Crystal: My name is Dr. Crystal Lee, and I’m a psychologist with a concierge therapy private practice in Los Angeles. I help my clients foster self-compassion for themselves. I’ve presented at a few conference about self-compassion, done numerous trainings with psychology students about self-compassion, developed a short-term psychoeducational group based on self-compassion principles and wrote my dissertation about self-compassion in parents of children with Autism Spectrum Disorder.
Jennifer: How do you define self-compassion?
Crystal: According to Kristin Neff, the premiere researcher in self-compassion at UT Austin, self-compassion encompasses three different components; all three are needed to be truly self-compassionate.
The component most people think of is self-kindness, which means reacting with caring and understanding instead of being critical or judgmental.
The second component is belief in a common humanity. This component means that you understand that all human beings are flawed and imperfect and we all struggle with the same feelings.
The third component is mindfulness. I understand mindfulness as being fully present and experiencing the moment with clarity and balance, instead of being swept away by the feelings or ignoring the feelings
Jennifer: What are some ways that you help your clients to practice self-compassion?
Crystal: Initially, if I see clients who are particularly self-critical, are very judgmental of themselves or has feelings of shame, I start with psychoeducation about what self-compassion entails. Then, I usually like to have my clients complete the self-compassion scale to see which components of self-compassion they may need to strengthen. Based on that, I suggest interventions targeted specifically to one of the three components of self-compassion. I might teach them mindfulness techniques (e.g., self-compassion meditations, deep breathing, mindful eating), directly challenge negative self-talk, encourage them to write in a self-compassion journal or help them create a self-compassion mantra.
Jennifer: What might be some reasons why this is difficult for some?
Crystal: Some clients struggle with mindfulness in particular because they are very past- or future-oriented, rather than present-oriented. Sometimes, clients struggle with the mindfulness piece because they’re Christian (and mindfulness has Buddhist roots).
For other clients, being kind to themselves is the biggest struggle because they’ve learned that being self-critical and judging themselves harshly is a way to motivate themselves to change or “be better.”
Jennifer: How do you practice self-compassion personally?
Crystal: I like to incorporate short mindfulness activities into my daily life–things as simple as eating mindfully when having a snack or tuning into my surroundings. If I’m having a particularly difficult time, I’ll remind myself that everyone struggles and try to normalize my feelings or whatever happened to me.
Jennifer: Are there any ways that practicing self-compassion can be challenging for you?
Crystal: It can still be a struggle for me to let go of using self-criticism as a way to motivate myself to do better and improve myself. I think it’s important to remind ourselves and our clients that self-compassion is a continual journey. You don’t suddenly arrive there and have everything be smooth sailing for the rest of your life.
Jennifer: What is one concrete exercise that you might have a client do who is struggling with being kind to themselves?
Crystal: Something that all people seem to respond to is drawing a parallel between how they treat their best friend or child when they’re struggling versus how they treat themselves when they’re struggling. I have them actually write down the negative self-talk, look at a picture of their best friend or child and then say those same things to them. I have them imagine how the best friend or child would feel and respond to those statements. It’s an eye-opener! No one would dare talk to their best friend or child as harshly as they speak to themselves and they can clearly see how damaging and hurtful that criticism can be.