Self-compassion is often associated with shame and dismissed as something that leads to self-indulgence or self-pitying. It may be avoided as it forces us to think of times we were not compassionate to ourselves or when others weren’t compassionate to us. However, it is a real and important thing. It helps us internalise stressors we face, facilitating our ability to best cope with challenging situations. Self-compassion is a research-based and measurable construct, operationally defined and introduced to psychological literature by Dr Kristen Neff. Having self-compassion means being able to relate to yourself in a way that is forgiving, accepting, and loving when situations are not ideal.
Self-compassion theory is made up of three components: self-kindness, common humanity, and mindfulness.
Treating our worth as unconditional even when we don’t meet our own standards. Through our thoughts and behaviour, we can give ourselves the tenderness and care needed when going through a tough time. Self-kindness is showing understanding and patience regarding our own perceived personality flaws.
Being able to view our own individual experiences as embedded in the broader human experience, rather than seeing ourselves as isolated or separate from others. Part of this is realising you’re not alone in being imperfect or feeling hurt and being able to relate and appreciate that others feel the same at times. Common humanity allows us to perceive our shortcomings as a natural aspect of being human.
The middle ground of avoidance or over-identification in self-compassion theory. Being mindful allows us to acknowledge and label our own thoughts as opposed to reacting to them. When we have self- compassion, we are aware of our own hurtful thoughts and emotions without blowing up their significance through rumination. Instead, we adopt a positive balance between over-identification at one extreme, and completely avoiding painful emotions and experiences at the other. When being mindful, we can explore our emotions such as sadness with openness and curiosity. Mindfulness and compassion go hand in hand, making us more resilient. One way to practice mindfulness is through through self-compassion affirmations
As Neff (2019) summarises the three components; self-compassion allows us to mindfully accept that the moment is painful, and embrace ourselves with kindness and care in response, remembering that imperfection is part of the shared human experience.
So how can we learn to be kinder to ourselves? It requires active practice. Because of our habitual responses to hurt and negative emotions, rewiring our brain to engage in self-compassion can often be a drastic change of perspective. We can learn to maintain a happy medium between the three components of self-compassion; self-kindness to self-judgement; common humanity to isolation; avoidance to overidentification (with mindfulness as the happy medium).
3 Tips on Practicing Self-compassion:
- Treat yourself as you would treat someone you care about
- Increase your self-awareness – become aware of your internal narratives, how are you speaking to yourself? Stop judging, labelling and assuming behaviours of yourself – give yourself the benefit of the doubt. Practicing positive affirmations or releasing statements can help to reach your inner critic at a subconscious level. With increased self-awareness, we can release ourselves from the feeling associated with negative thought, reaching self-acceptance in challenging situations.
- Regain/ maintain perspective – let go the need of outside validation but continue reaching out to others. Don’t beat yourself up for reasons related to social pressures but talk with others to place feelings in context through social relating. When we talk with others, we realize that we’re not alone in feeling pain at different times, it maintains our connectedness and builds social supports – which is essential to our wellbeing.