Compassion Directed Inward

Self-compassion refers to having an accepting and caring orientation toward oneself. In other words, it is compassion directed inward. Research suggests that self-compassion can have a positive impact on our ability to cope and may also promote prosocial behaviors. Where do you stand when it comes to self-compassion? How can self-compassion be practiced so that it can become a more prominent part of our day-to-day life?

Two brief exercises can help you get in touch with your capacity for empathy and gain further insight and skills for self-compassion. 

Experiences of compassion from another:

Take a moment and think about the last time you were struggling yet felt truly supported and understood. Take yourself back to that moment and think about what others did for you or said to you. They may have offered empathic comments such as “this must be really hard,” or “you are dealing with a lot right now.” Most likely they were present and available to listen and provide non-judgmental support. Imagine what it felt like to have this support and connect with the feeling you experienced at the time.  

Experiences of compassion toward another:

Take a moment and think about the last time you were there to support a friend or loved one in need. As you recall the situation, think about what you felt and what you communicated while you provided support. You may have said something such as “you are strong,” “I know you can get through this,” “things will get better,” “I’m here for you,” and “I love you.” You may have offered empathy using statements such as “this is really hard,” or “you are dealing with a lot right now.”  Close your eyes and imagine how your loved one was feeling. Imagine yourself saying these supportive statements again and being present for support. 

The primary goal of these brief reflections is to help you connect with the feelings of compassion you experienced in both giving and receiving support. In a practical way, these reflections also give you a chance to reflect on the tools of self-compassion by taking a closer look at the language used to express support and the loving presence that is provided by a good supportive listener.   

There is a good chance that you were incredibly helpful for your friend or loved one when you provided support. You were able to show compassion towards them in a difficult time. This same capacity for care and compassion can be directed inward when you are feeling upset, frustrated, fearful, or sad. Try closing your eyes again and repeat these same supportive comments to yourself as if you were speaking to your friend or loved one.  Allow yourself to feel the love and the kindness being directed inward. If this feels a bit foreign or awkward, then you are probably doing a great job. Self-compassion is often new for many of us.  

The ironic thing about this exercise is that it often feels foreign or awkward to say kind things to oneself, yet most people are fairly good at saying critical and harsh things to themselves, often without realizing it. Think about the last time you felt frustrated or upset. As you recall this situation, think about what you were feeling and thinking at the time. What was your self-talk?  What were you saying to yourself?  It is clear that what we say to ourselves internally has a significant impact on how we are feeling. It also influences our ability to cope with stress and tap into our resilience. This is all good news because we can work to become more aware of our self-talk and practice saying kind things to ourselves.  

Here are a few ways you can practice:

If you are struggling to feel motivated, practice telling yourself “I can do this” or “I can make some progress even if I don’t finish everything.”

When you feel tired, practice telling yourself “I’m dealing with a lot right now” or “of course I’m tired, just do your best,” and “I’ll try again later, I deserve a break.”

When you struggle to accomplish a goal, practice telling yourself “I have been successful before” or “this is just a minor setback in my larger story.”

When you feel sad, practice telling yourself “it will be alright” and “you are a great person, most deserving of love and care.” 

When you doubt yourself, practice telling yourself “I have a lot to offer” and “I deserve to be where I am” or “I can do this!”

When you are anxious, practice telling yourself “I can handle it, “I can be imperfect and successful,” “I’ve been here before and I know this will pass,” and “this is a good opportunity to practice.”

When you feel like giving up, practice telling yourself “I am worthwhile,” “I am a good person,” “I have something to offer,” and “I am already good enough.”

When you accomplish something, practice telling yourself, “I am proud.”

Referring to these suggestions as practice is no accident. As simple as it may sound, it takes intention and effort to be kind to yourself and talk to yourself in a kind and supportive way. If you feel uncomfortable talking to yourself in this way, it likely means you would benefit the most and it might just take more openness and practice. Next time you feel uneasy, take a moment to imagine what you might tell a friend or loved one in your shoes and connect again with the way you felt when you were supported in the past. Tell yourself the same things you would tell a loved one and pause long enough to feel what you say. The more compassion you can direct inward, the more resilient you will be when faced with adversity and the more available you will be to support others. Practicing self-compassion will also help you begin to shift away from negative self-talk or the critical automatic thoughts that can color our mood in a negative way and perpetuate self-doubt. Take a moment now to quiet your mind and speak kindly to yourself. We all are deserving of our own kindness.  

