“Self-compassion is simply giving the same kindness to ourselves that we would give to others.”
― Christopher Germer
Self-compassion is compassion directed inward. Operationalized self-compassion consists of three main elements: Self-kindness (vs. self-judgment), a sense of common humanity (vs. isolation), and mindfulness (vs. overidentification). These components combine and mutually interact to create a self-compassionate frame of mind.
So why would one wish to incorporate self-compassion into their life? Self-compassion can give you super hero powers! No, really. Self-compassion can help you when experiencing personal inadequacies, mistakes and failures, as well as confronting painful life situations that are outside our control. How great would it be to be able to make YOURSELF feel better during times of pain or suffering? Pretty great, I say….kinda like having superhero powers!
Let’s explore the 3 elements:
SELF-KINDNESS: Being kind, gentle and understanding with yourself when you are hurting. We are often SO hard on ourselves. Try to imagine what you would say to a loved one that was hurting. Now imagine saying those same kind things to YOURSELF. Watch your language. You may be so used to criticizing yourself that you don’t even realize that you are doing it. If you wouldn’t say the same statements to someone else, you are being self-critical.
Comfort yourself with a kind gesture: Kind physical gestures have an immediate impact on our bodies, activating the soothing parasympathetic system (like tapping into super powers!). Examples of physical gestures could be putting your hands over your heart or simply holding your arm. Any gesture will do.
Memorize a set of compassionate phrases: Whenever you find yourself saying things like: “I suck”, it helps to have a few phrases at the ready. Pick statements that resonate with you. Combining that with a physical gesture – like hands on the heart – is especially (super!) powerful. Here are some examples of phrases:
This is a moment of suffering.
Suffering is part of life.
May I be kind to myself in this moment?
May I give myself the compassion I need?
COMMON HUMANITY: Realizing that you are not alone in your struggles. When we are hurting, we tend to feel especially alone. We think we are the only ones to experience loss, make mistakes, feel rejected or fail (I bet this sounds familiar, right??). But it is these very struggles that are part of our shared experiences as humans.
MINDFULNESS: Observing life as it is (especially the messy parts), without being judgmental or suppressing your thoughts or feelings. You’re probably thinking: “ick, I don’t WANT to sit in painful feelings!”, but when we do this, we actually amplify these unwanted emotions. For example: some people self-harm in an effort to numb to painful emotions. In the short term, self-harming may feel soothing. However in the long run, it ends up increasing one’s stress level. Sitting with our emotions simply means allowing them to happen, resisting the urge to get rid of the pain, and not judging ourselves for having them.
So, how do I that?
Observe your emotions. Sit with your emotions by noting what you are experiencing without judging yourself. For example: “I’m feeling hurt that (fill in the blank)”. I am feeling like I want to cry – my throat is tightening up. Now I am noticing that I’m starting to judge myself because I don’t want to cry.
This is uncomfortable, but I am okay; I CAN tolerate this, and I can recognize that this will pass.
Validate your emotions. Validating your emotions, means accepting Accepting uncomfortable emotions does NOT trigger extra pain. When you are “angry” at someone, attempt to discover what is underneath that anger for you. Anger is considered an “intense reaction to an unmet need”. What need of yours is not being met? Could it be: desiring to feel included, desiring to feel heard, respected?
Oftentimes, we can jump to negative conclusions about others, when in actuality they did not mean to hurt our feelings. Have you even unintentionally hurt someone else’s feelings?
Focus on the present. It is helpful to focus our attention on the present, instead of “wallowing” in the experience. We wallow when new fixate on the feeling, judge ourselves, or judge others or the situation which triggered our negative feelings.
“You’ve been criticising yourself for years and it hasn’t worked. Try approving of yourself and see what happens.” ―Louise L. Hay
Christine Hall, Youth & Family Counsellor Community Options Society
Adapted from the works of Kristen Neff & Christopher Germer, creators of Mindfulness Self-Compassion