What exactly is self-compassion?
According to Kristin Neff, one of the leading researchers in the field of self-compassion, the definition of it consists of 3 parts:
- Being kind to ourselves: Self-compassion entails being warm and understanding toward ourselves when we suffer, fail, or feel inadequate, rather than ignoring our pain or flagellating ourselves with self-criticism.
- Remembering that others share our experiences: Frustration at not having things exactly as we want is often accompanied by a sense of isolation. It can feel like we’re the only ones struggling or making mistakes. All humans suffer, however. The very definition of being “human” means that one is mortal, vulnerable and imperfect. Therefore, self-compassion involves recognizing that suffering and personal inadequacy is part of the shared human experience.
- Practising mindfulness: Self-compassion also requires taking a balanced approach to our negative emotions so that feelings are neither suppressed nor exaggerated.
What does that mean in practice?
Self-compassion involves acting the same way towards yourself as you would a good friend when you are having a difficult time, fail, or notice something you don’t like about yourself.
Instead of just pushing through your pain or anxiety or criticising yourself for experiencing it, you can try to stop, take a deep breath, and acknowledge that “this is really difficult right now”.
You can also ask yourself “How can I comfort and care for myself in this moment?”
Won’t self-compassion make me weak?
No. The key question of self-compassion is “What do I need right now?” and more specifically “What do I need to help alleviate my suffering?”
The answer to this question changes depending on the circumstances.
Sometimes what we need is to accept ourselves in all our human imperfection, to love ourselves as we are in the moment.
But that doesn’t mean we necessarily want to stay as we are in the moment. If a herd of cattle is stampeding toward you, it’s not the time for self-acceptance, it’s time for action. Most people think of self-compassion as soft and gentle, but self-compassion can be fierce as well as tender.
In fierce self-compassion we take action, protecting, providing, and motivating ourselves to do the things that will help change the situation that is causing us suffering.
We need to find balance between the tender and the fierce side, and embrace both of them to create a balancing caring force for ourselves.
There’s even research that confirms this - here is an overview of publications from Kristin Neff’s lab, and here is an overview of free resources including short meditations that she has made available online. She also has an extremely popular TED talk here.
Here are some lovely illustrations from Johnine Byrne to help digest these ideas:
How can I start practicing self-compassion?
One of the most popular ways is with meditation, which is what has often been studied in scientific labs.
Compassion meditation has been shown to have the following benefits:
- Increased positive emotions and social connection (Kok et al., 2013)
- Reduced depression symptoms (Frederickson et al, 2008)
- Reduced self-criticism (Shahar et al., 2014)
- Increased positivity towards strangers (Hutcherson et al., 2008)
- Decrease in migraines (Tonelli et al., 2014)
- Decrease in chronic pain (&anger, distress) (Carson et al., 2005)
- Decrease in PTSD symptoms (Kearney et al., 2013)
We also suggest that you check out the exercise ‘Write a compassionate letter to yourself’ on the Recharge tab in Alena. 💌
Here is what people have said about it:
“I was doing the self-compassion letter this morning which was a lovely exercise, it really moved me and I ended up crying. In that letter there is a lot of useful insight and affirmations that I would love to come back [to] and revisit and use as a tool to help me if I find myself in that situation again.”
"Really liked the letter... becoming more compassionate towards oneself… Not just abstract, made it concrete to actually write it. I could do this on any bad day to feel better... The way it was chunked made it easy to approach it, instead of some other apps that just show me a blank page and ask me to journal… Teaching me by doing, in a safe space."
Learn more about self-compassion on Kristin Neff’s website LINK
See the slides from the Alena community call about self-compassion which includes several prompts, exercises, and more science background: LINK
Feel free to comment your thoughts on self-compassion below ❤️