Self-compassion is a buzzword lately, and for good reason! It’s not only a woo-woo phrase used by people who drink green juice and use crystals; it’s also an incredible tool that we can all access anywhere, at any time, for free. Self-compassion has been proven (by science!) to have immeasurable benefits for all of us in many different realms of our lives. But, what are we talking about when we say “self-compassion?" What does it mean, how does it help, and how do we practice it?
Self-compassion can be defined as extending compassion to ourselves not only during positive moments, but also (and perhaps more importantly) during moments of perceived inadequacy, failure, or general suffering. It means treating ourselves like we would treat a friend, offering ourselves kindness as we navigate Being Human (which, let’s face it, can be really tough sometimes), and giving ourselves permission to be imperfect and still deserving of our own compassion.
Self-compassion has been shown in numerous research studies to be a huge source of support in coping with the stressors of everyday life, as well as managing symptoms of depression and anxiety. According to Kristin Neff, who I consider to be the Queen of Self-Compassion, “people who are compassionate to themselves are much less likely to be depressed, anxious, and stressed, and are much more likely to be happy, resilient, and optimistic about their future. In short, they have better mental health.” It has also been proven to support us in developing greater self-worth, improved body image, reduced distress, and increased motivation. Self-compassion helps us to more easily bounce back from more challenging moments, rather than dwelling in them with the automatic self-critical thoughts we’re often too familiar with.
Self-compassion includes three main components according to Neff:
1. Self-kindness: replacing self-criticism with a more kind, gentle inner voice
2. Common Humanity: recognizing that suffering and failure are human experiences that we all have, and knowing we aren’t alone
3. Mindfulness: paying attention to our inner experiences in the present moment, without judgment.
To utilize these components – to be kind, forgiving, and loving towards ourselves—is much easier in instances of pride, achievement, or success; it’s easier to do when we’re doing well and life is going our way. What about when we make a mistake, do something outside of our values, or screw up - the times we really need our own compassion? This is where self-compassion becomes a powerful resource – even more so than self-esteem. Neff shares that self-compassion is more important to cultivate than self-esteem because self-esteem tends to dwindle when we fail – when we need it most. Self-esteem is hinged on success, on outcomes, and on external “stuff”. On the other hand, self-compassion shows up during times of challenge and reminds us we are human, we are still enough, and we can transcend those darker moments with tenderness and grace. While self-esteem is reserved for the “good” moments in life, self-compassion is accessible and supportive during the tougher moments, as well.
So, how do we practice self-compassion (emphasis on the word practice)? First, it requires mindfulness: pausing, being present with how we are feeling without judgment, and recognizing when we might need our own compassion. By practicing mindfulness, we give ourselves an opportunity to transcend the automatic negative thoughts that may come in a situation, and we empower ourselves to introduce more self-compassion into our lives. Once we are mindful of our moments of suffering, we can then implement self-compassion practices into our daily lives.
Here are some concrete ways to practice self-compassion:
· Ask yourself what you would say to a close friend in the situation
· Give yourself permission to be imperfect and still be good enough.
· Strive to cultivate acceptance of all of yourself – not just the joyful, positive parts.
· Approach situations with curiosity, rather than judgment.
· Develop a self-compassion mantra that involves the three components listed above.
· Write yourself a letter from the perspective of someone who loves you.
· Speak kindly to yourself during both “good” and “bad” moments.
Self-compassion isn’t about making our pain or suffering go away; it’s about learning to be with it, and with ourselves in it, more kindly and lovingly. I hope this summary of self-compassion sparks something within you, or inspires you to practice it as you encounter your own moments of struggle in life. Being human isn’t easy, and being our own worst critic is the last thing we need during moments of suffering. We all deserve our own kindness and compassion, and it’s a tool we can all add to our kit and carry with us as we navigate our daily lives.
Lisa Olivera, LMFT #106546
Facebook: Lisa Olivera Therapy