Updated: Mar 29, 2020
Imagine if one of your closest friends called you and said, "I just got fired from my job. I am so disappointed. I was really starting to enjoy my time there." Now imagine if you said back to them, "Well you really weren't that good at that job and you aren't a hard worker anyway. You probably won't find a better job than that one so you should probably stop trying now. You will never amount to anything because you are such a failure." --What!? We would never say these things to one of our friends. It is completely unacceptable and we probably wouldn't have very many friends if this is how we treated them. But for some reason we find it acceptable to talk to ourselves in this way all too often. This type of self-talk can foster depression, anxiety, isolation, lack of self-confidence, and an overall decline in mental health. So if that is true, can we change these things by learning how to be nicer to ourselves?? YES, and this is called #selfcompassion!
The term self-compassion describes a way of relating to ourselves in a healthy, loving way. But before we can understand self-compassion we first must understand what compassion is. Compassion means, to suffer together. Through compassion we are able to see another person's pain and suffering and experience this with them without judgement or criticism. When people feel compassion for another person they typically feel moved to help the individual find relief from their pain in a soothing and validating way. Self-compassion is simply applying these same qualities to ourselves instead of others.
Dr. Kristin Neff explains there are three key elements to self-compassion: Self-kindness, common humanity, and mindfulness.
Self-kindness means being warm and understanding to ourselves when we are experiencing suffering or disappointment. When we can accept that we are not perfect people and we never will be, that disappointments happen all the time, and failure at times is part of growth, we take a warmer and non-judgmental approach to understanding these situations in our lives. When we do this we are able to self-regulate in a healthier way.
Common humanity refers to the idea that since humans are innately imperfect, everyone will experience disappointments in their life at some point or another. Since we all experience these things, when you are experiencing them it is not something that isolates you from others, but rather brings you closer.
Mindfulness is purposely being in the here and now. Observing, experiencing, describing, being non-judgmental, and focusing on one thing at a time. We have to recognize our negative emotions and be able to observe them in a non-judgmental way in order to be self-compassionate. If we are harsh and judgmental of ourselves our negative emotions get stronger and leads into other feelings of isolation and low self-esteem. When we take a neutral approach to our situation we are able to see where it is coming from and what we need to start healing.
Self-Compassion describes a way of relating to ourselves in a health, loving way.
How Do We Practice Self-Compassion?
Finding balance in how you practice self-compassion is the first step. Comforting, soothing, and validating are on one end and protecting, providing, and motivating are on the other.
Comforting is providing support for emotional needs.
Soothing is a way to feel physically calm.
Validating is proving understanding and reassurance.
Protecting is keeping ourselves safe from harm and hurt.
Providing is understanding what we need and giving ourselves this.
Motivating is to gently push ourselves towards our long-term and short-term goals.
We need to be able to provide ourselves with each of these aspects in a balanced way. If, for example, we are feeling negative emotions and all we try to do is motivate ourselves to reach our short-term goal of exercising, we might end up not accomplishing this goal because we didn't first provider ourselves with comfort and soothing and ultimately have feelings of failure.
Developing and maintaining a self-care routine can be another great way to foster more self-compassion. When we actively take care of ourselves we allow time for self-reflection and we can mindfully understand our thoughts, emotions, and needs.
Saying, "No" to things that don't help you achieve your goals of family, self, money, career, and friends also helps us to have more self-compassion. This goes back to taking care of our needs and letting go of the pressure to please others.
Sitting with uncomfortable emotion, although not always fun or easy, helps us to practice self-compassion because we can feel and understand the emotion. We cannot provide the above 6 skills for self-compassion if we push away the discomfort we feel. Like I have mentioned in previous posts, Part 3: Acceptance and Anxiety, suppressing negative thoughts and feelings gives them more power and strength over us.
For more information on self-compassion check out the resources for this post as well as my book, Conquer Anxiety in Ten Weeks: A Guidebook for Overwhelmed Women Who Dare to
Resources for post:
The Mindful Self-Compassion Workbook by Kristin Neff, PhD and Christopher Germer, PhD, 2018
Mindful journal, February 2019, P. 40-49
Follow me on Instagram and Facebook @jessiejensontherapy