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A Self-Compassionate Approach to Therapy in Chicago, IL

 

Unbroken Therapy's mission is to help individuals overcome their mental health struggles and improve their self-esteem using self-compassionate skills. That's because self-esteem is the immune system of the mind. Just like a healthy immune system defends us from illness, a healthy self-esteem offers resilience to stress, anxiety, depression, and more. It gives us the confidence that we can handle whatever life throws at us. When faced with adversity and declining mental health, individuals with high self-esteem are better able to cope with and bounce back from their symptoms. Unbroken Therapy aims not just to help clients manage their symptoms, but to boost their mind's immune system so that they are better equipped to handle whatever life throws at them.

 

Unbroken Therapy specializes in individual therapy for self-esteem, anxiety, body image issues, and more. Located in Chicago, IL, Unbroken Therapy is currently only offering web-based services due to the COVID-19 Pandemic. Services are in network with BCBS PPO plans.

What is Self-Compassion?

As the name suggests, self-compassion is any act that demonstrates kindness, acceptance, or positivity toward the self. We live in a culture that values compassion, generosity, and altruism toward others; but this somehow gets lost in its application to ourselves. Most of us wouldn't dream of calling our loved ones names such as "failure," "lazy," "incompetent," or "worthless," but we have no problem saying those things to ourselves. If someone else, particularly someone close to us, were to say those things to us, we would feel incredibly hurt. It's no wonder then that self-deprecating thoughts are linked to a number of mental illnesses and overall dissatisfaction with life.

How Can Self-Compassion Improve Mental Health?

A broad range of mental disorders involve some form of self-deprecation, personal mistreatment, or shame. Self-compassion is a powerful approach to all of these issues Here are a few of many examples.

 

Anxiety

Those with anxiety disorders often doubt their own thoughts, feelings, or instincts. They mistakenly believe that others dislike or judge them, or that they are doing something wrong. Anxiety can often present as perfectionism, involving rigid and unfair standards that nearly always result in feelings of inadequacy and failure. Self-compassion can help combat the self-doubt that results from anxiety, as it can teach those with anxiety disorders to better trust their judgement. It can also help them relax their rigid unfair standards of themselves, and their fears that others also hold them to impossibly high standards.

Depression

Depression often involves hopelessness, low motivation, fatigue, and other symptoms. These symptoms can impact functioning in work or school, put strains on relationships, and  make it more difficult to work toward personal goals. Those with depression may have self-deprecating thoughts such as, "I can't do anything right," "nothing will ever go my way," or "What's wrong with me?" Self-compassion can combat depressive symptoms by reframing the language that entrenches individuals in their sense of inadequacy and hopelessness. It shows them that they are worth every bit of the effort it takes to develop healthy thought patterns and coping skills.

 

Body dysmorphia and other body image concerns

Body dysmorphic disorder involves an obsessive focus on a perceived flaw in one's physical appearance. Those with body dysmorphic disorder sometimes avoid social situations because they feel deeply ashamed of their appearance. Less severe body image concerns can lead a person to have difficulty accepting the way that they look and using unkind words to describe themselves, such as "ugly," "fat," or "disgusting." Self-compassion can help those with body image concerns learn to use kinder words to describe themselves, as well as to feel more confident in themselves. In order to accept one's physical appearance, one must be able to accept themselves as a whole. Rather than feeding into an obsessive focus on physical appearance, self-compassion promotes a holistic approach to accepting oneself as is.

Self-Harm

Self-harm includes any method to intentionally cause harm to oneself, including cutting, burning, or hitting oneself. Reasons for self-harm include coping with emotional distress, punishing oneself for real or perceived wrongdoing, or attempting to reverse emotional numbness.  Often those who harm themselves feel a sense of helplessness or worthlessness. Self-compassion can help those who self-harm by providing them with more healthy responses to emotional pain, such as self-validation and a belief in worthiness of emotional support from others.

 

Trichotillomania

Trichotillomania is a mental disorder which involves compulsive and sometimes unconcious hair pulling. Severe cases can result in balding, permanent hair damage, and even infections. With hair pulling comes a lot of shame and isolation, as those who pull their hair often view themselves as failures or completely lacking in self-control. Self-compassion can help those with trichotillomania to manage shame-based thoughts and feelings resulting from hair-pulling. It can also be an effective distress tolerance skill to help curb any urges to pull hair as an unhealthy coping skill.

 

Religious trauma

Religious trauma results from traumatic religious experiences from cults or abusive religious environments. Those who have experienced religious trauma often struggle with shame, as this is a common method of abuse in unhealthy religious settings. Symptoms can include anxiety, depression, self-doubt, sense of directionlessness, isolation, and pervasive negative beliefs about self or others. Self-compassion can provide tools to reverse abusive messages recieved from abusive religious practices. It can help those who have experienced religious trauma to change the negative views they have about themselves due to their experience with religion. It can also provide necessary empowerment to explore religious or spiritual beliefs without fear of persecution. 

What Do Self-Compassionate People Do?

 

Those who regularly practice some form of self-compassion are able to recognize their worth and behave in ways that both demonstrate this worthiness to others and reinforce their own sense self-worth. Some examples include:

 

  • Setting realistic expectations
  • Identifying and acknowledging strengths
  • Accepting compliments
  • Setting and maintaining personal boundaries in relationships
  • Practicing assertive communication
  • Saying "no"
  • Asking for help
  • Practicing regular self-care
  • Maintaining composure after making mistakes
  • Trusting their judgement

 

These are the things that all of us strive for and many of us have difficulty doing. Self-compassion can help you work toward a life that includes all of these things.


 

What Does Self-Compassionate Therapy Look Like?

 

One of the first steps in self-compassionate therapy is to create self-compassionate goals. Doing so involves being honest with oneself about what is attainable, how much motivation is available to work toward the goal, and what barriers stand in the way of achieving the goal. Have you ever created an overly ambitious goal and then felt defeated and down on yourself when you didn't achieve it? This is a sure-fire way to set yourself up for failure, which leads to a risk of internalizing the experience and feeling like you are a failure. Self-compassionate goals may seem utterly unambitious at first, but they involve the difficult step of letting go of unfair expectations and embracing sustainable and incremental progress. This step can be uncomfortable, which is way so many people avoid it.

 

Another key step in self-compassionate therapy is identifying strengths. Many people find this step uncomfortable and difficult, but highly beneficial. Remember, self-compassion involves positive regard toward the self, so this must include engaging in self-focused positive thoughts. If you struggle to identify your strengths on your own, don't worry - you can learn helpful thought-based skills to challenge your reluctance to name your positive traits. Treatment can also help you explore and identify certain strengths you may not have thought of on your own.

 

Those who struggle with self-compassion also often struggle with shame. In order to alleviate feelings of shame, it is important to distinguish shame from guilt. These terms are often used interchangeably, but are not in fact the same. 

 

Guilt means "I did a bad thing."
Shame means "I am a bad person."

 

Whereas guilt can sometimes be a healthy (albeit difficult) emotion, shame is never healthy. Managing shame involves being mindful of when guilt leads to shame and developing skills to reframe shame-based thoughts into ones that are more compassionate and fair.

 

Self-compassionate therapy involves these and many other important factors that are tailored to each individual person based on their unique struggles and goals. This happens through a collaborative process with a therapist throughout treatment.

If you're ready to learn self-compassionate skills to improve your emotional health and self-esteem, schedule an appointment now!