Quiet your inner critic with self compassion

Written by Stephanie Dykema, Ph.D.

Photo by  Bart LaRue  on  Unsplash

Photo by Bart LaRue on Unsplash

If you’re like most women I know and work with you’re way more critical of yourself than you are towards other people.  We have a harsh voice running in our minds all day long: “why did I say that?” … “I really should lose weight” … “I’m so stupid and can’t do anything right”. 

Instead of judging yourself, try self-compassion. Dr. Kristin Neff describes self-compassion as having the same kindness and understanding towards yourself that you have towards others when they are having a difficult time.  

When you fail at something or notice something you don’t like about yourself, ask yourself: What would I say to a friend in this situation?  You’ll probably notice that your response to a friend is much more gentle than what you’d say to yourself. Self-compassion is letting go of criticism and judgement of ourselves and giving ourselves kindness and gentleness.  

In other words, self-compassion is being an ally with yourself rather than your own worst enemy.

Next time you feel embarrassed or like a failure, imagine what it would be like to say to yourself: “I’m human, we’re all human, everyone struggles and make mistakes” or “This really sucks, I feel terrible..  how can I care for myself right now?”

Self-compassion is not self-pity. Self-pity is a “poor me, I’m struggling so much and I’m so alone” attitude. Self-compassion is an attitude of “no, I’m not perfect, but neither is anyone else… other people aren’t a horrible person when they make a mistake, and neither am I”. 

Try taking a short, 4 minute self-compassion break right now!

If you want to talk more about how to make change in yourself and your relationships while also being flexible and compassionate towards yourself contact me to set up an appointment: stephanie@balanced-awakening.com.  

Neff, K. & Gerner, C. (2018). The Mindful Self-Compassion Workbook: A Proven Way to Accept Yourself, Build Inner Strength, and Thrive. New York, NY: The Guilford Press.

Mindfulness in Everyday Life

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Written by Kristin Ridder, Ph.D.

How many times have you gone through your day on automatic pilot - and then wondered where the day went? This happens to everyone in many ways. Maybe you had a conversation with a friend and realized you didn't even know what they had just said to you because your mind was somewhere else. You might have been driving and suddenly noticed that you missed your exit because you had been so caught up in your thoughts.

Mindfulness teaches us to be aware of these patterns and to bring ourselves back into contact with the present moment instead of worrying about what could go wrong in the future or reliving pain from our past. It teaches us to be be psychologically present and aware, noticing what is happening in the here and now while paying attention to both the inner world and outer world.

Contact with the present moment is important for self-awareness about our thoughts and feelings, which lets us chose our behavior and make intentional choices. Over time, cultivating mindfulness helps us to observe our thinking patterns, notice when we get caught by certain unhelpful thoughts, and allow these thoughts or emotions to be without getting caught up in them. It sounds so simple, but it can be a tricky skill in real life. Being present lies at the heart of mindfulness.

I like these simple ways to get mindful because anyone can do them, nearly anywhere. Nobody can be mindful or present-minded every moment of every day! Your mind will probably pull you back to your thoughts again and again. That’s normal - our mind is effective at training us to believe that our thoughts are very important and that we should always pay attention to them! These exercises, from the book “ACT Made Simple” are an easy way to bring yourself back to noticing the present moment and practice shifting away from those unhelpful thinking patterns.

Take Ten Breaths

This is a simple exercise to center yourself and connect with your environment. Practice it throughout the day, especially any time you find yourself getting caught up in your thoughts and feelings.

  1. Take ten slow, deep breaths. Focus on breathing out as slowly as possible until the lungs are completely empty—and then allow them to refill by themselves.

  2. Notice the sensations of your lungs emptying. Notice them refilling. Notice your rib cage rising and falling. Notice the gentle rise and fall of your shoulders.

  3. See if you can let your thoughts come and go as if they’re just passing cars, driving past outside your house.

  4. Expand your awareness: simultaneously notice your breathing and your body. Then look around the room and notice what you can see, hear, smell, touch, and feel.

Drop Anchor

This is another simple exercise to center yourself and connect with the world around you. Practice it throughout the day, especially any time you find yourself getting caught up in your thoughts and feelings.

