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Mindfulness, Acceptance, and Self-Compassion

You may have noticed that “mindfulness” and “self-compassion” have become popular phrases on magazine covers and in self-help books. Unfortunately, it’s also true that people sometimes refer to mindfulness, self-compassion, and acceptance as if they are synonyms for the same idea.

These three words actually represent distinct concepts, although they are interconnected. In short, mindfulness is a practice that gives us a starting point for acceptance, and self-compassion is like an advanced level of acceptance that gives us the space for a new way of being in the world and within ourselves.

Here is a simple guide to understanding the differences between these terms, as well as the ways that mindfulness and acceptance are important building blocks for self-compassion.

Mindfulness: Starting with where you are

We have to begin with cultivating mindfulness, which is about noticing what is occurring right now in this moment. Mindful awareness will always be the necessary starting point. It makes sense that we cannot accept something or be compassionate about it when we have not yet become aware of it.

Being mindful means making contact right now, in the present moment, with our own experience. This can include our thoughts, feelings, urges, and physical sensations. Our societal conditioning has led us to always be focused on the future (what will happen next) or the past (what has already happened). This can distract us so much that we are barely aware of how we are reacting to circumstances right now.

What mindfulness teaches us is that our sensations and inner experience exist only in the present. When we practice mindfulness, we create a habit of noticing our own experience from moment to moment. For example, noticing the physical sensations and thoughts that accompany an emotional trigger can help us to understand and change how we react to that trigger.

Acceptance: Letting go of the urge to resist

Acceptance is about willingness. Accepting our experience means dropping the struggle. Often it is our internal resistance to negative experiences that makes them so painful for us. When we use our mindfulness practice to observe our thoughts, feelings, and sensations without automatically reacting, we can then choose to accept the reality of what is happening without needing to control or change it.

This does not mean that we have relinquished responsibility for the situation, or that we are resigned to allowing these circumstances to remain unchanged. Acceptance just means that we are willing to engage with the reality of what is actually happening rather than pretending things are different or attempting to force an outcome. It’s about accepting what is out of our control and taking responsibility for what is in our control. It is about staying present and willing to have all of the experiences that are occurring in the moment.

You are probably familiar with the Serenity Prayer: “Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” The most difficult part of that equation is knowing the difference between what we can and cannot change. The practice of mindful awareness and acceptance can help to get us to that point of discernment.

Mindfulness and acceptance are not passive

It would be easy to assume that mindfulness (noticing the present moment) and acceptance (letting go of resistance) require us to passively observe what is occurring without intervening in any way. However, these tools actually allow us to become active creators of our own circumstances.

Mindfulness is about observation, but it is also about action. Our values can guide our behavioral choices, helping us decide what actions to take in the moment. We refer to mindful and intentional actions as “values-based actions.” The human tendency is to revert to old coping behaviors that lead to self-fulfilling prophecies. These behaviors tend to be based on what has happened to us in the past, rather than what is actually happening right now in the present moment. Mindfulness practice helps us to break this cycle by taking action intentionally based on our experience in the moment.

In the same way, acceptance is not a passive state, but an active way of opening ourselves to reality. We use the phrase “radical acceptance,” first coined by Marcia Linehan (founder of Dialectical Behavior Therapy), to describe the complete and total acceptance of our experience with all its flaws and frustrations. When we are able to fully accept our experience in this way, we are able to learn how to replace unhelpful behaviors with values-based actions.

The next step beyond acceptance: Self-compassion

Self-compassion takes acceptance one step further—not only accepting our internal experiences as they are, but also sending them loving kindness.
Dr. Kristin Neff outlines three aspects of self-compassion on her website, self-compassion.org:

1. Self-kindness vs. self-judgment. Instead of ignoring experiences that are painful or uncomfortable, or criticizing ourselves for handling a situation badly, we can choose to hold those experiences gently and with warmth and compassion.

2. Common humanity vs. isolation. Self-compassion requires us to understand that there is nothing unique or special about suffering, which is an experienced shared by all humans. It can be freeing to remember that no matter what we experience, we are not alone in feeling that way.

3. Mindfulness vs. over-identification. We must be able to find a balance between acknowledging the particular sensations of our experience without being overwhelmed by what is happening.

