Developing Self Compassion
Difficult situations can become even harder when we beat ourselves up over them. We often judge ourselves more harshly than we judge others, especially when we make a mistake or feel stressed out. This can make us feel even more unhappy, and even more stressed.
Rather than harsh self-criticism, a healthier response is to treat yourself with compassion and understanding. Research suggests that people who treat themselves with compassion rather than criticism in difficult times experience greater physical and mental health.
According to psychologist Kristin Neff, “self-compassion” has three main components: mindfulness, a feeling of common humanity, and self-kindness. Mindfulness allows us to step back and recognize that we are experiencing suffering, without judging suffering as something bad which should be avoided. Sometimes we fail to notice when we are in pain, or deny that we are suffering because it brings up intolerable feelings of weakness or defeat. Common humanity reminds us of our connection with others — all of whom suffer at some point in their lives. This understanding can ease our feelings of loneliness and isolation. Self-kindness is an active expression of caring toward the self that can help us clarify our intentions for how we want to treat ourselves.
Going through these steps in response to a stressful experiences can us replace our internal self-critical voice with a more compassionate one.
How We Do It
Think of a situation in your life that is difficult and 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, “This is a moment of suffering.” This acknowledgment is a form of mindfulness—of simply noticing what is going on for you emotionally in the present moment, without judging that experience as good or bad. You can also say to yourself, “This hurts” or “This is stress.” Use whatever statement feels most natural to you.
Next, say to yourself, “Suffering is a part of life.” This is a recognition of your common humanity with others—that all people have trying experiences, and these experiences give you something in common with the rest of humanity rather than mark you as abnormal or deficient. Other options for this statement include “Other people feel this way,” “I’m not alone,” or “We all struggle in our lives.”
Now, put your hands over your heart, feel the warmth of your hands and the gentle touch on your chest, and say, “May I be kind to myself.” This is a way to express self-kindness. You can also consider whether there is another specific phrase that would speak to you in that particular situation. Some examples: “May I give myself the compassion that I need,” “May I accept myself as I am,” “May I learn to accept myself as I am,” “May I forgive myself,” “May I be strong,” and “May I be patient.”
If you practice this in moments of relative calm, it might become easier for you to experience the three parts of self-compassion—mindfulness, common humanity, and self-kindness—when you need them most.
You can listen to the below audios by Kristin Neff, guiding you in self compassion practices.
Self-compassion is treating yourself with the same kindness, concern and support you’d show to a good friend, rather than criticising and judging yourself harshly. Developing self compassion supports us to develop emotional resilience and wellbeing, and research shows it can have a positive effect on anxiety and depression. It's about giving ourselves much needed comfort and encouragement, rather punishing ourselves.
Below are links to show how it can support our emotional and mental health.
Another lovely practice to try is a Compassionate Body Scan by Ali Lambe. She guides you to compassionately connect with your body in a kind way. Find yourself a comfortable position on your bed or floor and try this for 25 minutes and see how you like it.