Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Self-Compassion 8b: Keeping a Compassion Diary

One basic skill for self-compassion is using your emotions/thoughts/body sensations/action urges as a cue to look deeply for the underlying process that is producing them. This serves two important purposes.

First, we become better equipped to handle the overwhelming emotions we experience during conflict and stress.

Second, we become more sensitive to the fact that this process is happening in everyone else. In both cases, emotional fluency can be an aid in cultivating empathy both for ourselves and others.

The goal is to be able to slow the process down even in the midst of overwhelming emotions, but it is helpful to practice using both memories of overwhelming emotions and the normal and positive emotions we experience.

If you would like to practice this skill, considering using the diagram or a compassion diary on a regular basis. You can explore your present emotions, important memories, or even make guesses about reactions of others that have been confusing or frustrating to you (remembering they are just guesses!).
NOTE: If you have had traumatic experiences, please be cautious using these exercises. Consider having a trusted counselor, therapist, pastor, or other such person to help you heal.
Some questions for a self-compassion diary:

1. Trigger Events: Are there any situations (places, people, issues) that you associate with overwhelming emotions? (e.g., talking about a certain issue, seeing someone roll their eyes, interacting with a particular person, etc.)

2. Interpretive Filters: What is the meaning you assign to the trigger? What beliefs/assumptions do you relate the trigger event to? (e.g., “sighing like that is so disrespectful”) To go deeper, can you pick out the core beliefs, evaluations, and inferences involved?

3. Listening to your Inner Voice:
a. Emotional Experience: What do you feel most intensely in those situations? (e.g., grief)
b. Attention/Thoughts: Are there intrusive thoughts or preoccupations?
c. Body Sensations: What is happening to your body? (e.g., tension, sweating, etc.)
d. Action Urge: What do you want to do? (e.g., yell, run away, hit something)

4. Context: Are there times when you notice you are more likely to be overwhelmed? (e.g., lack of sleep, hungry, a certain person's company, etc.)

5. Listening to your Outer Voice:
a. What feelings and needs do you actually name and express to others? Are they accurate?
b. What facial or postural expressions do you notice yourself using to communicate your Inner Voice? (e.g., slumping in your chair, turning your head away, etc.)
c. What words do you actually say? What requests do you make or actions do you take?

6. Compassionate Responses:
a. What compassion practices have you tried?
b. What worked well? Not so well?
c. What would you like to try now?

Enlarging our vocabulary for identifying and expressing feelings and needs is also a significant part of developing emotional fluency.