Using mindfulness, acceptance, and self-compassion

As you can see, there is more to mindfulness and self-compassion than is commonly implied. But it’s good news that these tools are interconnected, because mindful awareness plus acceptance can lead you to a place where self-compassion is possible—creating a more sustainable way to be and act. Therapists who are trained in mindfulness can guide you through this growth and transformation process.

At the Bay Area CBT Center, we offer individualized therapy that provides the tools you need to reach your goals and be more fulfilled. To learn more about how we can help, you can click here to book an appointment online. We have office locations in both San Francisco and Oakland.

The Costs of Social Media Overuse and How to Practice Moderation

How many times have you walked into a restaurant or a movie theater and noticed that everyone is on their phone? Four friends might be sitting together having lunch, yet they are not really together, preferring to connect with a piece of technology, choosing to interact with an object rather than the people right in front of them. What does this mean about us? What are the implications for future generations? What is the long-term impact of this addiction to technology on modern relationships? What will the next generation look like?

Internet addiction affects nearly 6 percent of the global population. Symptoms of online addiction include anxiety, depression, euphoric feelings when in the presence of devices, lost sense of time, weight gain, and the avoidance of work. It also has serious ramifications for those in romantic relationships. Excessive usage of Twitter and Facebook has been linked to cheating, breakups and divorce, often rooted in conflicts over time spent on these platforms.

dreamstime_m_40519981Heavy internet use can cause people to identify more with online identities than real life ones. Online, you my find it easy to frame your life as one of total fulfillment and it’s likely that many in your network are doing the same. Because of this, it’s often easier to interact online because of its superficiality: it is simple to avoid awkward or vulnerable moments that reveal our insecurities and problems.

And there’s evidence that this is leading to an increasing preference for online interactions over those in real life. According to one study, one in four people spend more time on social media than in real-life social situations, and as many as 11 percent of adults prefer to spend a weekend communicating online than socializing.

The Other Side

Research indicates that social media use can make us feel sad. According to a study from the University of Michigan, the more participants used Facebook, the worse they felt. This, researchers said, is likely due to social comparisons. You most likely have experienced social comparisons when looking through your social network’s glamorous photos and happy messages and feel that your own life pales in comparison. Repeated exposure to these comparisons can lead to unhealthy beliefs about our self worth. A recent study has shown that social media can either increase or decrease feelings of loneliness, depending on how people use it. People who tend to be more passive online (reading other’s posts) are at a higher risk for increasing feelings of loneliness and a lack of belonging.

What can we do to reduce the negative effects of social media overuse?

  1. Practice moderation.

Just like in any other activity, moderation is the key. Too much social media can cripple your social skills, while too little can make you feel as though you are on the outside looking in. Use technology in a mindful way. Try to differentiate between online interactions and real life interactions. Whenever you hang out with your friends, turn off your smartphone and focus on face-to-face interactions. Conversely, when you’re on a business trip, social media can be a lifesaver because you can use it to chat with your friends and family.

  1. Change your perspective.

The first thing we need to recognize is that social media is just a tool like any other. We use it in order to make our lives a bit easier. Think about the main purpose of your online behavior. Is it a way of avoiding real life problems or is it a way of being more productive and efficient? Identifying the main reason why you choose to go online can make a difference.

  1. Assume responsibility.

Just like in real life, social media is a place where everybody is responsible for their own actions and each of us can choose effective and authentic behavior. Despite recent Internet laws and regulations, people are still somewhat free to do as they please, as long as they don’t cause harm to other people. Make sure that what you post (if it’s public) is something you’d be comfortable sharing with your future boss, your friends, and your family. Don’t act quickly or impulsively, take your time, choose your words, save an email as a draft before sending it.

  1. Be transparent.

Relationships are built on mutual respect and trust. Authentic connections are based on honesty and openness. If you want a lasting relationship with your significant other, being honest and open about your social media use, while at the same time keeping healthy boundaries, is the way to go.

As for collegial relationships, the best thing you can do is to act naturally in both real and online interactions. Don’t try to be someone you’re not just because you’re hidden behind a screen.

  1. Be mindful

It’s easy to get distracted by notifications. Social media, e-mails, news, videos, phone calls and text messages interrupt us hundreds of times every day.

