In this video, we are going to discuss 10 steps to guide you to write a compassionate letter to yourself. Use the steps as a guide and feel free to change the steps to make this work for you. Paul Gilbert, the founder of Compassion Focused Therapy (CFT) suggests that compassionate mind training helps people develop and work with experiences of inner warmth, safeness and soothing via compassion and self-compassion.
STEP 1: Engage your compassionate mind: The first step in compassionate letter writing involves connecting with the part of you that is going to write the letter, your compassionate self. At this point it can be helpful to find a quiet space and spend a few moments connecting with your soothing breathing rhythm. You can watch my video on soothing rhythm breathing below.
STEP 2. Motivation: Why am I writing this letter? Before writing anything, it can be helpful to think about your motivation for writing a compassionate letter to yourself. For example your motivation may be to have empathy for your struggles or to be more tolerant of your distress and difficulties.
STEP 3: Begin the letter and identify a difficulty: First of all remember to direct the letter to yourself. So if I was writing a letter to myself I might start with “Dear Teresa” or “Hi Teresa’. Then identify a problem or difficulty you are struggling with and outline what the current difficulty is. Try to cultivate a compassionate and encouraging tone. Language should be supportive, caring and understanding.
STEP 4: Validate and have empathy for the struggle: It can be very helpful to validate your feelings and struggles. Acknowledging this is a really difficult time.
STEP 5: Understand your attempts to manage your threat system: It’s not your fault: In this step you are recognising that when your threat system is activated you will engage in a variety of safety or protective behaviours to manage the threat. This can cause you to eat more, drink more, over work, argue with your partner and so forth. It can be helpful if your letter acknowledges these attempts and any negative consequences that usually arise from these safety or protective behaviours.
STEP 6: Take responsibility: While it’s not your fault you get caught up in various safety strategies. It is your responsibility to develop the skills to manage these difficulties in a more helpful way. In step 6 it can be helpful to tap into the qualities of strength and wisdom and a desire to approach things in a different way. Here you might write about what would you like to do differently and focus on your commitment to change. It’s really important you don’t get caught up in self criticism or blame. What we are trying to do is shift our perspective from one that is self-critical to one that is self-compassionate.
STEP 7: Explore how to help: Compassionate thoughts and action: Now that you’ve started to commit to change it can be helpful to see how your compassionate mind can help guide you through this difficulty and take steps towards change. For example, you might write about your plan to cut down on alcohol, eat healthy food, practice yoga or meditation.
STEP 8: Work with blocks and setbacks. The process of change isn’t always smooth so it might be helpful to consider what difficulties or setbacks you might experience in your attempts to bring about change. In this section you’re reflecting on what blocks may come up and what you can put in place to manage any blocks or setbacks.
STEP 9. Compassionate commitment to bringing change: The purpose of this step is to convey a sense of commitment to the process of change, or the process of supporting yourself. Express your intention and commitment to take steps to deal with this difficult situation in a different way.
STEP 10: Compassionate reading. When you have finished writing your letter, there is one final step: to read the letter back to yourself. You might want to put it aside and read it a few days later or you might want to read it straight away. It’s important you take your time and read the letter in a compassionate, warm and caring tone. Don’t rush it, take your time and connect with the words, feeling and intention behind the letter. Don’t criticise it. Don’t judge the grammar, the spelling – it doesn’t matter. You’ve written with honesty and openness.