The term ‘be kind’ is extremely popular today, and kindness really does matter.
We all want to be present for each other. But what we often forget is to be kind to ourselves. We forget to have self-compassion. Having self-compassion does not always come easy, but it has many benefits for your mental health.
What is Self-Compassion?
Self-compassion, in the simplest of terms, is really just being kind to yourself. Having self-compassion is about giving yourself grace when you make a mistake. It means not engaging in self-judgment when you face challenges and problems in life. Self-compassion is about not talking down to yourself. When you have self-compassion, you forgive yourself and accept any flaws that you feel you might have.
Self-compassion is not about pitying yourself. Self-pity is an emotion that is centered on sorrow and regret, and it holds you in a trap of internal unhappiness about your troubles and circumstances in life.
Dr. Kristin Neff, Associate Professor of Educational Psychology at the University of Texas at Austin and pioneering research leader for nearly 20 years in the field of self-compassion, states that having compassion for oneself is no different than having compassion for others.
Having self-compassion, per Dr. Neff, involves acting the same way towards yourself (as you would do for someone else) when you are having a difficult time, failing, or noticing something you don’t like about yourself. 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?”
When you are critical of yourself, as opposed to having self-compassion, you beat yourself up over common challenges and problems in life with thoughts that resemble these:
- Why am I the only one messed up like this?
- Why am I abnormal?
- Something has gone wrong with me (or with my life).
- This is not what I signed up for.
- I am not good enough (e.g., not smart enough, not pretty enough).
When you lack self-compassion, your inner critic internalizes negative feelings and thoughts, and it leads you to feel isolated from others. You feel alone, and it can fill you with doubt and fear.
There are three core elements of self-compassion, per Dr. Neff:
The Three Core Elements of Self-Compassion
1. Self-Kindness vs. Self-Judgment
Self-compassion involves being warm and understanding toward ourselves when we experience suffering, failure, or when we feel inadequate. It encompasses awareness and acknowledgment that imperfections in oneself are a part of life and that we will always experience challenges. We avoid self-criticism when we practice self-compassion.
2. Common Humanity vs. Isolation
When we hold self-compassion, we recognize that we are not alone in being human, which means that we share our vulnerabilities and imperfections with humanity. Life experiences are something that we all commonly go through, and it is not something that happens to us alone.
3. Mindfulness vs. Over-Identification
Self-compassion also involves self-awareness of our negative thoughts and emotions. We acknowledge and validate that things are hard without turning our suffering into self-judgment or running away with painful thoughts. Instead, we problem-solve with compassion, and without over-identifying ourselves as the problem, or the reason that the pain is occurring.
The Benefits of Self-Compassion
When we live our lives with self-compassion, we support our mental health. Self-compassion is a form of self-care.
Stanford Medicine, Dr. Emma Seppala, lists The Scientific Benefits of Self-Compassion:
Empowerment, Learning, and Inner-Strength
Self-compassion is an alternative to feeling insecure, inadequate, and falling into the trap of self-criticism and self-defeating tendencies.
Self-compassion builds resilience, strength, and happiness by tackling feelings of failure, insecurity, or mistakes in a completely different way. Self-compassion involves self-kindness, common humanity, and mindfulness.
Peace of mind is greater when self-compassion is practiced. When you focus on remaining calm in the face of feelings of failure, rejection, and criticism, you experience greater well-being, productivity, and successful outcomes.
Self-compassion biologically nurtures our nervous system and lowers stress hormones. The reduction of stress soothes our system, optimizes resilience, and boosts mental health.
How to Practice Self-Compassion
Dr. Neff gives insight into what practicing self-compassion is about, and what it can feel like, in her tips for practicing self-compassion:
“Self-compassion is a practice of goodwill, not good feelings. In other words, even though the friendly, supportive stance of self-compassion is aimed at the alleviation of suffering, we can’t always control the way things are. If we use self-compassion practice to try to make our pain go away by suppressing it or fighting against it, things will likely just get worse. With self-compassion we 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.”
Here are 18 guided exercises for self-compassion from Dr. Neff that you can download or listen to.
Self-compassion is a learnable life skill. Here are simple ways to bring self-compassion into your life:
Journal or Write Yourself a Letter
Acknowledge painful and negative feelings. Describe any blame or self-judgment that you have placed on yourself. Empty your thoughts onto paper. Once you have written out your thoughts, return to your letter or journal and determine the ‘real’ truth.
Write out your negative thoughts or feelings as a statement. For example: “I made this (name it) stupid mistake today. I am never going to change. I cannot do this. I will always be a failure.”
Write out the truth:
- It is okay to feel disappointed.
- I am doing my best.
- I am not alone in these feelings (everyone experiences this).
- I will get through this.
- I am only human.
- I do not have to be perfect – everyone makes mistakes.
- I am not defined by my thoughts or emotions.
Write words of comfort to yourself in a gentle tone. List how you will take care of yourself and engage in self-compassion. “I made a mistake, but the world will not end over it. I can, and will, put it behind me. I am enough. I am worthy. I am strong.”
Notice your physical and mental state. Are you feeling tense? Are you internalizing or placing blame on yourself? Observe your thoughts, feelings, and actions.
Practice mindfulness throughout each day and use it as a tool to examine yourself (in real-time). “What do I need to do for myself right now? Do I need to allow myself a moment of self-compassion?”
By practicing mindfulness, you can shift your thoughts away from self-judgment and avoid isolating yourself with negative thoughts. “I will not absorb this. Instead, I will give myself the same compassion that I give to others.”
Help with Self-Compassion
Sometimes, we do all that we know how to do in life, but we still feel as if we need help. Know that we all need extra care from time to time. We are here for you, with the support that you need, and exactly when you need it. At Western Tidewater CSB, we provide supports for skills, confidence, and well-being that are needed to achieve a healthy and productive life.