Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can occur after you have been through a trauma. According to US Department of Veterans Affairs, approximately 8 out of every 100 (around 7-8% of the population) people in the U.S. will have PTSD at some point in their lives (Gradus, 2020). A common emotional symptom that individuals suffer from with PTSD is shame. This can be true even if there is nothing objectively to be ashamed of. PTSD symptoms can be intense and impact many facets of a person’s life. Shame or guilt can interrupt our beliefs about ourselves and our worldview (Johnson & O’Brian, 2013). Self-compassion can be an important but difficult step in trauma recovery.
“Self-compassion refers to healthy ways of relating to oneself in times of suffering, whether suffering is caused by failure, perceived inadequacy, or general life difficulties. Self-compassion allows individuals to accept themselves as they are, including the limitations and imperfections that make them human.”
(Braehler & Neff)
Self-compassion includes three main components:
- Kindness: Being caring instead of attacking or ignoring the pain. Meeting suffering or pain with feelings of kindness, care, warmth and concern.
- Common Humanity: Recognizing that pain is a shared human experience and can connect us to others if we let it. Trauma can happen to anyone. According to the VA, about 6 of every 10 men (or 60%) and 5 of every 10 women (or 50%) experience at least one trauma in their lives.
- Mindfulness: Noticing and being sensitive to the fact that some sort of suffering or pain is occurring. Suffering could be some sort of distressing struggle with emotional pain, mental pain or physical pain.
Preliminary research has shown that increasing self-compassion decreases PTSD symptoms. It can reduce avoidance and self-destructive behaviors. It can also reduce flashbacks and panic attacks. Although self-compassion can be difficult to practice in the beginning, it can be an effective tool in healing from a trauma. Try out different strategies and see what works best for you! Remember, you are not alone and there is support available.
Interested in learning more?
Here are some resources:
Braehler, C. and Neff, K. (2020) Self-Compassion in PTSD. In: Tull, M. and Kimbrel, N. (eds.) Emotion in Posttraumatic Stress Disorder. Elsevier, 567-596. ISBN 9780128160220
Gradus, J. VA.gov: Veterans Affairs. Retrieved June 14, 2020, from https://www.ptsd.va.gov/professional/treat/essentials/epidemiology.asp
Johnson, E. & O’Brian, K.A. (2013). Self-compassion soothes the savage ego threat system: effects on negative affect, shame, rumination, and depressive symptoms. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 32 (9), 939-963.