  1. Plant your feet into the floor.

  2. Push them down—notice the floor beneath you, supporting you.

  3. Notice the muscle tension in your legs as you push your feet down.

  4. Notice your entire body—and the feeling of gravity flowing down through your head,

    spine, and legs into your feet.

  5. Now look around and notice what you can see and hear around you. Notice where you

    are and what you’re doing.

Notice Five Things

This is yet another simple exercise to center yourself and engage with your environment. Practice it throughout the day, especially any time you find yourself getting caught up in your thoughts and feelings.

1. Pause for a moment
2. Look around and notice five things that you can see.
3. Listen carefully and notice five things that you can hear.
4. Notice five things that you can feel in contact with your body (for example, your watch against your wrist, your trousers against your legs, the air on your face, your feet upon the floor, your back against the chair).
5. Finally, do all of the above simultaneously. 

Harris, R. (2009). ACT Made Simple: An Easy-To-Read Primer on Acceptance and Commitment Therapy.Oakland, CA: New Harbinger.

Grounding in Light Meditation

Looking for a new way to practice mindfulness and feel more grounded? I love this "grounding in light" meditation written by Nancy Napier and found in her book "Sacred Practices for Conscious Living." If you're just starting out with mindfulness meditation, you can read more about mindfulness in an earlier post. You may also want to give mindfulness of breathing a try before you engage in this meditation. 

Before you begin this meditation, find a comfortable and quiet place where you can be alone for about 10 minutes. You can sit in an upright but comfortable position in a chair or you could always lie on the floor. When you finish the meditation, take a few moments to absorb the practice. 

Money as life energy: A mindful approach to money.

psychologist for women financial stress

Money. The topic of much stress, avoidance, conflict, and sleep loss. Sound familiar? We spend far too little time talking about the role of money in our lives and creating a healthy relationship with our finances. As parents, we often spend too little time educating our children on the value of money. As educators, we fail to teach basic financial skills that are critical to our well-being as adults. Money is considered a taboo topic in our society, which further adds to avoidance and distress. And to some extent, after our survival needs and some comforts are met, it doesn't matter how much money we have or make. 

All of this means that there is an opportunity to do things differently. To become aware of what money means to you personally. To know what you've been taught about money, both directly and indirectly. To make choices about money that are based on your values, not on fear. To develop a healthier relationship with money. 


Overcoming Avoidance

Would you rather talk about anything else except money? Does thinking about money bring up fear or discomfort? As with anything in life that we try to avoid thinking about, the more we try to push thoughts of money away, the more distress we tend to experience. Check in with your own experience about this...

If avoiding the topic of money and reminders of your finances doesn't seem to work, are you ready for an alternative approach? - Being open and honest with yourself about money and being willing to expose yourself to your finances. Exposure therapy is excellent for many fears! And the same behavioral principles apply to fear and anxiety that can come from how we relate to money. Generally, distress is mostly caused by avoidance, or not wanting to "go there" - which makes whatever is there - in this case money - much scarier than it needs to be. 

The first step is choosing to take a different approach. Then it is putting it into action. In this case, it is exposing yourself to your history with money and current financial situation and relationship. What were you taught or told about money throughout your life? Did you grow up in a family where money, or lack of it, posed a real threat and subsequent panic? Was there never enough and no one talked about it? Or was money something that mysteriously flowed and met all of your needs and provided some luxuries? Perhaps your parents spent time educating you on how to balance a checkbook, or how to get a job, but didn't talk to you about their own philosophy and relationship with money. See if you can identify themes in your experience around scarcity or abundance, or around money as a taboo topic of conversation.

After your've identified some patterns around your history with money, take some time to reflect on your current relationship with money. What old patterns do you carry with you? Do these patterns seem to fit with the rest of your approach to life? And are these patterns working for you? What are the benefits of your current relationship with money? And what are some of the downfalls? 

Now, are you willing to to a complete look at your current financial situation? Things you might look at include how much money you have coming in, how much is going out, what you are spending your money on on a daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly basis, what you are saving or investing, how much debt you have, what your actual budget is - not just what your budget is in theory. Try to do this in a mindful way - being present to the current situation without judgement. This is about first allowing what is there to be there without changing anything. 


