Self-Empathy Is Not Self-Indulgent, It’s Playful

Mina Samuels
Happy Brain Club
Published in
8 min readOct 20, 2021

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Nick Fewings on Unsplash

I am on a learning spree — engaged in advanced trainings in Non-Violent Communication and Internal Family Systems. At every step of the way, I’m integrating what I learn into my work, building connections across disciplines. Mostly, I love stuffing myself with ideas until I’m full-fit-to-burst (as my grandfather used to say after a huge, delicious meal, which always included my grandmother’s pie).

Every once in a while, I cross over the line from full to not-even-a-wafer-thin-mint-more-or-I’ll-throw-up.

One recent week, I had four opportunities to engage in a deep self-empathy practice, a cornucopia of written, embodied and partnered exercises. When I got to the fourth iteration, I was experiencing a serious case of self-empathy burnout. No more fucking empathy. My navel is over-gazed. My partner in the exercise is pretty creative though and he responded to my resistance with a playful idea — we role played a conversation between the part of me who was resistant and the part of me who wanted (and always wants) to offer me self-empathy.

This idea of formally acknowledging the different voices in my head comes from Internal Family Systems. A technique that honours and explores our natural and inherent multiplicity. Here’s a simple example of the kinds of voices we all have: You’re served a piece of chocolate cake. Voice 1 says, “That looks so delicious, I want to eat every bite.” Voice 2 says, “You just ate a huge meal, don’t eat more cake, you’ll feel sick.” Of course, we have a lot more complicated voices, too, with distinct personalities, which have been cultivated by our history, our successes and our wounds. When we begin to make contact with each voice as a distinct part of ourselves, we can develop a more integrated and harmonious understanding of ourselves and even of others.

So, it’s these parts that my partner and I were invoking. We’ve worked this way before and in approaching the conversation as a form of play, we are always surprised by what emerges. Afterward, I expanded on the dialogue between the two parts in an exploratory writing session, in an effort to better discern why I was feeling resistant to receiving more self-compassion. I gave the parts names (I find this helps a lot to distinguish and humanize them, and then to integrate them into my…

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Mina Samuels
Happy Brain Club

Writer. Performer. Citizen. Traveler. Enthusiast. Author of Run Like a Girl 365 Days A Year and other books. www.minasamuels.com