Self-Compassion- What Is It?

by Carlene Townley

Self-compassion

Self-compassion is the ability to offer kindness and understanding to yourself when you fail or make mistakes, instead of, judging yourself harshly. 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?

According to Kristin Neff, Associate Professor of Human Development and Culture and researcher of self-compassion at The University of Texas at Austin, there are three elements of self-compassion. The three elements of self-compassion are self-kindness, common humanity, and mindfulness. Self-kindness 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. When we acknowledge our common humanity or shared human experience of being mortal, vulnerable, and imperfect then we no longer feel isolated or alone. 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. When we are able to observe our negative thoughts and emotions with openness and clarity we can respond to the situation instead of reacting.

One way to develop more self-compassion is to imagine what you would say to a friend when you are experiencing a difficult time. The following exercise is from Kristin Neff’s website Self-compassion.org.

Exercise: How would you treat a friend?

  1. First, think about times when a close friend feels really bad about him or herself or is really struggling in some way. How would you respond to your friend in this situation (especially when you’re at your best)? Please write down what you typically do, what you say, and note the tone in which you typically talk to your friends.
  2. Now think about times when you feel bad about yourself or are struggling. How do you typically respond to yourself in these situations? Please write down what you typically do, what you say, and note the tone in which you talk to yourself.
  3. Did you notice a difference? If so, ask yourself why. What factors or fears come into play that lead you to treat yourself and others so differently?
  4. Please write down how you think things might change if you responded to yourself in the same way you typically respond to a close friend when you’re suffering.

As we develop new ways of relating to ourselves, it can be helpful to remind ourselves of our ability to be kind to others and treat ourselves with this same kindness.

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