Recall a time when you felt down and a caring friend or family member said the words you needed to hear. That person showed you compassion and nurtured your needs at that moment.
Each one of us has the ability to be compassionate toward others. This article, however, is about being compassionate toward ourselves. And just like playing an instrument or learning a sport, practicing being compassionate toward yourself is necessary.
Making positive change in our mind means creating positive experiences for our brains. Our brain is constantly learning and remodeling itself based on our experiences. Rick Hanson, author of Resilient, says when you repeatedly stimulate a “circuit” in your brain, you strengthen it. Thus, if you are habitually hard on yourself, you will strengthen the ability to be hard on yourself; no matter how hard you work, you will never be enough for yourself. Hanson says the Golden Rule works both ways, “Do unto yourself as you would unto others.”
We all have an inner critic and an inner nurturer. Both are necessary. The inner critic helps us stay on task, stay focused, and push and drive toward our goals. The inner nurturer is there to soothe, calm, and encourage us through growth. Together, the inner critic and the inner nurturer balance us out and help us stay resilient and focused.
However, the inner critic tends to overpower the inner nurturer. The inner critic is loud and boisterous where the inner nurturer is quiet and calm. The nature of the inner critic is to criticize, leaving the quiet, inner nurturer with little voice. With compassion toward both “critics” and with some quieting of the mind, we begin to bolster the inner nurturer and make that voice louder.
Strengthening the inner nurturer makes us stronger and more resilient. Besides making us nicer toward ourselves, bolstering the inner nurturer makes us more patient, cooperative, and caring in our relationships.
So how do we strengthen our inner nurturer?
Begin by becoming aware of your inner critic. Your inner critic has a unique voice; observe how your inner critic speaks to you. As you listen, know that the inner nurturer is there as your ally. As you quiet down and listen, you can observe it without reinforcing the voice, and you can dis-identify from it. As Pema Chondron says, “Don’t believe everything you think.”
The inner critic can perpetuate anger that is disproportionate to what has happened. We may imagine a mentor, friend, or family member speaking up for us as our inner nurturer’s voice. What would they say if they heard someone speak about us in that way?
Perhaps, try giving the inner critic a name or label and create a character that lacks credibility. By giving the inner critic a defined image and voice, we can let the inner nurturer speak against it and debate it with the intent to win.
A mantra or intention practice also helps bolster the inner nurturer. Mantras, affirmations, or intentions can be words or phrases that you repeat in a meditative practice or throughout your day when needed. By repeating the positive words, it is practicing the thoughts you wish to encourage. It is forming the circuits in the positive direction. Some mantras to consider are: I am grateful, I am at peace, I am love, I am enough. Pick one phrase and say it to yourself over and over again, and come back to it whenever you need it.
Hanson says he has a “caring committee” inside himself who represent various kinds of support and wisdom. It is a committee comprised of his wife and kids as well as movie characters like Gandalf from Lord of the Rings and the fairy godmother from Cinderella. By creating your own “caring committee,” you bolster your inner nurturer. You can give each a strong voice for the specific task needed. Maybe one is there with wisdom while another is there with spontaneity. It’s like creating your very own Avengers for your mental health.