Self-compassion and self-kindness

What is self-compassion?

Self-compassion is about treating ourselves with the same kindness, care and attention that we would give a good friend when life gets tough.

The three elements of self-compassion:

  • Self-kindness: understanding not punishment
  • Sense of common humanity: everybody goes through this
  • Mindfulness: neither ignoring or exaggerating failure.

Self-kindness vs self-judgment

Self-compassion is allowing yourself to be warm and understanding to yourself when you feel you are suffering, failing or feeling inadequate in some way. This is instead of ignoring your pain or indulging in self-criticism.

Self-compassionate people recognise that being imperfect, failing and experiencing life difficulties are inevitable. 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 we deny or fight against this reality, our suffering increases in the form of stress, frustration and self-criticism. When we accept this reality with sympathy and kindness, we experience greater emotional composure.

Being kind to yourself may involve focusing your energy on ways to ease the pain and can involve comforting and caring actions. It can provide a helpful perspective on the difficulty or help you to have the strength and courage to take necessary actions to address the issues at hand.

Common humanity vs isolation

Frustration at not having things exactly as you want? This 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 we are mortal, vulnerable and imperfect. Self-compassion involves recognising that suffering and personal inadequacy are part of the shared human experience. It is something that we all go through rather than something that happens to ‘me’ alone.

The fact that we experience pain is not a fault or failing of ours. We are not to blame for our pain and we’re not alone in our pain.

Mindfulness vs over-identification

Self-compassion also requires you to take a balanced approach to your negative emotions so that you don’t suppress or exaggerate your feelings. You can find the balance by relating your personal experiences to those of others who are suffering. This helps put your own situation into a bigger perspective. It also helps if you are willing to observe your 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 you can observe your thoughts and feelings as they are, without trying to suppress or deny them. You can’t ignore your pain and feel compassion for it at the same time.

Developing self-compassion and self-kindness in daily life

Kindness to yourself and others

Simply by making a choice to blend your daily life with kindness can make a difference to how you feel. Why not try asking yourself the following to help with this:

  • How can I take time out today and ask myself what I really need to help me through my day?
  • How can I slow down during my busy day?
  • How can I make choices that will nourish me?
  • What methods can I use to nourish me in the moment?
  • How can I be kind to myself?

Soothing touch

An easy way to soothe and comfort yourself when you’re feeling bad is to give yourself a gentle hug or rub to your skin, or even put your hand on your heart and feel the warmth of your hand.

It is hard but vital to be warm and understanding towards yourself when we suffer, fail or feel inadequate. It is important to practice self-kindness rather than ignoring your pain or self-criticism.

Kindness is like a smile, it’s contagious.

Seeing acts of kindness has positive effects in the brain. It can improve individual moods and makes them more likely to pass the act of kindness on. This means one good deed in a crowded area can create a ripple effect and improve the day of lots of people.

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