One of the speakers I heard who had the most impact on me during the recent Neuroscience Training Summit on SoundsTrue was Dr Kristin Neff, a neuroscience researcher and self-compassion teacher who talked about activating our mamilian caregiving system by placing your hands over your heart and offering yourself compassion in the midst of suffering.
I find this technique really valuable when I’m feeling distressed and anxious, and just had a session with a client who also found it really helpful for calming her anxiety. The technique is based on the Buddhist tradition of mindfulness which generally implies a sense of self-compassion, but making the self-compassion aspect the explicit focus.
Aside from the mere fact that this kind of meditation has worked for thousands of years, I also like that modern neuroscience can now explain how and why it works, so you can take it on faith, or take it on reason. Either way, it works. Essentially what you’re doing is self-activating the soothing mechanism that emotionally aware mothers instinctually use to soothe their distressed infants by holding them and cooing when they’re upset.
When everything is working well, over time we learn to self-soothe by internalising this experience from our mothers. But if you didn’t have an emotionally aware mother or if you’re hit with an overwhelming experience like CFS, it can take some conscious attention and practice to develop the ability to self-soothe anxiety and distress.
If you fear that self-compassion might seem a little self-indulgent, consider one thing I recall Dr Neff saying in the Neuroscience Training Summit about the opposite of self-compassion: “There’s nothing more self-focused than being lost in the throes of self-criticism.”
Self-compassion is the antidote to self-criticism, and the more self-compassion we practice, the more compassion we have available for other people.
Dr Neff has a set of guided meditations available for free on her website that I highly recommend. She has a soothing voice and you get to benefit from her 20 years of self-compassion practice.
Here’s the link: Free Self-Compassion Guided Meditations.