Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Self-Compassion 8a: Writing a Compassionate Letter

Adapted by David Ketchum from the work of Paul Gilbert (SOURCE)
“In this exercise we are going to write about difficulties, but from the perspective of the compassionate part of ourselves.”

• Call to mind a compassionate image and your own wisdom of what is safe, wise, and accepting.

• Now imagine the human qualities connected with that image. Try to “feel your compassionate self” – you “at your best – at your calmest, at your wisest – at your most caring.”

• Consider the manner, tone of voice, and presence of this compassionate self. Remember, you are not judging yourself. This is your own wisdom of what compassion feels and acts like. Spend at least one minute just becoming aware of how this compassionate self acts.

• When you have a compassionate frame of mind (“even just slightly”), you are ready to start your letter. If you find yourself getting distracted (“am I doing this right?” or “I don't feel very compassionate!”), just be mindful of those thoughts and return to the compassionate self.

Returning after distraction is part of the self-compassion practice, too.

• The goal of your letter is to express self-empathy. You might begin by recognizing your feelings and needs. For example,
Dear David, I know you are feeling really anxious right now, that you would really enjoy having your needs to be understood and accepted met.
• Next, it may be helpful to affirm your experience. For example, your letter may continued with,
It's understandable that you're feeling that way, since you worked really hard to write that email to your friend, to disagree in a really polite way, and you were hoping that it would become a positive conversation. Instead, your friend decided to stop emailing you for a while.
• Continue by standing back. What will be most helpful to bring your attention to now? You can do this by: thinking about “how you'll feel about the situation in a couple of days, weeks or months, or you might recall that distressing feelings can lift and then remember how you'll feel when this happens.” For example, you might write:
I want you to remember, though, that your brain is designed to help you care about relationships. You're feeling anxious because you also have a need for connection and community, and your brain is reminding you of that. That reaction is natural and important, and you can use it to help you keep making decisions that meet your needs.
• Encourage a compassionate response. What might your compassionate self encourage you to do? What needs are most important to you right now, in the present? What strategies are available? You can also include any elements from the emotional fluency diagram that you think would be especially helpful in connecting to your own self-compassion. For example,
In fact, would you be willing to go spend some time connecting with a friend sometime soon? It's been a while since you played guitar with X – would that be a good place to start?
• End by thanking yourself for taking the time to listen.

Note: Paul Gilbert provides in-depth instructions HERE.