Unless you’ve been living under a rock, chances are you’ve heard the sentiment that the world could use a little more compassion these days. It’s a fair argument in our modern world where we focus most of our time and energy on cracking the code to getting ahead in life. It seems that our lives are dominated by the motivation to reach ‘the point’ where we feel fulfilled. Do you see the catch? If not, you will soon enough.
There’s a noticeable lack of intention for purposeful connection. This is why we feel an instinctive yearning for more love and compassion. The sentiment is logical but there’s an even bigger hole to be patched first. Our relationship with our Selves.
As the saying goes, you can’t pour from an empty cup. Successfully extending genuine compassion to others is impractical unless we first gift ourselves with the loving care we wish to share.
What is Self-Compassion?
Being compassionate tends to be associated with a certain capacity for sympathy, empathy and kindness. It’s the softheartedness we identify with when we think of comforting a crying child. Finding ourselves centered in compassion can mean experiencing a sense of ease in being graceful or merciful with others.
Imagine turning that tenderness inward. How does that feel? Comforting? Terrifying? Maybe both.
Offering compassion to yourself is really no different than giving it to others. The reason it can feel so implausible is because we are often conditioned to respond to our own suffering in a much different way than the suffering of others. If you take a moment to check in with yourself, you will probably find that you are your harshest critic.
Compassion requires the ability to notice a person’s suffering, feel it with them, and identify with the fact that we all suffer. When we have a compassionate reaction toward someone it is because, at some level, we recognize that we too have endured emotional turmoil.
How do you talk to yourself in the midst of difficulty or failure? Be honest with yourself. Allow yourself to step into the space for change knowing you are far from alone. Many of us are far from kind to ourselves in moments of struggle. Instead of understanding and patience, we often meet ourselves with judgment and criticism. Sound familiar?
Self-compassion is the practice of meeting your experiences of suffering and personal failures with thoughtful acceptance and authentic kindness.
Breaking It Down: Self-Compassion in 3 Elements
The construct of self-compassion has been broken down into 3 elements by Dr. Kristin Neff, whose growing body of research of the phenomenon was inspired by Buddhist psychology. Not only do the 3 elements of self-compassion provided deeper insight into the functionality of the construct, but also guidance on how to develop our own personal practice.
The 3 elements of self-compassion are:
- Self-kindness vs. Self-Judgment
The first element of self-compassion is probably the most obvious and relatable from the untrained perspective. We can all comprehend the difference between meeting ourselves with judgment and kindness in tough moments. It’s the choice between going down the rabbit hole of criticism or pushing our pain under the rug OR pulling up a chair for our feelings of inadequacy, listening to their story, and offering a warm hug. Obstacles are an inevitability of life. Meeting this fact with resistance or denial leads to increased suffering and harsh reactions to the self. Self-compassionate people have cultivated the ability to meet their struggles with a carefully crafted sensitivity based in empathy and acceptance.
- Common humanity vs. Isolation
Have you ever felt like you are the only one who could have managed such a spectacular failure? We’ve all been there. That’s the shame talking. Listening to that voice leads to the faulty belief that you are the only one suffering, creating a state of perceived isolation. The truth of the matter is that struggle, pain, suffering and all the in-betweens are a central (and important) part of the human experience. You might need to read that again! Vulnerability is a friendly reminder that you are alive. Key to the development of self-compassion is the realization and internalization of the undeniable reality that suffering is a shared human experience. No one is alone.
- Mindfulness vs. Overidentification
Balance plays a significant role in self-compassion. While you want to acknowledge your thoughts and feelings, giving them the space to be and pass through your awareness, you do not want to get caught in the trap of believing that you are your thoughts and feelings. This is the difference between mindfulness and overidentification. When you welcome your thoughts and feelings with mindfulness, you will receive them without judgment, as if you are an observer. Being washed away by the wave of negative emotions or, alternatively, attempting to deny or suppress them, will leave you feeling as if you’re trying to hold your breath underwater with no chance for air in sight. Self-compassion includes the skill of observing personal negative thoughts and feelings as drops in humanity’s ocean of visceral experiences.
The First Step to Integrating Self-Compassion
The benefits of practicing self-compassion are numerous and include the potential to enhance parts of yourself and areas of your life such as:
- Communication and Interpersonal Conflict
- Romantic relationships
- Coping mechanisms
- Achievement goals
- Overall well-being
Making the choice to adjust your relationship with yourself is a big undertaking. The development of self-compassion is a journey worth taking. Take a deep breath and remember that every journey begins with a single step.
Experiment with what happens when you start to talk and respond to yourself in moments of suffering as you would to a child or dear friend. This simple exercise will set you on the path to opening the door to a new relationship with yourself.
If we want to make a meaningful impact, we must start with ourselves. Fostering self-compassion will help you get to know yourself better while allowing for more authentic connection with others. Fill your cup with self-compassion and fulfillment will be yours in the Now.
Guest blogger – Hannah Riviera
What is Self-Compassion?