Dr. Thomas Lindquist, Psy.D.

Licensed Clinical Psychologist 

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Resistance and Suffering: Stepping Back from Motivational Pressures

I found myself struggling to write a blog this week. There are many topics I could select, but nothing seemed to fit as I reflected on my experience and the experiences of those around me. A few weeks ago I wrote a blog on motivation. Although, I hope these tips were relevant and helpful to others, I have started to question our collective approach to staying motivated and productive during the current pandemic.

I recently came across a reflection posted by Alaa Hijazi, a trauma psychologist in Beirut, where she described feeling horrified about the push to learn a new skill or calls to be productive. At first, I resisted her reflections as I have prided myself on staying productive and oriented toward self-improvement over the past few weeks. Nevertheless, as I read further, Dr. Hijazi went on to plea for more self-compassion and acceptance of the difficult emotions that come up for us and to find ways of soothing our pain and the pain of those around us. The suffering is real. The loss of control is real. The uncertainty is real. She further labeled our experience as a collective trauma and noted the profound loss and panic as well as the overstimulation of our nervous system as we attempt to cope. Indeed, it is not surprising that so many people are struggling with sleep and feeling increasingly on-edge. In the end, these reflections struck me as an important message to balance the calls for self-improvement and productivity during this time.  

To be clear, distraction, particularly when it is focused on healthy activities and self-improvement, remains an important tool for coping with distress. It also allows for us to step outside of negative thoughts and can reduce the intensity of our emotions. However, when our attempts to feel better become grounded solely in resistance of pain or we completely check-out from reality, we often experience increased suffering and only struggle further to tolerate and cope with distress. For example, we might work hard to be productive and positive, but feel increasingly stuck as we fall short of our goals. We might work even harder as a result, only to find ourselves increasingly exhausted and emotionally overwhelmed. We might compare ourselves to others, as we often do, and make faulty assumptions about others being much more productive. In the end, we might find ourselves feeling more and more stuck in a place of suffering.  

A well-known Buddhist notion about suffering is helpful for this discussion. The simplified equation is pain + resistance = suffering. In other words, when we resist pain and actively strive to push away our distress, we can find ourselves stuck in a place of suffering. Therefore, it might be useful to consider how efforts to be highly productive can manifest as resistance and how this can make us feel worse. 

The answer to these questions is challenging. If we do not actively resist or distract, then we must accept. Acceptance can be incredibly hard, even as it is often viewed as weakness or mistakenly dismissed as a form of giving up. Indeed, acceptance takes great strength as it requires us to more directly face and acknowledge what is difficult in our lives. Below are a few ways of incorporating greater acceptance into your life.  

Begin by accepting reality. Take time to accept how you are feeling and acknowledge any fears or apprehension you have about the future. Take time to look at whatever is currently causing you the most stress and acknowledge it. Notice how much time you spend checking-out of reality. 

Cope with distress. Take a moment to pause, breathe slowly, and allow the intensity of your emotions to dissipate. Instead of distracting yourself, stay in the moment as best you can and allow the impulse to distract to dissipate. If you are able to stay in the moment long enough, the intensity of your emotions should subside.  

Practice Mindfulness regularly throughout the day. Getting better at something takes practice. Mindfulness is the best way to practice the skills and mindset for moving toward acceptance. Take a moment to become aware of your surroundings. Focus your attention on your body and your breath. Notice what thoughts come to mind when you take a moment to pause. Notice what feelings come up. Practice using non-judging awareness of all that arises and ground yourself in the present.

Use RAIN as a guide. Tara Brach, a well-known psychologist and meditation teacher, provides a useful tool for practicing mindfulness and acceptance using the acronym RAIN. Recognize what is happening; Allow the experience to be there, just as it is; Investigate with interest and care; Nurture with self-compassion. This simple, yet powerful practice is a great way to practice acceptance and self-compassion.   