Make sure you schedule some time every day in which you are fully aware of what you are doing, whether it’s brushing your teeth in the morning or talking to your significant other. Also practice doing one thing at a time. Some time off with no distractions helps you focus better, improves your cognitive abilities and your performance. It also reduces stress and tension, and this will allow you to enjoy your free time and the company of other people.

These 5 easy steps are only a guide that you can follow in order to improve your relationships and to reduce the negative effects of social media overuse. However, the most important thing is your inner voice and what it tells you. Learn how to pay attention to your needs. We’re not built to sit in front of a screen most of the day. Our bodies also need some time out in the nature. Don’t forget to also interact with real-world people and objects. Furthermore, learn to make the most of your time online by choosing to use what is helpful and removing what is simply noise and distraction.

Don’t forget that you are in charge of your actions and you might as well enjoy the whole process of building the lifestyle that you want for yourself!

Schemas and Self-Distortions

This video really touched me because it captures a common problem that I regularly see; the way that our schemas and core beliefs radically distort our perceptions of ourselves. While these thoughts may never completely disappear, they don’t need to be so distressing and powerful. By understanding schemas, and learning how to relate to uncomfortable thoughts and feelings with more compassion and acceptance, you can learn to become your own best friend and ally.

Dove, the household name and manufacturer of beauty goods, performed an experiment. In the embedded video, a forensic police sketch artist draws women, hidden from view, based on their description. Next, strangers who have briefly met these women describe them to the same artist.  The difference between the self-described sketches and those dictated by casual observers were startling. The self-described portraits appeared caricature-like and featured sadder looking people with harsher features. One participant said the portrait she helped create looked “closed off and fatter,” while the portrait that was created by the outside observer looked “more open, friendly and happy.”

Schemas

Our schemas can often be wildly inaccurate, like fun-house mirrors. They’re frequently biased by perfectionism—holding ourselves to unreasonable standards—and incomplete comparisons—relating our self-worth to how we feel others are—resulting in harsh self-judgments that impact our health and happiness. The solution to this self-shaming? Self-compassion, distancing from harsh thoughts and defusing from them. Use the following two metaphors to help you relate to your mind differently and make distance from your thoughts:

 

Thoughts as Commercials

Instead of thinking of your thoughts as carriers of absolute truths, think of them like commercials, filled with salespeople pitching products that aren’t necessarily good for you. If we don’t pay much attention to the commercials, they pass by without notice. However, if we call the number at the bottom of the screen, we’re giving into a conversation about something we never needed. negative schemas affect our relationships - Bay Area CBTThe next time you find yourself absorbed in a commercial-like conversation with yourself about your worth, ask yourself which negative thoughts feel most compelling, which thoughts do you notice yourself automatically accepting, buying into, or getting caught up in?

Now, instead of doing what may feel natural, like negating or criticizing these thoughts, notice them without judgment. Approach them with curiosity and empathy, and politely decline the products your mind is trying to sell you. Notice your mind trying to sell you old stories and negative hypotheses about yourself and recognize that you don’t have to buy into it. Simply thank your mind for doing what minds do and reply by saying:  “thank you mind for that enticing story, but I’m not going to buy this product right now.”

Thoughts As Bullies

One of the hardest skills for my clients to learn is how to cultivate and practice self-compassion. Many of us believe the best way to correct a behavior is to punish—or bully—the person responsible. bullies and negative schemas - Bay area CBTNegative thoughts are met with more negative thinking, which creates a vicious cycle of self-criticism.

However, our negative thoughts are not bad deeds. When you find yourself bullying yourself into being a better person, ask your inner bully a few questions. What does it need, what is it trying to protect you from? What are you afraid might happen if the bully stops?

Next, just like the commercials, stop engaging and arguing. Place your hands over your heart and consciously send love and compassion to yourself and all your inner bullies. Give the bully compassion and validation. Thank the bully for its misguided attempt to do a good deed, but remind it that this approach isn’t helpful.The more you practice non-judgmental awareness of these thoughts, the more you’ll be able to let them go. Just like the women in the Dove video, you’ll find you’ll be able to see a more beautiful you; the way many others already see you.

Click here to take the schema quiz and identify your own schemas in relationships.

At the Bay Area CBT Center, we offer individualized therapy that provides you with the tools you need to improve well-being and create the life you desire. To learn more about how we can help, you can click here to book an appointment online. We have office locations in both San Francisco and Oakland.