If you are diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, you may struggle with self-compassion. The symptoms of PTSD can be severe and can disrupt many aspects of a person’s life. As a result, you may feel guilty or ashamed, have negative thoughts about yourself, or feel that you are worthless or failed.
These are common thoughts of people with PTSD-but they are not true, they can make your situation worse. We will share strategies for learning how to be more compassionate to ourselves.
Why lack of self-compassion is dangerous for people with PTSD
Lack of self-compassion can have a huge impact on the recovery of PTSD. The reasons are as follows:
- This way of thinking and lifestyle may reduce your motivation to continue through the difficult period of treatment.
- It may increase feelings of helplessness and despair. For example, you might think, “I failed, what’s the point of continuing treatment?”
- Lack of self-compassion can also bring a strong sense of shame and guilt, which can make emotions more difficult to manage.
- Finally, low self-compassion can lead to self-destructive behavior. For example, you may begin to deliberately self-harm as a form of self-punishment.
Self-compassion may be difficult to increase, but doing so is very important for your recovery and well-being.
Here are some strategies to develop stronger self-compassion when dealing with PTSD.
How to improve self-compassion in patients with post-traumatic stress disorder
Fortunately, there are many ways to exercise your self-compassion. Here are some of the most effective strategies:
- Admit that you are human. If you set high expectations that you can’t meet, it’s hard to feel sympathy for yourself. For example, you may have a timetable for treatment to improve PTSD symptoms. But different people make progress through treatment at different rates. Some people notice immediate results, while others may need more time to notice the benefits of treatment. Setting very high standards or expectations increases the likelihood that you will not be able to meet them, which increases feelings of worthlessness, helplessness, despair and failure. Recognize that you are human and that sometimes you will struggle or slip. This is normal and is actually a positive part of the recovery process. Those struggling moments can help you identify areas where you need to continue working, and help you find new coping strategies to prevent similar struggles in the future.
- Pay attention to negative self-centered thoughts. Just because you have a negative self-centered thought does not mean it is true. Our thoughts are largely the result of habit. We can’t always believe them, especially negative thoughts about ourselves. This kind of thinking usually only leads to more shame and guilt. Mindfulness is a very useful strategy for managing negative thoughts. Paying attention to thoughts can help you take a step back from them, so you won’t get in touch with them or treat them as truth. This will reduce their intensity and ultimately reduce their frequency.
- Practice self-care. When people feel low in self-compassion, they are at greater risk of engaging in self-destructive behavior or isolating themselves from social support. When you feel inferior, it is important to act in the opposite way to these feelings. Remember: even if we cannot always control our thoughts or feelings, we can always control our actions and choices to a certain extent. Therefore, when you feel that you are worthless, take the opposite approach and engage in some kind of self-care activities. Do something good for yourself and your body. If you have very strong negative thoughts or feelings, self-care can be difficult. But even a small self-care activity can prevent these thoughts and feelings from happening. Acting as if you care about yourself will eventually lead to real feelings and thoughts of self-compassion.
- Verify your emotions. Another way to increase self-compassion is to verify your emotions. We do not experience emotions randomly. They are there for a reason. Emotions are the way our bodies communicate with us. When we blame ourselves for having certain emotions, all we do is increase our emotional distress. Therefore, realize that your emotions are important and reasonable. Try to listen to what your emotions are telling you and realize that it is okay to have them.
- Reduce self-destructive behavior. Lack of self-compassion can lead to self-destructive behaviors, such as deliberate self-harm, eating disorders (for example, overeating and restriction), or substance use. These behaviors can be a form of self-punishment, and if you are still dealing with PTSD, they can be extremely destructive. Although they may reduce your pain at first, in the long run, they will only increase shame, sense of worthlessness, or helplessness. It is important to take steps to reduce these behaviors. Strategies that focus on impulse control may be particularly useful for this.
- Practice good deeds. If you feel powerless, then choose to help others. Treating others with compassion can improve one’s self-compassion. In addition, there is evidence that helping others can promote recovery from traumatic events. For example, helping others through voluntary service can improve your mood, provide a sense of accomplishment and agency, and bring a sense of value.
- Acknowledge your achievements. Finally, acknowledge your achievements. Despite the symptoms of PTSD, it is important to acknowledge your achievements. Make a note of difficult tasks that you have completed or challenging situations that you have successfully dealt with. Acknowledge achievements large and small. We often ignore small achievements, but when you have PTSD, no achievements are too small. Although the diagnosis of PTSD has been dealt with, I still have to thank myself for my strength and perseverance.
Self-compassion is very important to recover from PTSD. But this is also a difficult thing to cultivate. Try all of the above strategies to find the combination of activities and behaviors that works best for you. Your progress may be slow, but even a small amount of self-compassion can have a huge impact on your mental and emotional health.
Get advice from the VigorTip Mind podcast
Hosted by Amy Morin, the editor-in-chief and therapist of LCSW, this episode of The VigorTip Mind podcast shares how to be kind to yourself.