The theme of this week’s positive psychology exercises is self-compassion. Davidson students are great at expressing empathy and compassion for others who are going through a stressful time – you step up and support one another in ways big and small. It is equally important to have compassion for yourself.
Dr. Kristen Neff defines self-compassion on the basis of three core elements:
- Being kind to yourself, rather than judgmental or perfectionist when you experience challenges.
- Recognizing your common humanity with others, rather than focusing on feelings of isolation when you experience difficulty.
- Experiencing your feelings mindfully, rather than suppressing or exaggerating them.
I was introduced to today’s positive psychology exercise by four Davidson students in my Research Methods in Clinical Psychology Class in Fall 2015: Alex Casimir ‘16, Akanksha Das ‘16, Nadia Glover ‘17, and Brodie Martin ‘16. They conducted a study comparing this exercise to a control exercise that used a similar framework (writing a letter to yourself) that did not address self-compassion, and evaluated whether the intervention increased empathy for others in addition to promoting self-compassion. They found a small and non-significant increase in self-compassion; Akanksha Das ’16 presented findings of their study at the 2016 annual meeting of the Association for Behavioral & Cognitive Therapies.
I hope you also find that today’s exercise helps you treat yourself with the same kindness and compassion you extend to others.
Today’s Positive Psychology Exercise: Write a Compassionate Letter to Yourself
- What imperfections make you feel inadequate?
Take 5 minutes to write about an issue you have that tends to make you feel inadequate or bad about yourself (physical appearance, work or relationship issues…). What emotions come up for you when you think about this aspect of yourself? Try to just feel your emotions exactly as they are – no more, no less – and then write about them.
- Write a letter to yourself from the perspective of an unconditionally loving imaginary friend.
For the next 10 minutes, write a letter to yourself from the perspective of this imaginary friend – focusing on the perceived inadequacy you tend to judge yourself for. What would this friend say to you about your “flaw” from the perspective of unlimited compassion? How would this friend convey the deep compassion he/she feels for you, especially for the pain you feel when you judge yourself so harshly? What would this friend write in order to remind you that you are only human, that all people have both strengths and weaknesses? And if you think this friend would suggest possible changes you should make, how would these suggestions embody feelings of unconditional understanding and compassion? As you write to yourself from the perspective of this imaginary friend, try to infuse your letter with a strong sense of his/her acceptance, kindness, caring, and desire for your health and happiness.
- Read your letter again, really letting the words sink in. Feel the compassion as it pours into you, soothing and comforting you like a cool breeze on a hot day. Love, connection and acceptance are your birthright. To claim them you need only look within yourself.
Smeets, E., Neff, K., Alberts, H. & Peters, M. (2014). Meeting suffering with kindness: Effects of a brief self-compassion intervention for female college students. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 70(9), 794-807. https://doi.org/10.1002/jclp.22076
Objective: The present study investigated the effectiveness of a newly developed 3‐week self‐compassion group intervention for enhancing resilience and well‐being among female college students.
Method: Fifty‐two students were randomly assigned to either an intervention designed to teach skills of self‐compassion (n = 27) or an active control group intervention in which general time management skills were taught (n = 25). Both interventions comprised 3 group meetings held over 3 weeks. To measure resilience and well‐being gains, participants filled out a number of questionnaires before and after the intervention.
Results: Results showed that the self‐compassion intervention led to significantly greater increases in self‐compassion, mindfulness, optimism, and self‐efficacy, as well as significantly greater decreases in rumination in comparison to the active control intervention. Whereas both interventions increased life satisfaction and connectedness, no differences were found for worry and mood.
Conclusion: These findings suggest that a brief self‐compassion intervention has potential for improving student resilience and well‐being.