Compassion is about having feelings of understanding and empathy for others, particularly around their struggles and suffering. We can see the positive effect compassion can have on our relationships with others; it brings us closer by showing the other person that we care, its creates a feeling of wellbeing and harmony between people and it lessens conflict by giving space for tolerance and understanding.
What is Self Compassion?
It seems that, for many, it is much easier to apply compassion to others than it is to feel compassionate feelings towards oneself. However, imagine what happens to the self when compassionate feelings cannot be turned inward? When we do not feel compassion towards others in the world, it can lead to conflict, misunderstanding, bad feeling and disharmony. All of these things are felt within the self when we cannot feel self-compassion. These very things are what often bring people to therapy. While they may present with all sorts of life problems and concerns, more often than not, it is the lack of ability to be kind, respectful and compassionate towards the self that makes these life problems unbearable. A lack of self-compassion means that people are unnecessarily critical of themselves when they are faced with problems. They berate themselves and can feel like 'a failure' for not being able to sort things out. The ultimate impact of this is to make it even more unlikely that the problem can be solved. While we are busy being critical and unkind to ourselves there is no room for problem solving. The mind is busy telling us how incapable we are and therefore there is no opportunity for growth.
Self-compassion has taken a front seat in psychology research of late thanks in huge part to the researcher Dr. Kristin Neff. Kristin identifies three essential components of self-compassion: being kind to the self over being judgmental, recognising our common human struggles over feeling isolated and being more mindful rather than getting caught up in negative thoughts and worries.
How Does Self Compassion Help?
There is overwhelming support from research to show that self compassion benefits us in many ways and not only that, it also benefits those around us too. Self- compassion has been shown to:
Increase a positive outlook on life generally.
Promote a healthier body image.
Help with problem behaviours like unhealthy eating.
Reduce depression and anxiety.
Create healthier interpersonal relationships.
It seems that those with a healthier sense of self-compassion are more capable of giving compassion and care to others and are also less likely to burn out when they are in care-giving roles in the home or at work. Self-compassion also seems to greatly enhance romantic relationships as self-compassionate partners are more emotionally available and less critical or judgmental. So self-compassion is not only good for us, its great for our nearest and dearest also.
How can we increase our self compassion?
Mindfulness: the practice of mindfulness lessens the habit of the mind of focus on negative thoughts and ruminating. See my earlier post for more information on mindfulness.
Write a self-compassionate letter to yourself. This can help you to step outside of yourself long enough to see yourself as part of the common human struggle. You are doing your best, just like everyone else. You deserve the same understanding and compassion as everyone else. We are all in it together.
Become aware of your negative inner voice. We all have one. It can be more cruel than any bully. Notice how your negative inner voice is treating you. You may not be able to switch off this negative voice completely but neither do you have to fully listen to or believe what it is saying to you. Give it no more attention than any bully deserves.
Be forgiving. Whatever mistakes you've made in the past, its time to let them go. It is unrealistic to expect perfection from yourself, perfection is not part of the human condition. Accept your mistakes as a natural part of being human.
Neff, K. D., Dahm, K. A. (2014). Self-Compassion: What it is, what it does, and how it relates to mindfulness (pp. 121-140). In M. Robinson, B. