Written by: Rebecca Krawiec
Sitting with emotions can be difficult, especially if they are heavy or uncomfortable negative emotions. We can also find ourselves slipping into a habit of sitting in them too long or ruminating. It’s important to remember our emotions are a response to something. Sometimes they are helpful and other times unhelpful. When an emotion is not serving its purpose or original intention it can become harmful. Using the R.A.I.N acronym, it can help you discover what was the purpose the emotion showed up in the first place, create a space to process this, discover unmet needs from this emotion, and gently move through them. I remember discovering both self-compassion and Tara Brach’s work, particularly with mindfulness as a tool for developing compassion and emotional regulation and thought this would be a great opportunity to share their wonderful work! Having a compassionate lens is a crucial factor in healing, here’s why.
Kristen Neff elegantly defines what self-compassion or self-kindness is. Self-compassion, drawing upon the writings of Buddhist scholars, involves acting in a caring and understanding manner towards oneself during difficult times. Kristen Neff uses an example most of us experience: instead of ignoring the emotional pain one is experiencing with a harsh, judgmental or critic mindset, it’s crucial to approach this with kindness. Explaining to oneself that this is a difficult time and asking oneself how I can take care and comfort yourself is essential in taking a compassionate approach. If you’re reading this thinking, “Rebecca, it is impossible for me to be self-compassionate!” I see you. But I’m here to tell you that if you can experience compassion for others such as towards friends, family, or strangers, then you can definitely experience compassion for yourself. It will just take some patience and practice. Here are a few tips to get you on the track to self-kindness:
Kristen Neff has many audio clips which provide a moment to pause during the day to provide fulfillment and help cultivate compassion towards yourself. Some similar audio topics include self-compassion for caregivers, soften soothe and allow working with emotions in the body, and balancing. Each audio clip ranges from 5 minutes to 25 minutes in length. Taking a few minutes each day to listen to these or implement these exercises yourself is a great start on the path to self-compassion.
Other exercises to develop self-compassion include changing your critical self-talk, talking to oneself as you would a friend, as well as other exercises exploring self-compassion through writing. All of these exercises can be found here: https://self-compassion.org/category/exercises/#exercises
On Kristen Neff’s website there is a 26 item quiz to help you pinpoint where you are starting off with and how compassionate you are toward yourself. https://self-compassion.org/self-compassion-test/ If you score low just know that you’re not alone. Everyone starts from somewhere. This may be the perfect time to reflect on how you’ve been treating yourself and why you want to start creating compassion and kindness toward yourself (i.e. my thoughts are judgmental in nature and causing me pain).
Ralph Waldo Emerson once stated “the creation of a thousand forests is in one acorn”, meaning big changes start with small steps. If you can spend each day taking a moment of pause and treating yourself with a bit more understanding and care versus critical judgements, eventually you will be able to change your perspective towards compassion for yourself. As Tara Brach once said, “self-compassion begins to naturally arise in the moments that we recognize we are suffering. It comes into fullness as we intentionally nurture our inner life with self-care”.
Tara Brach created an easy-to-remember acronym to bring mindfulness in for what is occurring within us. R.A.I.N stands for recognizing, allowing, investigating, nurturing.
This R.A.I.N approach can be used everywhere you go. As a personal disclaimer, I find this approach so incredibly helpful for those trying to increase self-kindness and compassion, foster self-awareness, remove inner critics, and for those on their healing process. Tara Brach shared that R.A.I.N “ refers to the practice of making room for unpleasant feelings, sensations, and urges, instead of trying to suppress them or push them away. By opening up and allowing them to come and go without struggling with them, running from them, or giving them undue attention, we find that they bother us much less. They also move on more quickly, instead of hanging around and bothering us”.
When we are feeling overwhelmed or in distress, we can first Recognize what is going on for us. From there, we can Allow the experience to be there, and then Investigate with gentle care. After investigating, we can Nurture ourselves with compassion. Using mindfulness by living by the acronym R.A.I.N, grants us the opportunity to give ourselves a mental ‘check-in’ to see what is going on for us in the moment, and respond with compassion. It also helps us develop self-awareness.
Here are a few journal prompts you could jot down to get started.
Look within yourself.
What emotion am I experiencing?
Am I experiencing thoughts, or memories?
If you’re not there yet, I’m here to tell you that it is totally okay! It may be more helpful to start off with trying to recognize how the emotion is impacting you. Do you have specific recurring thoughts about yourself or others? How is this emotion presenting in your body?
Remember, self-compassion begins to develop when we recognize we are suffering and comes in full as we intentionally nurture our inner life with self-care.
Accept the emotion. Allow yourself to feel it at this moment. This can be a very difficult step to not fight the discomfort off or push it away. As Tara Brach suggested, it can be helpful to remind yourself that emotions are like waves and you are the ocean: the waves may be strong but waves cannot drown the ocean. You are strong to hold this emotion.
What does this feel like in my body? Physiological sensations.
Do I have feelings about feelings? (i.e. experiencing anger makes me feel sad).
During this phase, be curious about your experience. It is important to attempt to understand what it is like from your experience to feel these emotions.
What is MY experience of this emotion? How does this emotion feel for me?
Is this my own emotions, or does this emotion belong to someone else?
What kinds of physical sensations accompany this emotion?
What thoughts do I have when I experience this emotion? Are they blaming thoughts, minimizing thoughts, catastrophizing or mean thoughts?
What do I feel like doing when I have this emotion? Do I want to hide, attack, become closed off when I feel this way?
Nurture yourself, and your pain, with a loving or compassionate presence.
For the “nurture” part of R.A.I.N, we must first finish all of the previous steps. In doing this, we have made sense of our hurt and heartache and thus, start to discover what needs are not being met. You can start by self-validating by explaining how much sense it makes to feel this way, then call upon your deepest sense of compassion and apply it to yourself. Remember in this Nurture phase you should speak to yourself the way you would speak to someone that you love. In this moment, be your own best friend.
Tara Brach recommends to ask yourself the following questions:
Does this unmet need want a message of something specific? This can include reassurance, forgiveness, companionship, or love.
What am I longing for right now? What do I need right now? and how can I take care of myself in this moment?
If you’re unsure, that is okay. You can understand what you need by experimenting with which intentional gesture of kindness is most comforting to you. Tara Brach suggested whispering or saying to yourself “I’m here with you” or “I’m sorry, and I love you”, “I love you, I’m listening and I am always here for you” or “I am sorry this happened, It’s not your fault” can help you discover which message you need to hear and what need desires like to be met.
Tara Brach is a big advocate for using a physical gesture. For example, putting your hand over your heart helps emphasize the nurture phase. Other physical gestures include hugging oneself, or envisioning being embraced by a warm radiant light, or loving being such as a spiritual figure, family member, or pet. Imagine that being’s love flowing to you.