Monday, 14 June 2021

Overcoming shame with compassion during difficult times

What a crazy year 2020 was and 2021 continues to be. For some, the covid-19 lockdowns in Scotland presented opportunities to become an expert banana bread baker while becoming fluent in French on Duolingo and achieving mastery in oil painting. For most of us though, it was a year scattered with jobs losses, health scares, and the deaths of loved ones. 

For those who suffered tremendously during lockdown, viewing those who appeared to thrive on social media may have elicited feelings of frustration, anger, or maybe even shame. Perhaps this shame stemmed from feeling like something was wrong with your ability to cope with this stressful event as you compared yourself to your peers. 

It’s very easy to get entangled in a shame spiral and often very challenging to get back out again. Here are some tried and tested tips and tricks to overcome shame with compassion as we all try and cope with difficult situations.

We all have different ways of coping

Comparing ourselves to others often leads to despair when we only see the positive aspects of our peers and view ourselves negatively against them. When we do this, we may put ourselves down or blame ourselves for things that are not our responsibility. In reality, everybody copes with stress differently and the ways we cope with stress are not our fault. 

Paul Gilbert, the founder of Compassion Focused Therapy said we all have ‘tricky brains’ that evolved to keep us alive. While experiencing a threatening situation (e.g. covid-19 pandemic, lockdown) some people may feel increased motivation to seek resources to survive (e.g. improve baking skills) while others may feel the need to retreat (e.g. stay in bed). Even though the coping styles are different, in both situations the person is trying to survive a stressful life event. 

By remembering that we all have different and very reasonable ways of coping, we can build compassion for ourselves and others in our joint effort to survive difficult situations.


Compassion through mindfulness and safe space imagery

When our threat detection system (red in the diagram above) is triggered, our bodies prepare to fight, flee, or freeze. I like to imagine this system as being controlled by a little security guard who presses an alarm button when a threat is detected. When this alarm button is ‘pressed’, our breathing becomes shallow, our chest becomes tight, and even our digestive system slows down! In order to calm the security guard down, we need to activate our soothing system that is affiliated with feelings of reassurance and safety. To do this, Paul Gilbert emphasised the importance of feeling compassion for ourselves that can be cultivated through deep breathing and mindfulness.

Here’s how:


Take a deep inhale in for four seconds, hold your breath for four seconds, and then exhale for six seconds.This is called circular breathing and incredibly effective in activating or soothing system (or calming down our inner ‘security guard’).


It is helpful to start by sitting comfortably in a chair with your feet flat against the floor.

  • You can start deepening your breath using the technique above (four in, four hold, six out). 
  • Start to bring your awareness to the space around you, noticing any sounds or smells that can help you to ground yourself in the present moment
  • Bring to mind a place that feels safe and welcoming, this place could be a cabin in a forest, a beachfront chalet or a mountain lodge. 
  • Bring your awareness to the details of this place, what do you see? Are there any smells? What are some sounds you may experience?
  • Now imagine that the place itself takes joy in you being there. Allow yourself to feel how this place takes pleasure in you being there. 
  • Explore the feelings arising when you imagine this place, and whenever you are ready you can open your eyes.

These techniques will help you to soothe yourself in times of stress. Always remember that we are in this together and having compassion for yourself is the best way to approach any challenges that come your way.

For more information about learning to love yourself, sign up to our webinar 'Overcoming Shame And Learning To Love Yourself' taking place on Friday 18 June 2021 at 12 noon BST. 

Cameron Cunningham works as Counsellor/Therapist at First Psychology Glasgow. She will be presenting the webinar 'Overcoming Shame And Learning To Love Yourself'

Thursday, 3 June 2021

Teaching your children to love themselves

As children growing up, we’re faced with many situations that might knock our confidence, such as being told not to bother our parents when they’re busy, not achieving the expected grades at school, or not fitting into a peer group because of our appearance. Whatever it is that causes children to be lacking in self-worth, it’s important that we, as adults, teach them to love themselves unconditionally. 

Research published on the website Oxford Academic showed that: “self esteem can lead to better health and social behaviour, and that poor self-esteem is associated with a broad range of mental disorders and social problems, both internalising problems (e.g depression, suicidal tendencies, eating disorders and anxiety) and externalising problems (e.g. violence and substance abuse).

The importance of self-love

Self-love is a vital component of happiness. By learning to accept our emotions, thoughts and individuality, we strengthen our core being and ultimately enjoy a more positive and fulfilled life. When children continuously question or doubt themselves, it can lead to negative emotions and a distorted self-image. There’s no denying, self-love doesn’t always come naturally to everyone and there are often situations or people that will cause us feelings of insecurity and a lack of self-worth. Over time this lack of self-worth can seriously affect mental wellbeing and even influence our decisions in life, which might not always be the best decisions.