In the end, it is possible to be both more accepting, while remaining productive. The key is to take time to pause and check to see if our approach is balanced. If we are only striving to be productive, we might be neglecting other aspects of our experience that need to be recognized and acknowledged. We might be setting unrealistic expectations for ourselves or unknowingly pushing ourselves to a point of emotional exhaustion. When we take more time for self-compassion and acceptance of all that comes up for us during these difficult times, we are actually more likely to be productive and more likely to be a positive support to others.  

Is motivation and productivity something we must be striving for and fighting against ourselves to achieve? Might it be better to approach productivity as a side effect or outcome of acceptance and self-compassion as we naturally accomplish things at a pace that is both realistic and grounded? 

Dr. Thomas Lindquist, Psy.D.

Licensed Clinical Psychologist

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Relationships During Quarantine

We play this fun game during quarantine, it’s called “Why Are You Doing It That Way?” and there are no winners.  

Relationships can be hard in any circumstance, but the current quarantine can make relationships with our loved ones more challenging. Most of us have acknowledged the dramatic change in our daily routine, but we may not have considered how our relationship has also lost its routine. Just like an individual, a relationship benefits from routine and care. It needs to be given attention and can benefit from structure. A relationship needs to be heard and it might make itself increasingly known until it gets your attention.    

The quarantine has had a major impact on our relationships. Some of us are experiencing a massive increase in the amount of time we spend with our partners, children, or siblings. Others are experiencing a painful separation from loved ones or managing a romantic relationship at a distance. When at a distance, relationships can benefit from stepping up your game. It is important to actively stay in touch in order to maintain your sense of connection. It is also helpful to be creative and possibly introduce new routines in these relationships, such as video chats or screen sharing movies. In contrast, some relationships have become a 24-hour affair in a shared  household.  

One of the most helpful things we can do is to simply acknowledge that our relationship has lost its routine. Consider your relationship with your partner or spouse, children, or siblings. Take a moment to pause and bring to mind a few major ways that your relationship has been impacted. Have you spent more time actively engaged in the relationship or avoiding your partner or other family members? Have you noticed things you never realized? Do you find yourself more reactive to others or more judgmental? Are you increasingly short on patience? If so, you are most certainly not alone.  

One of the biggest parts of our relationship routine that has likely been lost for many people is personal time. Having personal time allows us to focus on ourselves so that we can give more to our relationships. When we lose this time to ourselves, we set up a competition between our relationship needs and our own personal needs. In this regard, it is helpful to think of your relationship as a person or individual. You cannot simultaneously meet all of your needs and the needs of others. Therefore, it is essential to find time away from others so that you can show up for your relationship. Take a walk or drive by yourself, listen to music or a book with headphones, find a space in your home where you can be alone to read. Start a project that is exclusively yours. Opportunities to meet our own needs were inherently part of our old routine and we must meet our personal needs if we want to continue to meet the needs of our relationship.

5 Tips for relationships during quarantine 

Ask yourself, “what it is like to be with you?”  Focusing some attention on how other people are experiencing you can help you take a step back and be more intentional about how you approach interactions with others. It can also help increase empathy and understanding in your relationships.  

Me time. Don’t feel obligated to spend more time together than usual. Although it is likely a great opportunity to share more time with your loved ones, it is also okay to ask for space, and this will more likely make the time you spend together more meaningful and enjoyable for everyone.  

Avoid mind reading. Communication is key to making a relationship work and a cornerstone for healthy relationships. One common problem in relationships involves a lack of communication combined with attempts at mindreading. It is normal to try and understand things by filling in the blanks, but we can quickly get into a negative mindset when we make assumptions about others. Instead, try assuming that you can only get what you ask for and that your partner or loved one only knows what you clearly communicate.  

“I” Messages. Another strategy that can be helpful for communication includes using first person language or “I messages,” such as “I feel ______, when you______.” Rather than simply accusing, this communicates your feelings and provides information that the other person can use to change their behavior. It is also helpful to avoid judgmental words or global labels such as “childish,” “stupid,” or “selfish.” Focus on describing your feelings and providing a clear statement about the situation. It can also be helpful to share what you appreciate about the other person when providing feedback.

