Self-compassion is the ability to show love, empathy, concern, understanding and acceptance towards yourself. Being compassionate towards others is often perceived as natural and a good quality, yet turning that compassionate inwards towards the self, especially during difficult times is perceived by many as self-pity or self-centredness. The misconception lies in the manner in which we define and perceive self-compassion.
Self-compassion was defined by Neff(2003) as having three core elements
1. Self-kindness: In difficult times, when things do not go according to plan and when negative stuff occur, we often tend to automatically criticize ourselves, talk harshly towards the self and put negative labels on who we are. With self-kindness the inner dialogues become kinder, more soothing and encouraging rather than callous and belittling. Self- kindness is about accepting the self as a whole that is assembled from strengths and weaker attributes and recognizing when we do the best that we can. When we understand and accept that we have limitations, we can be kinder to ourselves especially on those difficult occasions when we feel bad. It is often easier to recognize and accept flaws and weakness in others, but when it comes to the self is seems like a huge abnormal challenge. Greater compassion and kindness can be achieved when the ruthless self- criticism is reduced and self –acceptance is increased.
We are all imperfect and fallible human beings, who live in an imperfect world. Part of self-compassion is also accepting that sometimes negative and painful experiences could happen and sometimes we will fail. With self-kindness it is possible to perceive i.e. setback, mistakes, failures etc as learning experiences and personal growth opportunities. Accepting the self and reality as they are and reacting with kindness and sympathy instead of reacting with anger, frustration, self-blame and self- criticism will bring more emotional balance and peace of mind in our lives. Additionally, the self- esteem will be more stable and realistic as it will not fluctuate drastically with every external event such as failure, rejection or success.
2.Recognizing one’s own humanity– Going through personal difficulties, suffering and failures give a sense of isolation. One feels as if s/he is the only one going through the difficulties, failures, pain and suffering, while others don’t understand or have not experienced it. Sometimes during hardships people may feel that somehow they are abnormal and different from others. The fact is that all human have been though painful experiences in the past, some go through it in the present and others will in the future. It is part of the human experience. When we are able to recognize that feeling weak, vulnerable, imperfect and distressed are part the common human experience and not a personal or individually isolated, then we will be able to be more compassionate towards ourselves when we need it.
3.Mindfulness: Part of self compassion is being aware, recognizing the emotions, validating and accepting the painful emotions as they are and for what they are, just emotions. In being mindful you do not judge yourself for having these emotions, nor do you avoid, suppress, minimize or interact with the negative emotions. By being non- judgemental, open and receptive and letting the emotion just be and pass by, a more balance emotional state is reached. Compassion arrives from the objective observation and attention that the pain exist and not from judging it for being there, ignoring, denying or intensifying the emotion. When we are only aware, we can be compassionate to our own pain. Think of a friend in distress. Do you judge him, belittle him, ignore his emotions or do you only observe, acknowledge his pain and have a desire to alleviate the pain and comfort him for feeling that way? Self-compassion involves acting the same way towards yourself as you would a friend. With a acknowledgment and acceptance of the emotional pain comes the intention and understanding of what you need to do to comfort and care for yourself, heal and move forwards.
Other benefits of self-compassion are reduced depression, anxiety and stress, as well as, increased life satisfaction. Self compassionate people report more enthusiasm, inspiration, excitement, happiness and optimism. The positive emotions and warm embraces of self- compassion help balance and reduce intensity of the negative emotions, which improves psychological well- being. Additionally, self-compassion was also found to improve coping with chronically physical pain. There are many more scientific proven benefits to self- compassion. Self-compassion is evidently a very beneficial coping method, which we should adapt in our life. Please feel free to share how you embrace self-compassion in your own life.
Costa, J., & Pinto-Gouveia, J. (2011). Acceptance of pain, self-compassion and psychopathology:Using the chronic pain acceptance questionnaire to identify patients’ subgroups. Clinical Psychology and Psychotherapy, 18, 292-302.
Hollis-Walker, L., & Colosimo, K. (2011). Mindfulness, self-compassion, and happiness in nonmeditators:A theoretical and empirical examination. Personality and Individual.Differences, 50, 222-227.
Neff, K. D. (2003). Self-compassion: An alternative conceptualization of a healthy attitude toward oneself. Self and Identity, 2, 85-102
Neff, K. D., Kirkpatrick, K., & Rude, S. S. (2007). Self-compassion and its link to adaptive psychological functioning. Journal of Research in Personality, 41, 139-154.