What is self-compassion?
Learn how to treat yourself with the same kindness and care you show towards others.
At a very simplistic level self-compassion is the difference between living with an internal narrative that is a harsh internal critic, and one that is a kind and supportive friend. Research is increasingly evidencing the impact of self-compassion on many elements of wellbeing.
Self-compassion ‘entails being kind and understanding toward oneself in instances of pain or failure rather than being harshly self-critical; perceiving one’s experiences as part of the larger human experience rather than seeing them as isolating; and holding painful thoughts and feelings in mindful awareness rather than over-identifying with them.’ (Neff, K., 2003)
To understand self-compassion further we need to break it down into the three main components identified by Neff:
• Self-kindness versus self-judgement
• Common humanity versus isolation
• Mindfulness versus over-identification
Self-kindness means showing care and understanding towards ourselves. It is accepting ourselves and offering ourselves comfort when we need it. This doesn’t mean we accept things about ourselves we want to change, or which cause us difficulty, it about approaching this from a place of kindness, rather than being critical and judgemental about perceived inadequacies.
Common humanity is about recognising that we all make mistakes and fail sometimes. We are not alone in this and it is acknowledging that humans are not perfect. Recognising that we share human experiences and can feel connected to others, even when we are facing a personal struggle. It is about not feeling alone in our difficulties with the distorted perspective that everyone else is coping and happy.
Mindfulness is being present and balanced in our awareness, having space for a non-judgemental and objective perspective. This is in contrast to over-identification when we get so caught up in our negative thoughts and emotions our ability to think clearly is restricted.
Why is self-compassion important?
There is an increasing body of evidence that shows that self-compassion is a strong predictor of wellbeing and increased satisfaction with life.
What is misunderstood about self-compassion?
Generally, we are brought up with the message to think of others. Social pressures and expectations mean we tend to put others first.
There is a fear that being kind to ourselves will seem selfish and indulgent and these are behaviours we feel guilty about demonstrating.
There is concern that we will go easy on ourselves or let ourselves ‘off the hook’ when things go wrong, or we don’t do things we set out to do. The evidence tells a different story. Those that are compassionate towards themselves achieve more, but from a place of kindness and self-worth, rather than criticism.
How can I increase my self-compassion?
There are many interventions and exercises that can help build self-compassion. This is a quick practical exercise which helps me recognise when I am not showing compassion towards myself. Try it.
• When something doesn’t go to plan for example you forget something or make an error at work, notice how you talk to yourself. Notice the exact language you use.
• Ask yourself if you would speak to someone else in the same way.
• Take the same scenario and consider how you would respond if a friend or colleague had the same issue. Notice the language you use.
• Now, use this awareness to reframe how we talk to ourselves, offering kindness rather than judgement, recognise these things happen to people – it isn’t just you, and notice the emotion rather than getting swept up in it.
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