Identifying your Values

This is where the idea of "money as life energy" comes in. This concept is courtesy of a book that I highly recommend called "Your Money or Your Life" by Dominguez & Robin. It's simple: you trade your life energy for money. You can figure out what you make per hour minus all of the expenses related to your job and calculate what your life energy is currently worth. Then you can ask yourself two main questions:

  1. Is my current job compensating me well enough for my life energy? 
  2. Am I using my life energy in a way that is consistent with my values?

I'll focus mostly on question #2 for the rest of this post...

Take some time to orient yourself to how your values influence your relationship with money. You may want to do some values identification and clarification work and can check out my previous post on values for more information and resources on how to do this. Some questions you can ask yourself to get started include:

  1. What are the top 3 things that are important to me in life?
  2. Is the way I am using money consistent with how I want to live life and who I want to be?
  3. Are there certain areas where I am spending money or using my life energy in a way that is not consistent with what is important to me?



Once you've sorted through some basics of how your values relate to your relationship with money, you can make a plan and perhaps set some goals to "live out" these values. It's all about choices - each day, or even each moment, choosing to live out your values or perhaps choosing to do what you've always done or what is comfortable. No matter what your values, it's helpful to take a mindful approach to your finances - meaning slowing down and noticing - so that in each moment you can make a choice. Often times we make choices while on autopilot, which takes away the intention and consideration in making choices. See if you can empower yourself by bringing intention and consideration back! Here's some steps you can take:

  1. Track your financial situation - all incoming and outgoing funds - on a daily basis. You can use an App on your phone or computer to sync all of your accounts. Then all you have to do is click "refresh" to bring awareness and empowerment to your choices.
  2. Set one small financial goal based on your values. There is no right or wrong goal - the most important thing is that it is consistent with your personal values. For example, you may notice that you enjoy the experience of eating out when it's dinner with your partner, but also realize that you spend more money than you'd like on convenient (but not very enjoyable) fast food lunches while at work. A goal may be to bring a lunch to work most days and put the money that you save toward eating out with your partner. 
  3. Try to set one goal at a time and integrate it into your life before adding more goals. Remember that changing habits works best when goals are specific, intentional adjustments to your life done gradually over time. 
  4. You may also think in terms of question #1 - is my current job compensating me well enough for my life energy? This may prompt you to think more about goals you can set to get more for your life energy!

Sticking to it

Change is difficult. Even when it is an intentional change that will better your life. It's normal to feel some resistance or ambivalence. See if you can make some room for whatever thoughts and feelings arise. And continue to stick with your values-consistent plan. If you're a woman in the Chicagoland area and would like assistance in sticking to your goals and learning some more ways to respond to your emotions around money, contact me or schedule an appointment


My favorite meditation book for women. And a meditation exercise to get you out of your head!

Review of Meditation Secrets for Women: Discovering your Passion, Pleasure, and Inner Peace

by Camille Maurine & Lorin Roche, Ph.D.

Playful and sensual - not words that you'd typically associate with meditation! But Camille Maurine and Lorin Roche, Ph.D. opened my eyes to different, more sensory and flexible ways to meditate and enjoy it. Meditation Secrets for Women is full of accessible meditations and practical ideas about how to incorporate meditation and a meditative state of mind into your daily life. 

Both women and men can benefit from this book (don't let the title limit you!). Women are designed somewhat differently from men and will likely appreciate learning about meditation from a perspective written for women that openly acknowledges and adapts to the way women tend to "be" in the world. Also, men may find this approach refreshing, as both men and women may feel that their inner feminine self is stifled by meditation driven by the masculine model. When we think of meditation, we tend to think of celibate monks who shut out sensory pleasure and "human" enjoyment of life (part of the masculine model). Meditating under this model has some limitations, and may feel impractical and/or restrictive to both genders. 

Meditation at it's best is about being open to all experiences - to all emotions, sensations, thoughts - and taking an observant, curious, nonjudgmental approach with yourself. Meditation Secrets for Women is structured in a way that guides you through this process and facilitates presence with self in a loving way. It encourages you to use all of your experience - including distraction - in the meditative process. 

The Sanctuary of Your Personal Space

meditation for women chicago

One of my favorite meditations from this book is "The Sanctuary of Your Personal Space." I appreciate how it gets the meditator out of her head and into her body by focusing on different movements with the hands. It's a great way to engage the sense of movement and befriend your personal space or aura.

