What is self compassion?
Self compassion is a topic that I am really passionate about and that I continue to work on both personally and professionally.
Last month, I specifically worked on this topic with my Mindful Mondays group as well as with some of my 1-2-1 clients, so I thought I would share with you some of the insights that came from this work, in the hope that they might motivate you to be kinder to yourself.
Both my work and my blog on self compassion are inspired by the amazing studies, writings and research by Dr Kristin Neff and Christopher Germer on mindful self-compassion and I would encourage anyone trying to become more self compassionate to read The Mindful Self-Compassion Workbook.
As always, let’s start by defining the topic at hand: what is self-compassion?
→ Self-compassion is the ability to empathise with yourself.
→ Self compassion means being able to self-soothe.
→ Self-compassion is about accepting our true nature and who we are.
Empathising with yourself
One of the most common examples that is used to illustrate self-compassion is that you can be kinder to yourself by talking to yourself as if you were talking to your friend. Unfortunately, from a very young age, we are taught how to behave compassionately towards others but we are not taught how to deal with our own emotions. Consequently, when someone makes a mistake we are quick at offering reassurance to them, but we are not as fast as forgiving ourselves if we are the ones at fault.
This is about being able to feel better about ourselves and not exacerbating the difficult situation that we are experiencing. We often put a lot of our energy resisting what we are feeling when we don’t like our current circumstances. We either pretend that our feelings are not there or we go down the route of criticising ourselves for having created a certain situation. Self-soothing is about recognising that, in order to feel better in a moment of difficulty, we need to tend to our emotional needs because self-criticism does not help us fix the problem.
Accepting our true nature and who we are
Whilst this seems like a big ask, a lot of our frustration stems from our struggle to accept our true nature. We are human beings and therefore are: imperfect, a constant work in progress, not superheroes, emotional creatures, with a finite source of energy yet we are inevitably connected with each other, much more than we may think. Reminding ourselves of our common humanity is at the heart of self compassion because it reminds us that we are normal and, most importantly, not alone!
Why is self-compassion important?
Being able to accept, appreciate and care for ourselves is fundamental to our mental health and wellbeing. The relationship that we have with ourselves forms the foundations to how we see and perceive the outside world and it affects our self-esteem, our confidence and our ability to deal with life challenges and adversity.
Our suffering increases exponentially when we have a negative inner dialogue and are constantly criticising ourselves for whatever situation we are in. The ability to self-soothe enables us to offer ourselves reassurance and hope. Particularly when self-criticism becomes a constant whisper in our mind, we need self-compassion to shield ourselves from that inner source of stress and pain: sometimes we are our harshest critic and self-compassion is the only medicine that can cure it. With self-compassion, we can develop the ability to identify what we need in order to self-soothe and this is crucial in order to get better.
How can I be more compassionate towards myself?
Develop awareness of when you are criticising yourself by paying attention to your inner dialogue. If you lack self-compassion, the first step is to spot when you are giving yourself a hard time.
Cultivate a new way of loving yourself: unconditionally. The way we love and accept ourselves is so intrinsically linked to conditions such as our productivity, our looks, our acceptance from others, our successes… but what about loving ourselves without any of these strings attached? The way we would love a child?
Remind yourself you are a human being, hence imperfect and prone to mistakes. As humans we experience difficulty in our lives but we also have the ability to overcome pain.
Bring yourself back to the present moment - accept that you are experiencing a moment of adversity but you won’t feel like this forever. Our suffering typically comes from what we are projecting into the future or from our past. Repeat to yourself: in this moment all is well.
Ask yourself - in order to feel better about my current situation - what do I need? This one of my biggest take-aways from The Mindful Self-Compassion Workbook I mentioned earlier. Take some time to understand what would make you feel better given your current circumstances, sometimes this could mean simply resting, sometimes it could mean telling yourself words of encouragement and reassurance, sometimes it could mean springing into action and putting an end (or a beginning) to something. Whatever it is, by stopping, pausing and asking yourself the question, you will be giving yourself the chance to get better.
As I often say, the relationship with ourselves is the hardest one to master! Yet, I truly believe that by learning to love ourselves a bit more, we can live a much happier life.
I hope you enjoyed this blog and please get in touch with me if you would like find out more about how I can help.