Self-compassion is an often underrated skill that can so easily get confused with other self-oriented terms such as self-esteem, self-love, and self-efficacy. What sets self-compassion apart from these other terms is the genuine space cultivating it gives you to meet yourself right where you’re at, no matter your performance or achievement, and extend care and grace to yourself. In our fast-paced, achievement-oriented society that is rich with social comparison, I think it is more important now than ever for each of us to get in the habit of giving ourselves a daily dose (or two) of self-compassion!
So, what exactly is self-compassion? Well, it is the act of turning compassion inwards towards yourself. So we need to know what compassion means in order to fully understand this concept. Compassion means “to suffer with” and is what you feel when you care deeply for someone who is going through a hard time. Have you ever had a loved one who got laid off from a job, made a mistake that they regretted, or was hard on themselves for not achieving one of their goals? How did you feel towards them and their situation? Did you offer them any kind, heartfelt words? This is compassion, and it often comes easily to us when directed towards those we love. Self-compassion, on the other hand, often doesn’t come as easily, because it is oh so very common to be harder on ourselves than we are on others. How do you talk to yourself or feel about yourself when you make a mistake, fall short of your expectations, or let someone down? If you’re like me, moments like these may bring out your inner critic, and your self-talk may sound a lot more negative than how you would speak to a loved one in a similar situation. If you resonate with this, welcome to humanity; this is the perfect opportunity to cultivate some self-compassion!
Kristin Neff, Ph.D. is the leading researcher on self-compassion and outlines the following 3 steps to begin its cultivation:
- First, we have to notice suffering within ourselves. In other words, we need to notice that there is something to be self-compassionate about! This is where mindfulness can come in. I recommend starting to monitor your self-talk throughout the day by taking a couple minutes to non-judgmentally notice your thoughts and feelings when you encounter a difficult moment such as making a mistake at work or school, unintentionally lashing out at a loved one, etc. You can either note your thoughts and feelings to yourself or use a journal or your phone to document them.
- Next, we extend kindness and understanding to ourselves amidst our suffering. So, instead of letting your inner critic take over with harsh words, insults, and self-deprecation, I recommend first acknowledging the presence of this inner critic (“Hi inner critic, thank you for trying to assert your input, but you’re no longer needed here!”) and then allowing yourself to speak kindly and gracefully to yourself. If this is difficult for you (which is very understandable and actually expected if your inner critic has been dominant for so long), imagine what a kind, empathetic person in your life would say to you in this situation until you can genuinely extend this compassion to yourself.
- Lastly, we realize that suffering, failure, and imperfection are all a part of the shared human experience. In other words, you are not alone! When we mess up and start getting down on ourselves, it is so easy to feel like we are uniquely flawed and like no one else is in our situation. This not only compounds our suffering, but it also isn’t true! Messing up, making mistakes, and being imperfect are all inevitable parts of what it is to be human, and realizing this shared humanity as you wrap yourself in self-compassion can be such a freeing response to difficult moments.
Try implementing the above steps to cultivating self-compassion throughout your week and see how you feel about yourself towards the end of it. Research has shown that there are so many benefits to be gained from practicing self-compassion, including increased emotional well-being, reductions in anxiety and depression, and maintenance of healthy lifestyle habits like exercising, just to name a few. I highly encourage you to check out Kristin Neff’s website at https://self-compassion.org/ to explore some of this research as well as self-compassion meditations and exercises! Notice my use of the word practicing in the previous sentence: Just like with any other skill, it takes time and repetition to make responding with self-compassion a habit. So please, resist the urge (or rather, mindfully notice the urge) to judge or criticize yourself if self-compassion is not your first response as you set out on your journey to cultivating this skill. Instead, look at this as your first opportunity of many to practice giving yourself self-compassion!
If you are a parent wanting to cultivate more self-compassion both in yourself and your daughter, check out our upcoming class: Cultivate a Mindful Life with Your Daughter, an 8 weekly classes to connect & grow with your child.