What is Self-Compassion?
When we think of compassion, we usually imagine it as something directed towards others. Compassion is both that wish we have for others to be free from suffering and the causes of suffering and the associated sense of happiness. “Compassion requires both sensitivities to the suffering of others and a deep commitment to try to prevent it and relieve it.” (Dalai Lama, 2001)
Self-compassion is the same but is directed towards ourselves instead of others. Self-compassion involves showing kindness towards ourselves in the face of all our past mistakes and failures. We relate to the part of ourselves that we find difficult to accept and show them the same kindness we would offer to a deeply loved friend or relative.
Is Self-Compassion selfish?
Self-compassion is not the same as self-indulgence; e.g., indulging in excessively sugary food may not be the kindest thing for our long term health. It is also not the same as self-pity, as self pity is not grounded in inter-relatedness with others in the way self-compassion is. Similarly, self-esteem is not the same as it involves self-evaluation. But all human beings deserve compassion regardless of what qualities or features they possess.
Why is self-compassion important?
Research has shown that self-compassion is associated with greater emotional resilience than self-esteem, it is also associated with less anger, less narcissism, a clearer sense of self, and more caring relationships (Neff, 2020). The kinder we are to ourselves, the more forgiving we can be to others. Consider if we possess no patience with our failings, then where is the resource within us to be patient with others’ failings? Compassion is not a fuzzy or dreamy thing. So many of us go through life with our inner worlds filled with secret shame and pain, but little is openly said about this or how we might go about managing it. It is not unusual to want to push away painful emotions, people, and situations to avoid them. But over time, we can find that the pain doesn’t go away? What may be called for instead is to face the problem and actively engage with it. Compassion, far from being lightweight, demands of us strength, determination, and courage (Gilbert, 2011).
5 Ways to practice self-compassion (ref: positivepsychology.ie)
There are five ways to practice self-compassion
Stop punishing yourself for your mistakes. Accept that you are not perfect and be gentle with yourself when you are confronted with your shortcomings. Your friends and colleagues value you because of who you are, not because you are faultless.
Employ a Growth Mindset
Be open to your experiences. Change your mindset to be available to experiences without judgment. At the heart of Carol Dweck’s research is the impact of our mindset on wellbeing. She found that whether we have a fixed or growth mindset influences our happiness.
Feeling gratitude is very powerful (Emmons & McCullough, 2003). Rather than wishing for what we do not have, there is strength in appreciating what we do have, right now.
Find the Right Level of Generosity
Have fun being generous. See the difference you make and do not forget to give back to yourself. Doing good for others makes us happy, but only if it does not reduce our levels of wellbeing.
Mindfulness has been found to have a positive impact on self-compassion, as it tends to lessen self-judgment (Kabat-Zinn, 2014). Strive to always be in the moment and be aware of what is happening right now, without judgment and labeling. Allow what you think or feel to have its moment; do not give it the microphone or hide it in the corner. Allow it to come, and then, without attachment, let it go. Check out mindfulness technique to help with anxiety.
If you are considering engaging in therapy, then the simple act of taking the first step to booking a session is an act of self-compassion in action. You have decided to face your pain and suffering and to deal with the reality of it. The work of therapy involves slowly and carefully raising awareness of our inner experience to develop insight and understanding into the difficulty. With kindness towards ourselves, we can grow to know, understand, and accept our experience. We may also realise that we, just like every other human being, are flawed and fallible.
Many of the problems that we have with our minds are not our fault but the consequence of evolution. People want security and permanence in a world where change and impermanence are reality. We also have brains with ancient parts to them in charge of emotions and motives, which, on the one hand, can be very useful, but which can also get us into trouble. But despite these, we do need to take responsibility for how we live our lives. Self-compassion can help us to engage with our suffering and begin to transform it courageously.
Jane is a qualified Psychotherapist and Counsellor and a full member of the accrediting bodies IACP and IAHIP. She has worked for years with individuals experiencing a range of levels of distress. She has her private practice at City Therapy, Dublin. If you want to make an appointment with Jane please contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org