Today’s exercise continues our theme for the week, self-compassion. This exercise is often studied as a component of Compassionate Mind Training, or CMT, which was developed to help people improve their ability to engage in self-soothing and self-reassuring.
In our last exercise, you practiced self-compassion using a writing exercise. Today’s exercise takes a different approach: Compassionate imagery. The Centre for Clinical Interventions, from the Department of Health in Western Australia, has great resources for practicing self-compassion skills. The exercise below, “Creating the Ultimate Compassionate Image,” comes from these resources. In this exercise, you will develop and visualize a compassionate image that works for you to activate feelings of compassion toward yourself. It doesn’t matter how unrealistic or silly your personal image might be – all that matters is that it helps you activate feelings of caring, concern and kindness for yourself.
Today’s Positive Psychology Exercise: Creating the Ultimate Compassionate Image
This exercise is taken from From Self-Criticism to Self-Kindness by Saulsman, Campbell & Sng, a workbook published by the Centre for Clinical Interventions. All content is copyright the Government of Western Australia and is provided for informational purposes only.
“Relationships are complicated, and some of us may not have people in our life who we feel pure compassion towards, hence it is hard for us to really benefit from the imagery exercise we have just covered. If this is the case, then the previous image may not be effective in triggering pure untainted compassion, which is really what we are looking for.
Because of this, we often find that this imagery exercise is more useful, as it involves creating your very own ultimate compassionate image from your imagination. This fantasy compassionate image can be whatever you want. There is no right or wrong when it comes to creating your own personalised image that represents pure compassion. In fact, the actual image you develop is irrelevant. It doesn’t matter how fanciful or realistic the image is. Remember, we are just using this image to activate feelings of pure compassion within us, so whatever image achieves this aim is okay.
Start by closing your eyes and slowing your breath as you are now very familiar with.
Now, when you think of compassion notice what images, thoughts or feelings arise in you? Don’t try too hard, just allow whatever is there to be there, or allow things to come and go as they please.
Now allow an image to arise that represents compassion for you. Take your time to develop an image that symbolises all the things that go with compassion. If nothing comes immediately, that’s ok, just take your time and see what emerges no matter how strange it may seem. It doesn’t have to be a vivid picture, just a felt sense of the image is ok too. If numerous images come up (a bit like a slide show), that’s ok too, we can see which one you settle on as time goes on.
See if you can start to develop an image that holds warm feelings towards you.
Allow an image that conveys a sense of understanding for you, for your struggles and your feelings.
Allow an image that shows kindness, care and concern for your well-being.
Allow an image that is strong and wise as it supports you.
Allow an image that is completely accepting of you just as you are.
Now, notice if the image is of a person or not, something real or imagined, an animal, some other being or an aspect of nature. Is it young or old? Male or female? What colours or light are associated with it? How does this image make you feel? What physical sensations in your body go with these feelings? What facial expression does the image display towards you? What body posture or stature does it convey towards you? How does it sound or communicate with you? What things does it say to you? What tone does it use? What does it do to help or comfort you?
When you feel ready you can let go of the image and open your eyes.”
Gilbert, P. & Irons, C. (2004). A pilot exploration of the use of compassionate images in a group of self-critical people. Memory, 12(4), 507-516. https://doi.org/10.1080/09658210444000115
Abstract: Self‐criticism has long been associated with a variety of psychological problems and is often a key focus for intervention in psychotherapy. Recent work has suggested that self‐critics have underelaborated and underdeveloped capacities for compassionate self‐soothing and warmth. This pilot study developed a diary for monitoring self‐attacking and self‐soothing thoughts and images. It also explored the personal experiences of a group of volunteer self‐critics from the local depression support group who were given training in self‐soothing and self‐compassion. Although using small numbers, this study suggests the potential value of developing more complex methodologies for studying the capacity for self‐compassion, interventions to increase self‐compassion (including imagery techniques), and their effects on mental health.