Collecting annoyances. Be mindful of your self-talk around little annoyances and don’t let little things build up. Often without notice, we can begin to collect annoyances and build an internal experience of another person that is colored with irritation and negative judgements. Our self-talk can become increasingly centered around these annoyances and the assumed poor judgement or lack of caring of the other party. As these annoyances build and as we repeatedly find confirmation of our annoyances, it becomes difficult to continue positive and supportive relationships. We may also begin to harbor resentment – a well established relationship red flag. When we do manage to contain our annoyances and avoid acting out towards others, the annoyances get back at us and we can end up turning against ourselves, becoming increasingly self-critical or depressed. Notice where your attention is and how often you find yourself feeling annoyed by your partner or another family member. When you catch yourself feeling annoyed, take a minute to step back and recall the bigger picture. What are you telling yourself?  Are you building up a collection of annoyances without realizing? Are you able to let this annoyance go? If you can, connect with feelings of compassion, understanding, and acceptance as well as your sense of caring for your partner or other family members. 

Express appreciation and give compliments. Try complimenting your partner or loves ones three times this week and see if you notice any differences in your relationships. This simple act can shift the communication away from noticing an annoyance and generate positive feelings. It can also provide a needed boost to your partner or loved ones and shows that you are noticing and caring about them. It might even change the atmosphere in your home as you begin to pay more attention to the things you appreciate in those you care most about.  

Relationships are both challenging and essential to our well-being. In many ways, this might be most apparent to us now as we face both separation or the near constant presence of loved ones. Therapists dating back to Freud have reflected on the philosopher Schopenhauer’s porcupine fable to describe our problems in human relationship and intimacy. To paraphrase, a group of porcupines huddle close together on a cold day in winter, but soon they begin to poke each other with their quills. This causes them to separate and spread out to get relief. However, once separated, they begin to shiver in the cold, which causes them to return again to one another for warmth, and the cycles repeats. The porcupines are a great metaphor for our relationship dance as we navigate boundaries and work to find a balance with those in our lives we care about. It may also encourage us to be compassionate toward ourselves and others, knowing that such a balance is not always easy and that we will occasionally poke one another despite out best efforts.  

Dr. Thomas Lindquist, Psy.D.

Licensed Clinical Psychologist

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The Mindful Reframe: A Basic Practice

Have you ever found yourself looking for a new picture frame? Perhaps you are giving a picture to a loved one or framing an art print. There are many options you can choose from and each can have a subtle, but definite impact on the image or artwork. We might take a significant amount of time to consider various frames or try out different frames to see how they look.

Just as we frame a picture, we also frame our experiences on a daily basis. We frame larger experiences and major life transitions as well as small or momentary experiences. However, unlike going to the frame store and diligently considering the options, we often frame our own experience without even realizing it or noticing the frame. Likewise, we often return to similar frames again and again, depending on our personality, mood, or current levels of stress. This makes a lot of sense because we tend to stick with the frames that have worked for us in the past, even if there are better options out there.  

Reframing is a useful concept and a common intervention in counseling. Although simple, it can be incredibly powerful. Reframing can provide a greater sense of agency and help broaden the possibilities for how we respond to challenges. When combined with mindfulness, reframing can also become a way of increasing our awareness in the present moment as we become increasingly aware of the frames we hold. 

The following steps can be used to practice mindful reframing

1. Notice the frame you are currently using.

            What is your current perspective?  

2. Consider other frames that might fit. 

            Is this perspective helpful?  How else can you view your circumstances?

3. Select a new frame and see how it looks.

            Does this new perspective provide more options?  

4. Notice how the new frame impacts your experiences and mood.

            Do you feel differently when looking at things from this new perspective?

5. Notice how you are thinking with your new frame.

            How are you thinking about your experiences or circumstances now?

Reframing can also be viewed as shifting to a more optimistic perspective. This is seen in the long-standing notion of viewing a glass as half empty or half full. If you find a useful or widely applicable frame, you might consider writing it down and returning to it again. Below are a few examples of reframing or reframes to help you get started.  

