By Mary Polce-Lynch, Ph.D., October 2011
Essentially, self-compassion is about being our own best friend. For various reasons, women tend to be more compassionate with others than they are with themselves. This article explores self-compassion and techniques to begin practicing it today.
While mostly positive outcomes result from the drive to succeed and compete, negative thoughts can also arise. Endless competition to always be better than others or to be perfect in all that we do can interfere with satisfying relationships and quality of life. This observation has led researchers to examine the value of self-compassion. Kristin Neff, Ph.D. defines self-compassion as being kind and understanding toward ourselves when we suffer or fail, seeing our experiences as part of the larger human experience and observing our painful thoughts and feelings with mindful awareness until they pass, as they always do. Christopher Germer, Ph.D. describes self-compassion as repeatedly evoking good will toward ourselves, especially when we are suffering in some way.
Researchers are finding that when we stop being self-critical and start being kind to ourselves, we begin to travel down a pathway to increased resilience. When we focus on self-compassion, we find empowerment, learning and inner strength. Practicing self-compassion helps us to maintain or even increase our productivity and focus.
According to Neff, there are three basic elements to self-compassion. The first involves self-kindness. Instead of ignoring our pain or being self-critical, self-kindness means that we are warm and understanding toward ourselves when we suffer, fail or feel inadequate. This includes accepting that people cannot always be, do or have exactly what they want. The second element of self-compassion is recognizing our common humanity. All humans suffer in similar ways; we are all affected by common external experiences such as parenting history, culture, genetics and our environments. Instead of viewing ourselves as better or worse than others or believing that "I am the only person suffering or making mistakes," we have the opportunity to look at ourselves and others in a kinder way: by recognizing that we are all interconnected. The third self-compassion element is mindfulness. Mindfulness involves taking a balanced approach and observing our negative thoughts and emotions, so that they are neither suppressed nor exaggerated. Mindfulness involves a nonjudgmental state of mind that allows us to remain open and clear rather than 'becoming' our thoughts and feelings. For example, this might include saying to ourselves, "that's the depression talking, that is not me." Mindfulness is a peaceful state that we can also achieve through breath mediation.
Simple ways to boost your self-compassion include:
- Write yourself a letter: Take the perspective of a compassionate friend and imagine yourself as another person. Think about what a kind friend might say to you in the letter. Tuck it away and read it later.
- Write down your self-talk: If you are self-criticizing because your jeans don't fit or you said the wrong thing in a situation, put those negative words down on paper. Then ask yourself if you would ever say those unkind words to your best friend. If not, what would a best friend say instead? Write that down next. This is the type of self-talk you want to be saying to yourself.
- Develop a self-compassion phrase: Start with something short and easy to memorize. This is not a positive affirmation but rather a reminder to be compassionate with yourself. For example: "I just made a mistake and I feel badly. Mistakes are a part of life, so I will correct it, move on and be kind to myself in this moment."
Self-compassion is essentially about valuing ourselves, not because we are better than others, but because each of us intrinsically deserves care and concern.
Neff, Kristin. (2011). Self-compassion: Stop beating yourself up and leave insecurity behind. NY: William Morrow. www.self-compassion.org
Germer, Christopher. (2009). The mindful path to self-compassion: Freeing yourself from destructive thoughts and patterns. NY: Guilford Press. www.mindfulselfcompassion.org