In preparation for this practice, set aside about 10 minutes of your time. You can do this meditation while seated in a chair or on the ground. Be sure to give yourself some space to extend your arms fully and stretch out a bit. 

After this practice, you may want to set aside some time to journal or reflect on what the practice was like for you. 

  • What did you notice?
  • Did any unexpected emotions or sensations arise?
  • Were you able to be with yourself compassionately? Did any judgments arise?
  • How do you take sanctuary in or protect your personal space on a regular basis?

How does exercise fit with your values? The first step to committing to fitness.

exercise andersonville chicago


If you are striving to make exercise and fitness a part of your lifestyle, you will certainly want to read this post about values and exercise! Connecting to your values and how they are intertwined with your fitness routine or goals will make it much easier to stick with fitness and all that fitness means in your life.  


Values are directions that you want to go in life. They are unique to the person, so your values are likely a bit or maybe a lot different from my values or from your loved ones' values. As humans, we can easily get on autopilot and fail to take the time to ask ourselves "am I living a valued life?" And by that I mean a life consistent with your values! We often feel the most at peace with ourselves and with our lives when we are living according to our values. 

Values - both identification of your values and living out your values - guide the type of psychotherapy I do which is called Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT). It's all about helping you get on the path that you want to be on and working with you to perhaps learn new skills and ways of approaching the "stuff" that gets in the way of being or staying on that path. That "stuff" could be unwanted and distressing thoughts, uncomfortable emotions, and/or destructive behaviors. Staying connected to your values helps you to feel empowered and motivated. And that includes feeling empowered and motivated for fitness!


It's not always easy, though, to determine what your values are. And they likely change a bit over time as you also evolve and grow. It can be difficult to identify your personal values from the values that you have been told over time that you "should" have. A note on that: it's also important to separate values from morals. Values are chosen life directions and morals are more like codes or principles that come from outside of you (think other people, society, religion).

So, what are some of your values that connect with exercise and fitness? If you would like specific worksheets to use that can facilitate your values discovery, you can visit my previous blog post on values.

Let me give you some examples about how exercise might fit with values. Perhaps you engage in a regular exercise routine because you value self-care. You know that your relationship with yourself is important and when you don’t attend to it, your relationships with others suffer. Perhaps you exercise as a way to be healthier longer in your body and live longer. This could be motivated by a value around family (perhaps you want to be able to be present and active with grandchildren). Or perhaps you value exercise as a way to facilitate a healthy sex life with your partner whom you care a lot about. There are no “right” or “wrong” values that motivate exercise; the key is that you are connected to what brings you fulfillment!

Mindfulness of Emotions Meditation

Want a new skill to practice that will help you feel less overwhelmed by your emotions? Try this mindfulness of emotion meditation. It's one way to practice making some room for unwanted emotions. When you allow difficult emotions to be present, they have less control over your behavior. The purpose of this practice is give you space to slow down and observe your inner experience. Emotions can be the scariest when you become focused on running away from them. In this exercise, you have the opportunity to practice doing the opposite. Over time, with continued practice, emotions or fear of emotions no longer have to drive your life!

Grief: An experience more common than you may think.

Usually when we think of grief, we think of death. And we tend to think narrowly and consider grief only in cases when a human that we love dies. But grief can be an experience, a process, that happens in a broad range of circumstances. For example, death or loss of a pet, an identity, a job, an idea or a vision are all experiences where grief may surface. When coming into our own identity and following our values, we may experience grief around how our needs were not met in the past. We may even feel the most grief when life is good and we feel loved - grief over what we missed out on before in our lives. 

Partnering up with Fearlessly Fit Life to help women develop a healthier relationship with food.

This week I'm doing a blog take over at Fearlessly Fit Life, where I'll be sharing information on how to develop a healthier relationship with food! Check out the video and see what else is going on with mindful eating at Fearlessly Fit Life. 

Values: Why they are important and how to identify them.

Life can feel confusing when you are unsure of what's important to you. Perhaps you've taken on values of your family, society, or religion without realizing it and are feeling stuck. Values are directions that you want to go in life. They are unique to the person, so your values are likely a bit or maybe a lot different from my values or from your loved ones' values. As humans, we can easily get on autopilot and fail to take the time to ask ourselves "am I living a valued life?" And by that I mean a life consistent with your values! We often feel the most at peace with ourselves and with our lives when we are living according to our values.