Examples of reframing:

A problem as an opportunity

A mistake as a chance to learn or grown

A delay or cancellation as an opportunity to practice patience or mindfulness

A rejection as evidence of having courage to take a risk

Missing a loved one as an opportunity to appreciate having someone to miss

Chaos or a busy schedule as a reminder that we are fully engaged in life

Sadness as an opportunity to practice self-compassion 

Quarantine as a chance for self-refection and personal growth

Mindful reframing can be a helpful practice or tool for increasing your attention to the present moment, shifting your perspective, and considering alternative ways of viewing your experiences. It can be particularly helpful when faced with challenging experiences or feelings. Remember, we are not trying to change our experience or dismiss the difficulties we face. Rather, we are simply taking a moment to acknowledge our current frame or interpretation, consider alternatives, and move forward with more options for understanding day-to-day challenges. As the psychiatrist and Nazi Holocaust survivor, Viktor E. Frankl writes, “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” 

Dr. Thomas Lindquist, Psy.D.

Licensed Clinical Psychologist

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Finding Your Wings at Home: Tips for Motivation

Motivation has been defined as the process by which activities are started, directed, and sustained to meet needs and accomplish various tasks or goals. The study of motivation is nuanced and complex, but several key ideas are helpful for a basic understanding. It is important to recognize that motivation is both conscious (explicit) and unconscious (implicit), suggesting that motivation can be influenced by things outside of our awareness. Motivation can also be influenced by both extrinsic (external) means as well as intrinsic (internal) means, such as internal values, ideals, or inspiration. Intrinsic factors are often most powerful and long-lasting, making it important to stay connected with your internal values and sources of inspiration. Lastly, social interest plays a role in maintaining our motivation and has the added benefit of supporting the larger community. 

Motivation can be difficult at any point in our lives, but it is especially difficult when dealing with increased stress and the loss of a daily routine. Furthermore, when we feel the tasks ahead of us are very difficult or somehow less important given all the changes happening around us, we can struggle to get started and experience frustration or feel helpless. We may also experience a strong desire to retreat or isolate ourselves through avoidance or distraction. However, as is true with most mental health hurdles, withdrawing or getting by with minimal effort can lead to further problems and will most likely decrease our motivation. For example, just getting by on a project can lead to negative self-evaluations and doubt, self-criticism, or feeling disconnected from the meaning or purpose of our work. Although we cannot simply flip a switch to activate our motivation, there are a number of things that can be helpful to improve motivation and get the ball rolling. 

Tips for improving your motivation:

Get started somewhere. It is often helpful to make a first step on a project or just getting the day started. Take a shower, get dressed, or write an email. Getting started somewhere can help to build some initial momentum and shift your attention to the task at hand, leaving less room for the negative thoughts that can fuel low motivation. Getting started somewhere also opens the door for a boost in your mood and provides an opportunity to see concrete movement forward and some sense of accomplishment. Pause and say, “I did it,” no matter how small it might seem. 

Find and organize a work space. If you have lost access to your work space, it is important to establish a new space. If you are limited, try to find a place you can set up each morning such as a small desk or table. Getting your things organized can also decrease the chances that you will feel overwhelmed or lost when getting started. 

Sit at a desk and avoid the couch. When possible, try to recreate your physical work space and avoid getting overly comfortable. Although it is good to enjoy some increased comforts, avoid siting on the couch with your laptop or lying in bed.

Make a schedule and write it down. Many people have lost the typical schedule that might be expected in a work or academic setting. However, this schedule can be very important for motivation, so it is important to create your own schedule as a way to reestablishing a routine.

Get up at your usual time. It is tempting to sleep late, but your body and work mind are not used to this change. By sleeping late, you are sending yourself a vacation signal and moving further away from a routine that will help improve your motivation.

Incorporate daily rituals such as lunch or other breaks. Adding breaks and enjoyable activities will help make your schedule more enjoyable. Don’t just stop working, but try taking an intentional break.

Work in chunks of time or chunks of a project. Breaking things down into smaller tasks helps us to experience the tasks as more manageable and achievable. This is especially helpful when the larger task seems daunting or out-of-reach. Take a short break after you accomplish each chunk and acknowledge your progress.