Ways to raise confident kids

So how can we pass on the positive and valuable lessons we have learnt throughout our lives to our children so that they become confident adults? There are many ways that we can teach children self-confidence and although some may seem obvious, there may be some things you can do that perhaps you hadn’t considered.

  • Don’t worry about what other people think – one of the greatest lessons we can learn in life is to not worry too much about what other people think of us. This might seem easier said than done as there are always times when we want a person to like or respect us. However, this sense of fear often prevents us from being our true selves in order to impress others. 
  • Express your emotions  – We are human and we all experience emotions, both positive and negative. Often as children we’re taught to not let anyone see us cry, not get angry or show our fear. Although these kinds of negative emotions can lower our self-esteem, if we supress them, they can do even more long-term damage to our wellbeing. By teaching children to recognise how they’re feeling and understand why they are feeling a certain way, they can gain a clearer perspective on their emotions which will allow them to deal with certain situations in a more positive way.
  • Be honest and true to yourself  – Compromising and pleasing others can be rewarding but when it causes us to be stressed or anxious, it can lead to resentment. Teaching children that it’s okay to speak the truth, as long as it’s in an unoffensive manner, and to choose what’s right for them rather than compromising their happiness to please others is essential.
  • Show both physical and verbal affection  – Children thrive on physical and verbal affection as it reinforces that they are loved and cared for. In turn, this will boost their self-confidence and increase their emotional intelligence so they can deal with life experiences. Children also need to know that they don’t have to achieve something outstanding or be the best at everything to feel worthy of your love. 
  • Make time for them – one of the greatest things we can do for our children is spend quality time with them. If you’re busy, set aside a time when they know they will have your full attention. This doesn’t always have to involve an expensive day out, sometimes they might just want you to spend time colouring with them or reading them a story.

If you're interested in finding out more about the importance of self-love, why not book a place on our FREE webinar 'Overcoming Shame And Learning To Love Yourself' which is taking place on Friday 18 June 2021. Book your free place here >

How to protect your self-esteem when using social media

You’ve probably already heard of the idea that our self-esteem is impacted by the media we consume and are exposed to. In a world where we are bombarded with particular body types and lifestyles, how can we ensure we protect our self-esteem while still receiving benefit from using social media?
Is social media really that bad for us?
Social media use has gathered some negative attention in recent years. However, much of the research indicates that it isn’t necessarily social media alone which is the problem, but rather how we use and engage with it. Therefore, it’s worth considering why you’re using social media. Do you notice that you use it when you’re bored? Do you find yourself checking your notifications to see how many likes you’ve received on your last post? Do you notice feeling dissatisfied with areas of your life after using social media ­- your looks, or yourself as a person? These may be signs that you’re using social media in a way that could be harmful for your self-esteem and psychological wellbeing.

Does social media contribute to low self-esteem?

Our self-esteem can be impacted by how we use social media and the role it plays in our lives. Positive comments, likes, and other forms of feedback on social media can leave us feeling seen, approved of, and as though we belong. These are hugely important to us as human beings as we require a sense of belonging for our psychological wellbeing. However, if you find yourself judging your feelings of worth based upon the amount of likes you receive, or you judge your posts on the amount of engagement they receive from other users, then this may mean you’re vulnerable to experiencing the negative effects of social media use.

Remember we’re often only seeing the best versions of someone else on social media. It is not representative of real life’s struggles and the natural ups and downs we have in common with all other human beings. However, it is tempting to compare. Psychological researcher, Erin Vogel, and her team found that although social media users were aware that other users were selectively presenting the best versions of themselves, they were still negatively affected by it.

How can you use social media in a positive way to protect your self-esteem?

  • Follow social media accounts that interest you, make you laugh, smile, feel curious, and ones that leave you feeling inspired. Unfollow anything that makes you feel less than this or over focused on one area.
  • Ensure social media is not used to substitute offline interactions or solely as an attempt to address feelings of loneliness. Research has found that when people replace face-to-face relationships with connections established online, the quality of social support both given and received is sacrificed. 
  • Consider how you can ensure your life outside of social media is full, rich, and purposeful. Find a direction and purpose that aligns with your values. Research shows that those who have a higher sense of purpose are less affected by likes than those who do not feel they have much purposeful direction in life.
  • Consider how social media fits into these values. Perhaps it’s by ensuring you’re compassionate and considerate online. Perhaps it’s reducing your screen time to remain ambitious and motivated at work or to be present with your family.

If you find thinking about or doing these things difficult, try talking about it with a trusted loved one or a professional who can help you if you are really struggling.

For more information about healthy social media use, sign up to our webinar 'Getting The Most Out Of Social Media For your Wellbeing' taking place on Friday 11 June 2021 at 12 noon BST. 

Fiona Rugg-Gunn works as an Applied Psychology Practitioner at First Psychology Edinburgh. She will be presenting the webinar 'Getting The Most Out Of Social Media For Your Wellbeing'