Self-compassion isn’t a term that I was familiar with until it came up in my Instagram feed. I was intrigued immediately. I have practiced self-love and self-care , but self-compassion is new territory for me.
Self-compassion is extending compassion to one’s self in instances of perceived inadequacy, failure, or general suffering. (Wikipedia) To be conscious of your own distress and have a desire to alleviate this feeling of suffering. We are so quick to go to self-criticism or to ignore the shame and pain we feel when we fail.
Dr Kristin Neff described three elements of self-compassion. Dr Neff is an associate professor in the Austin’s department of psychology at the University of Texas.
The first element is self-kindness. This means to be warm and understanding towards ourselves when we do something really stupid or fail, or feel inadequate. Don’t ignore the feelings or torture yourself with self-criticism. Be gentle towards yourself by accepting the reality of your circumstances and work with the feelings and not against them. I have made so many mistakes with raising my children. I think that all parents do. And for the longest time I always felt that everything that did go wrong in their lives was my fault. I practiced self-criticism like a pro. Only when I learned to accept that, although I did make loads of mistakes, I can’t go back and have a do-over. It is what it is and to keep beating myself up about it is not good for anyone.
The second element is to recognise that our experience is part of a larger human experience. All humans suffer. I am not the only person that has ever made mistakes. Humans are vulnerable and imperfect. Self-compassion acknowledges that suffering and personal inadequacy are shared human experiences. These are things we all go through not something that is just happening to me alone.
The third element is mindfulness. Self-compassion calls for balance. Our negative emotions shouldn’t be suppressed, but neither should they be exaggerated. We must be willing to take a step back from our situation and see the bigger picture. It is the readiness to observe our negative thoughts and emotions with openness and clarity. Holding them in mindful awareness. Mindfulness is a non-judgmental, receptive and honest state of mind. You observe the feelings as they are – you don’t deny them, but you also don’t go down the rabbit-hole of negative reactivity.
Self-compassion is not self-pity. Self-pity is a state of mind that makes you play the victim. It is an emotional response that brings about the belief that you cannot cope with an unpleasant situation.
For many years we have been taught that we should have good self-esteem. Self-esteem is a subjective evaluation of the self. The cost of subjective emotional evaluation of the self can lead to distorted self-perceptions. Self-compassion requires you to mindfully observe your emotions and to take responsibility for your feelings and your situation.
How do we practice self-compassion? We can start by answering a few questions mindfully and truthfully. What things are stopping me from being kind to myself? In which small ways can I be kind to myself? If I loved myself completely, how would I treat myself? What kind thing can I remind myself about when I need it?
These questions have challenged me yet again. I found that some parts of my mind are still functioning in victim mode. Every so often I get confronted with stuff I haven’t completely worked through yet. Self-compassion is definitely something that I want to pursue. I am so very grateful for opportunities to see the truth of me.