Closing time. Plan to end your work day at a typical time. It can be tempting, but you will likely be more productive if you stick to typical hours and use your other time for personal tasks and self-care.

Limit your time online. Connecting online is important right now. However, be aware of your media consumption and how it is might be impacting your stress. It can also be easy to escape reality through the internet, which can ultimately make it more difficult to engage in your current tasks and goals. Research also suggests that you will be more motivated if you see others enjoying and benefiting from productivity, so consider who you are following during your work day. 

Congratulations. Take a few minutes to review what you have already accomplished today or this week. Tell yourself you did a good job.

Self-care. Get outside for fresh air and exercise. Find a funny cartoon about motivation and share it with a friend. Find small things to look forward to in the short-term.

You are not alone. Finally, recognize that everyone is probably struggling with motivation and show some compassion towards yourself. Do the best you can right now and avoid dwelling in the past. Focus on what you are currently accomplishing, not what you wish you had accomplished. Every new moment is an opportunity. 

Dr. Thomas Lindquist, Psy.D.

Licensed Clinical Psychologist

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Coping and Mental Health during the Pandemic: Acceptance & Self-Compassion

March 27, 2020

Recognizing and acknowledging the impact of the pandemic on our psychological self is essential to coping with stress and maintaining calm in our relationships.

Coping with the ongoing stress and uncertainty of today can lead to a number of symptoms that can impact our daily functioning and relationships. It is important to recognize and acknowledge such symptoms and work to take an accepting approach to ourselves and our loved ones. We are all going to be at least “a little off.”

Common reactions you might experience to varying degrees include:

• Difficulty making decisions or concentrating

• Feeling numb or emotionally detached

• Reoccurring thoughts about the pandemic

• Intrusive thoughts involving worst-case scenarios

• Derealization or a sense that you are living a dream or movie

• Irritability or anger

• Grief about what is being missed or lost

• Loss of control and disconnection

• Feelings of powerlessness or helplessness

• Sudden or unexpected waves of emotion

• Sadness or depressed mood

• Difficulty sleeping or falling asleep

• Increased alcohol or drug use

It is helpful to recognize if you are experiencing these reactions and realize that you are not alone. It is likely that most people are experiencing at least some of these reactions to varying degrees. In addition to acknowledging and accepting your reactions, there are some things you can do that can be helpful:

• Ask for support and talk about how you are feeling

• Find others who can provide empathy, rather than problem-solving or giving advice

• Practice self-compassion and give yourself time to adjust to the many changes that continue to occur daily

• Focus on the present moment and practice mindfulness throughout the day

• Take it one-day-at-a-time or one-hour-at-a-time

• Do things to take care of yourself and find time to exercise or get outside

• Look into a new interest or take time to do things you enjoy

• Engage in the arts by creating art and playing or listening to music 

• Incorporate elements of your previous routine when possible; such as taking a morning shower, getting dressed for work, eating a particular weekday breakfast, or exercising at a certain time of day

• Take time to imagine what life will be like when we are able to spend time together again; imagine yourself going to a move, eating out with friends, or shopping in your favorite stores 

• Seek professional support through online counseling. Many therapists and psychologists have moved online. Some may even offer reduced fee sessions or pro-bono counseling services for first-line medical professionals and busy workers in life-sustaining industries. 

Social support is key. We are social creatures and our mental health is largely connected to a sense of social connection and social interest. Be creative with technology and use online video chats to connect: 

• Start a support group amongst your friends

• Screen-share a movie together with family or friends

• Begin an online chat or group text message with your close friends

• Have an online social hour and share a glass of wine together

• Share jokes via text 

• Think about what skills you can share with others online

In review, it will be helpful to acknowledge your reactions, practice acceptance and patience, and creatively engage in self-care and social connection. There is a lot happening in our world today and nobody can be expected to handle it perfectly. Show yourself the same compassion you would show your best friend, your grandmother, or your own small child.  

Dr. Thomas Lindquist, Psy.D., Licensed Clinical Psychologist

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