“It’s hard because it is supposed to be hard.”

“I’m doing the best I can with what I have.”

“I have survived hard things before.”

“And that is OK.” (Added to any sentence….Ex: I’m feeling anxious right now, and that is OK.”

Here are three helpful art therapy activities to try to increase self compassion:

  1. Pick a favorite self compassion quote and create a collage around it.

  2. Create two images...the first, draw how it feels when you are critical and judging of yourself. Use lines, shapes and colors to show the intensity and impact of your thoughts. In the second, draw how it feels when you are kind and loving towards yourself. Use lines, shapes and colors to explore how self compassion feels.

  3. Create a kindness rock. Pick out a rock from outside and decorate it with words that will support you. If you have a hard time thinking of the words to you, imagine you are talking to a friend who was going through a rough time. Words such as “you got this” or “you will get through this” or “I am here for you.” After you have decorate your rock, place it in a place where you can see it. This serves as a visual reminder that you can be kind to yourself and have compassion for yourself.

And finally, reach out if you are struggling. Don’t struggle alone. Myself and many other therapists are offering online (video) sessions right now. My work phone number is 310-554-8670. I'll be happy to call you back and provide assistance.

There are also crisis lines available 24/7. The National Suicide Prevention Hotline is 1-800-273-8255. Locally, in Los Angeles, Didi Hirsch has a 24-hour Crisis Line, available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Call them at 1-877-727-4747

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