Ask the Expert: Managing difficult emotions with self-compassion, with Dr. Susan Orsillo

Anger. Frustration. Grief. Guilt. Complex emotions like these can be hard to understand, and even harder to control. Fortunately, we can mitigate their effects by practicing self-compassion, as LifeSpeak expert Dr. Susan Orsillo explained during this week’s Ask the Expert webchat. She’s a professor of psychology at Suffolk University in Boston, MA, and has conducted research and written extensively about mindfulness, anxiety, and psychotherapy for the past 20 years. Author of over 90 scholarly articles and book chapters, her work focuses on the ways in which mindfulness can help people struggling with worry and anxiety to engage more fully in their lives. With funding from the National Institutes of Health, in collaboration with her colleague Dr. Lizabeth Roemer, she has developed an intervention that uses acceptance and mindfulness strategies to reduce worry and depression and improve quality of life.

Here are the highlights from our webchat with Dr. Susan Orsillo. Please keep in mind all user participation is anonymous.

Practicing self-compassion

QUESTION — “I am an occupational health nurse. What are some simple exercises I can suggest to clients to promote self-compassion?”

Dr. Susan Orsillo — “There are a lot of great exercises you can try. I will say, in my experience, people’s reactions are very different so it’s good to offer a few suggestions:

  • Sometimes it’s helpful to think of someone who has showed care to you in the past and imagine how they would respond.
  • Parents in particular often find it useful to imagine what they would say to a child going through the experience they are going through.
  • Sometimes simply enacting self-compassion – so giving yourself a hug or taking care of yourself in some way – lighting a candle, listening to music, etc.”

Replacing self-criticism with self-compassion

QUESTION — “I often say I’m my own biggest critic when it comes to my home and work life. I often criticize my own work to the point where I never feel like I’m doing well enough, whether it’s doing chores around the house or doing my job. Any suggestions for how I can manage the self-criticism?”

Dr. Susan Orsillo — “It’s natural to have those thoughts – we all do from time to time.  The key is how to respond to them when they arise.  ‘Listening’ or buying into them can be incredibly painful. One way to work with these thoughts is to define our values – what matters to us in each domain (home and work) – with behaviors we as humans can achieve.  So rather than ‘this needs to be perfect’, something like ‘I intend to put effort into my work.’  And rather than ‘I need to be the best parent’, something like ‘I intend to act lovingly toward my family.’  When those self-critical thoughts arise, we acknowledge their presence, remind ourselves how challenging these thoughts can be, and then refocus on living consistently with our values.”

Overcoming imposter syndrome

QUESTION — “How can I manage/overcome ‘imposter syndrome’?”

Dr. Susan Orsillo — “Great question! An important part of self-compassion is what we call ‘common humanity’ and that is the idea that all humans are imperfect and we all suffer.  Most people can relate to feeling imposter syndrome whether they are beginners or experts in the field! Recognizing that those feelings are just part of being human and understanding that they don’t define us and we don’t need to ‘listen’ to them is the best way to ensure they don’t cause too much distress or impact the choices we make. It can be helpful to imagine those thoughts as a familiar, somewhat challenging, friend or family member.  We acknowledge they are present, notice we wish they weren’t, but don’t get caught up battling with them.  Instead, bringing our attention to who we want to be in a moment and noticing that taking action with those imposter thoughts is a sign of our courage!”

Don’t miss our next Ask the Expert session!

If you weren’t able to catch our webchat with Dr. Susan Orsillo, you can always sign in to your LifeSpeak account to read the transcript. And be sure to log on November 20 at 3 PM EST to chat with Constance Brown-Riggs, who will be answering your questions about diabetes, nutrition, and prevention. If you don’t have a LifeSpeak account, please have your HR team reach out to us about your company subscribing.

What is Ask the Expert?

Our Ask the Expert sessions allow our users to have regular access to our experts in real-time, which allows them to have their pressing questions answered. This opportunity provides our users with practical and easily implemented tips to help them make real changes in their lives. To learn more, don’t hesitate to book a walk-through.