When something bad happens to us how many of us are harsh to ourselves and blame ourselves? That inner critical voice that we know so well gets straight to work; “you are so stupid. Why did you say/do that. What is wrong with you”…and that voice can go on and on creating a spiral of anxiety and bad feelings. We wouldn’t speak to a best friend or a loved one like we speak to ourselves.
People that has suffered trauma in their lives have this internal critic turned up to full volume. Trying to escape this voice and these internal bad feelings may result in drinking or doing drugs to numb. Learning self-compassion can turn down this voice and help us to begin to soothe ourselves.
The fight-flight-freeze response is an inbuilt automatic response that we may be familiar with. Our bodies can go into action (racing heart, dry mouth, etc) or we can freeze. Our thinking mind goes offline as our bodies prepare us to take action. PTSD clusters are arousal, avoidance and intrusions. Trauma survivors are often in this state of arousal, avoidance or have intrusive thoughts. When this stress response is turned inwards we can become self-critical, self-isolating and self-absorbed.
Ways in which we can combat self defeating, negative thoughts are to first of all notice our inner critic and our body’s reactions to those thoughts. Next, is to talk back to that negative voice. For example, “You are so stupid. Everyone is looking and knows how stupid you are” can be turned into, “I’m not stupid. Ok, I made a mistake. All people make mistakes. I’m learning by my mistake.” You see how that is less harsh? Cognitive restructuring in this way takes time but it can work.
Being mindful of our feelings and our thoughts play a big part in helping to soothe ourselves and a counsellor can help with this as well as helping you to feel safe whilst you explore what is going on inside your mind and body. When a trauma client is struggling with this the counsellor can help the client to understand what it is that they are experiencing in that moment. When we are self-compassionate we validate our suffering instead of being critical.
Self compassion can come in many forms. It’s about what feels good to the individual. This may be taking a bath, making a fresh coffee, buying yourself flowers or having a peaceful walk. It’s simple to start with and a counsellor can help to progress that self care and self compassion into healing.
Reference: Germer. C.K and Neff. K Cultivating Self Compassion in Trauma Survivors. From https://ahangoverfreelife.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/Germer.Neff_.Trauma.pdf