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Healthy Relationships
July 19, 2023
Using Self-Compassion to Embrace Change

Estie Zeifman

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How Can Self-Compassion Help Me Through My Next Big Life Change?

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Change is something that can make people nervous. Throughout our lives we experience changes. These changes can be smaller in scale, such as using a new workout or wearing a new outfit or larger in scale, like being fired from a job, moving to a new city, or getting married. Some changes are appealing, and others are not. The bigger life changes can bring on a wide range of emotions, including excitement, dread, intimidation, nervousness, etc. It can be challenging to manage these feelings regardless of whether this change is wanted. No matter what, we will all experience change during our lives.

Common challenging thoughts about big life changes:

  1. Everything needs to be perfect! We want all aspects of the change to go smoothly; the wedding day needs to look perfect, I need to be perfect on my first day of work, etc. We want to feel in control during this change when a lot might be out of our control. With this perfectionistic thinking, we give ourselves the illusion of control. We don’t want to think about the things that might not go smoothly or work out.

  2. I can’t do it! These self-critical thoughts can be overwhelming. We think we can’t go through with the change, or we won’t succeed. We might be even more unkind to ourselves, saying we aren’t smart/pretty/confident enough to go through with this change.

  3. I don’t like these feelings! Some of the feelings we have through change can cause us to feel stuck. We often focus on uncomfortable feelings while dismissing other, more comforting ones, such as excitement or happiness. We might even use these feelings as proof that we cannot go through with the change. We will judge ourselves for our uncomfortable feelings and justify that we should ‘just’ be happy or okay with the upcoming change.

Using self-compassion to manage these thoughts and feelings:

Self-compassion is a tool to manage these thoughts and feelings you might feel stuck in. Compassion involves caring about others and being sensitive to their needs. Compassion often comes with empathy and non-judgement. If we can harness this compassion towards ourselves, we can move through change with less judgment towards ourselves.

Four ways you can use self-compassion to move through change:

  1. Replace critical thoughts:  Use more helpful thoughts when you start being critical of yourself. You can rehearse these in a moment when you are not as anxious. A good way to help put this into practice is to imagine how you would talk to a friend if they were going through this change. Would you be harsh with them and tell them to get over it, or would you approach them with kindness and strengthen them through this?

  2. Be easier on yourself: Try lowering your standards and expectations around what will happen. Are you expecting too much from someone or the situation? This does not mean you shouldn’t have any standards. The goal here is to have more realistic expectations. You can work towards letting go of the things you cannot control and setting realistic expectations around the things you can control. This will help you be less harsh and easier on yourself if things do not go as planned.

  3. Mindfulness: This is a great tool for moving through change and other challenging emotions! Mindfulness is the practice of paying attention, without judgement, to the present moment. Here is one exercise you can try today when brushing your teeth. Take three deep breaths and start noticing what is happening in your body. How are you feeling right now? How does the toothbrush feel in your mouth? What flavour is the toothpaste? How fast are you brushing? You can then start noticing other things in your surroundings. What colour is the washroom wall? Is the sun coming in through the window? What is the temperature in the washroom right now?

  4. Acceptance: We can accept the thoughts and feelings we are having about this big change without trying to change the thoughts and feelings. Change can be challenging. It is okay to struggle right now. To move towards acceptance, you can start allowing yourself to feel your feelings in the moment without judgement. Let these feelings wash over you, knowing that they will pass. At the same time, accepting something doesn’t mean you have to be okay with the change. It just means you are not going to judge yourself for the feelings and thoughts you have.

Things to remember:

Change can be challenging even if the change is wanted. It is okay that it is hard right now. It is okay if you feel uncomfortable with the anticipation of the change. You are allowed to have negative and positive emotions without judgement. You have some tools to move through change, feeling more grounded and connected with yourself.


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