What Is Self-Compassion?
In a world that feels like it is becoming more (unfortunately) divisive by the moment, with border walls and union exits headlining the news cycle, I feel compelled to put out - in this digital space we call the internet - some good vibes and remind people that, as humans, we are way more similar than we are different. Today, we’re talking about compassion...specifically about self-compassion.
Compassion is a human response to suffering. Here’s an example: A kid falls, scrapes her knee and a compassionate dad runs out, asks if she’s okay, tells her she’s going to be alright and gives her a big hug and some ice cream to forget about the pain. Pretty simple. Now take that same example, and instead, imagine the dad runs out, berates his daughter for playing by telling her she’s extremely uncoordinated and too stupid to realize it. Um...what? We would at least do a double-take and more-likely tell him to knock it off if we heard a parent talking to a child like that.
Why, then, do we allow our own thoughts to berate us on a regular basis? I’m not good enough. I will never get that job. I always say the wrong thing. It goes on and on. Sound familiar? We talk to ourselves like we’re the worst people on earth for accidentally saying the wrong thing, not having enough experience, or for some even sillier reason. It doesn’t do us any good to have that kind of negative self-talk. Literally none.
Many people fear that if they let themselves off the hook for their mistakes they will become a useless, procrastinating slob. But studies have shown that people who practice self-compassion - or recognizing their emotions and treating themselves with kindness and forgiveness - are actually less likely to procrastinate, more likely to hold themselves accountable and more likely to be happy (1).
We tend to use shame, guilt, and anxiety as primary motivators in life. But, that isn’t healthy and it doesn’t work. Instead, once people begin to practice self-compassion, they become happier, less stressed, more responsible, more accountable, and overall way better people to be around.
So, what exactly is self-compassion and how can you practice it? Read on, my friend.
Core Elements of Self-Compassion
The easiest way to define of self-compassion is by saying it’s how you would treat a good friend if they were suffering. You listen to their emotions, allow them to open up, and support them with kind words and reassurances. Through self-compassion, we learn how to be a good friend to ourselves when we need it most (2).
Some of the leading researchers on self-compassion are Kristin Neff PhD and Christopher Germer PhD. For years, they have been researching and writing about self-compassion and created a mindfulness-based practice called Mindful Self-Compassion, or MSC. Their book outlines the ideas and techniques they teach for cultivating self-compassion. Below, are the three components that have shown to make up self-compassion.
Self-Kindness: Self-kindness is the practice of being kind to ourselves. Consider treating yourself as if you were a child. How would you talk to yourself then? This practice counters our tendency to beat ourselves up when we make a mistake or fail in some way.
-Characteristics of self-kindness: supportive, encouraging, accepting, self-soothing
Common Humanity: As I mentioned before, we are all so similar and connected in more ways than we are different. Common humanity cultivates this sense of interconnectedness. It acknowledges that no one is perfect and everyone fails and makes mistakes in life. When we suffer, we tend to feel alone in our suffering, but the knowledge that we are all connected by the fact that we all suffer enables us to transform suffering into connection.
-Characteristics of common humanity: Acknowledging imperfections, sense of interconnectedness
Mindfulness: As you may know, mindfulness is equally about awareness of your feelings and emotions in the present moment as it is about allowing and not judging those feelings and emotions. Mindfulness is “essential to self-compassion because we need to be able to acknowledge when we’re suffering and be present with our pain.” Many people aren’t aware of how much pain their self-criticism is causing them.
-Characteristics of mindfulness: awareness, acceptance, nonjudgment
How to Practice Self- Compassion
Self-compassion is something that takes practice. You’re retraining your brain to think differently, and after years of doing it one way, it takes patience to make that new connection smooth and natural.
Here are some tips:
-Feel Your Emotions: Allow emotions to be felt fully. This sounds simple, but many of us have the tendency to push away our feelings. Allow yourself to feel them and while you do, provide yourself with emotional support through positive words and praise.
-Be A Good Friend: Support self in a way you would support a good friend. If you mess up, think “what would I say to someone if they did the same thing?”
-Meditate: A loving-kindness meditation is a great way to support yourself and practice self-compassion.
-Be Nice: Speak to self in a tender, comforting way.
-Listen: Listening to your body is one of the best things you can ever do. Give yourself some attention and notice how your body and mind respond to situations. Allow yourself to feel those things, don’t try to change them. Then notice how it feels once you accept what’s happening as is.
-Drop the Shoulds: We put so much pressure on ourselves because of what our parents or society tells us we “should” do. Try to bring awareness to your thoughts and when you do things because you think you should. Ask yourself if you really want to do it or if you’re doing it for someone else. Try to do more of what you want. Self-compassion isn’t selfish.
1. Kelly McGonigal - The Science of Compassion