What is Self-Compassion?

At its heart, self-compassion is treating yourself with the same kindness and gentleness as you do a friend who is undergoing a challenging time. Too often, we allow our inner critic to take over when we make a mistake, or we feel that we need to maintain a stoic demeanor as we “push through the pain.” But self-compassion tells us that we can be kinder to ourselves. We can take a moment to feel the pain, instead of pushing it away, and comfort ourselves through it.

Self-Compassion helps us to befriend ourselves,rather than to treat ourselves as the enemy.

At our latest Walk with a Doc, I asked people to think of a friend who recently went through a difficult time and then to think of the comforting words they said to the person. After a few minutes, I asked them to think of their own challenges and compare the words said to ourselves vs the words said to the friends. Overwhelmingly, the self-reflected words were more negative. We are harder on ourselves than on other people.

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Three Elements of Self-Compassion

Dr. Kristin Neff (2003) names three elements that make up self-compassion:

  • Self-Kindness: When we are hurting or make a mistake, we have a tendency to beat ourselves up or numb and “push through,” but self-kindness reminds us to give ourselves comfort, warmth, and acceptance.
  • Common Humanity: It helps to be reminded that we are interconnected. Everyone makes mistakes, has challenges, feels pain, and goes through difficult times. That seems like a no-brainer, but sometimes we feel all alone in our suffering. Common Humanity helps us to remember that we are not alone.
  • Mindfulness: Sometimes we get into problem solving mode (or numbing mode) and ignore the present moment of suffering. Mindfulness is that voice that says, “This is hard right now. I’m hurting,” while allowing ourselves to remain nonjudgmental. Combined with self-kindness, we can acknowledge the pain of the moment without naming ourselves as a “loser” or “failure.”

Loving, connected presence

Knowing the elements of self-compassion is the first step to treating yourself compassionately, but it’s important to remember that the journey to self-compassion is one of continual practice. It’s not easy to shift our mindset when we’ve spent so long treating ourselves with unkindness or numbing the pain away. If you struggle, coaching can help guide you through the process and provide an additional source of kindness and comfort.

To read more on the research: Neff, K.D. (2003). Self-compassion: An alternative conceptualization of a healthy attitude toward oneself. Self and Identity, 2, 85-102.

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