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Self-compassion

19 November 2021

To understand self-compassion, we must understand compassion. Compassion is the ability to show empathy, love and concern for other’s suffering. When we notice their distress, we want to show them understanding, kindness and empathy without judgement. Feeling this compassion and acceptance also means we recognise and understand that they're imperfect, that they suffer and make mistakes. In other words, they're human.

But think back to the last time you failed or made an important mistake. Did you feel shame, and scold yourself for being stupid or selfish? Did you feel alone, as if you were the only one to ever make a mistake? Or did you accept the error is a part of being human, and talk to yourself with care and tenderness? We often find it far more difficult to show ourselves compassion than others, instead mercilessly judging and criticising ourselves for any perceived inadequacies and shortcomings.

Self-compassion is the ability to direct the compassionate emotions we feel for others towards ourselves. To feel kindness and understanding for ourselves especially when we make mistakes or face failure. Directing feelings of kindness and care towards ourselves and focusing our attention and energy on how we might lessen pain or distress, are crucial components of self-compassion.

Self-compassion is composed of three interrelated components. Although different, these three components work together to produce a self-compassionate mindset.

  • Self-kindness not self-judgment. Instead of judging ourselves as inadequate and berating ourselves, we treat ourselves with kindness and care.
  • Common humanity instead of isolation. When we suffer, it’s easy to feel alone but through self-compassion, we connect to the fact that all people suffer and all people are imperfect.
  • Mindfulness instead of over-identification. It’s easy to get caught up in our emotions and become overwhelmed by our suffering. Mindfulness invites us to observe our emotions and thoughts with curiosity and non-judgment.

Why is Self-Compassion Important?

Research has shown that self-compassion is strongly linked to good mental health and well-being. It has shown that self-compassionate people tend to have less mental health issues, such as depression, anxiety and stress. They also have a better quality of life and have a greater sense of well-being. Self-compassion is thought to release the beneficial hormone oxytocin, which promotes feelings of connection, closeness and calm.

How can we become better at practicing Self-compassion?

  • Part of caring for ourselves is listening to and addressing our needs, so checking in with ourselves to see what those needs are. It might be taking break to recharge, having a nap, or contacting a friend for a chat.
  • By making a note of times we use self-criticism or self-judgment, we can then ask ourselves whether these judgements and criticisms have helped. We can also pose the question “what would happen if we changed self-criticism to self-compassion?”
  • Finding small ways to be kind to ourselves in difficult moments. This may be with a cup of tea, watching a funny video, journaling, short walks, or meditation. Rituals like these can soothe and nourish us.
  • Guided meditation. There are many self-compassion meditations available online, including Kristin Neff’s guides for: Doing a Compassionate Body Scan, Noting Your Emotions, Taking a Protective Break, and Working with the Emotions in Your Body

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