I am a huge fan of Dr. Kristin Neff. I call her the “The Queen of Self Compassion” and bow to her work, and how she has helped so many of us around the world to become kinder to ourselves.
In case you need a primer on self-compassion, here is some wonderful stuff from Dr. Neff:
What is Self-Compassion?
Self-compassion involves acting the same way towards yourself when you are having a difficult time, fail, or notice something you don’t like about yourself. Instead of just ignoring your pain with a “stiff upper lip” mentality, you stop to tell yourself “this is really difficult right now,” how can I comfort and care for myself in this moment?
Instead of mercilessly judging and criticizing yourself for various inadequacies or shortcomings, self-compassion means you are kind and understanding when confronted with personal failings – after all, who ever said you were supposed to be perfect?
You may try to change in ways that allow you to be more healthy and happy, but this is done because you care about yourself, not because you are worthless or unacceptable as you are. Perhaps most importantly, having compassion for yourself means that you honor and accept your humanness. Things will not always go the way you want them to. You will encounter frustrations, losses will occur, you will make mistakes, bump up against your limitations, fall short of your ideals. This is the human condition, a reality shared by all of us. The more you open your heart to this reality instead of constantly fighting against it, the more you will be able to feel compassion for yourself and all your fellow humans in the experience of life.
The Three Elements of Self-Compassion
Self-kindness vs. Self-judgment
Self-compassion entails being warm and understanding toward ourselves when we suffer, fail, or feel inadequate, rather than ignoring our pain or flagellating ourselves with self-criticism. Self-compassionate people recognize that being imperfect, failing, and experiencing life difficulties is inevitable, so they tend to be gentle with themselves when confronted with painful experiences rather than getting angry when life falls short of set ideals. People cannot always be or get exactly what they want. When this reality is denied or fought against suffering increases in the form of stress, frustration and self-criticism. When this reality is accepted with sympathy and kindness, greater emotional equanimity is experienced.
Common humanity vs. Isolation
Frustration at not having things exactly as we want is often accompanied by an irrational but pervasive sense of isolation – as if “I” were the only person suffering or making mistakes. All humans suffer, however. The very definition of being “human” means that one is mortal, vulnerable and imperfect. Therefore, self-compassion involves recognizing that suffering and personal inadequacy is part of the shared human experience – something that we all go through rather than being something that happens to “me” alone.
Mindfulness vs. Over-identification
Self-compassion also requires taking a balanced approach to our negative emotions so that feelings are neither suppressed nor exaggerated. This equilibrated stance stems from the process of relating personal experiences to those of others who are also suffering, thus putting our own situation into a larger perspective. It also stems from the willingness to observe our negative thoughts and emotions with openness and clarity, so that they are held in mindful awareness. Mindfulness is a non-judgmental, receptive mind state in which one observes thoughts and feelings as they are, without trying to suppress or deny them. We cannot ignore our pain and feel compassion for it at the same time. At the same time, mindfulness requires that we not be “over-identified” with thoughts and feelings, so that we are caught up and swept away by negative reactivity.
Self-Compassion as an on-going Practise
I confess that while I profess that everyone practice self-compassion on a daily basis, I am not always good at doing this myself. Try as I might, I am human, and often return to old habit patterns of being hard on myself. I was in a session with my own therapist recently, and she gently pointed this out. It was a very humbling moment, indeed. She asked me in a soft voice, “Esther, have you heard of the self-compassion break”?
No, I had not. My immediate reaction was a sharp rising of heat in my body, followed by feelings of shame and embarrassment, because I thought that I, a supposed teacher of self-compassion, should have at least heard about this particular exercise. A cosmic joke was played on me, and I decided to laugh with it instead of beating myself up. Thus, I was able to shine the light of self-compassion towards myself in that moment by finding the humour in the situation. Then my therapist walked me through the steps using an example I had brought up of where I was being particularly hard on myself regarding a painful situation in my life. I share it with you here in the hopes that it brings you as much peace, clarity and lightness as it did for me.
Again, this is from the wonderful work of Dr. Kristen Neff and can be found here.
The Self-Compassion Break
Think of a situation in your life that is difficult, that is causing you stress. Call the situation to mind, and see if you can actually feel the stress and emotional discomfort in your body.
Now, say to yourself:
1. This is a moment of suffering
That’s mindfulness. Other options include:
- This hurts
- This is stress
2. Suffering is a part of life
That’s common humanity. Other options include:
- Other people feel this way
- I’m not alone
- We all struggle in our lives
Now, put your hands over your heart, feel the warmth of your hands and the gentle touch of your hands on your chest.
Say to yourself:
3. May I be kind to myself
You can also ask yourself, “What do I need to hear right now to express kindness to myself?” Is there a phrase that speaks to you in your particular situation, such as:
- May I give myself the compassion that I need
- May I learn to accept myself as I am
- May I forgive myself
- May I be strong
- May I be patient
This practice can be used any time of day or night, and will help you remember to evoke the three aspects of self-compassion when you need it most.
Contact me to set up a free 15-minute phone consultation to explore doing counselling sessions to learn to become more compassionate towards yourself.
To read more articles I’ve written on self-compassion, click on this page: https://www.esherkane.com/category/e…
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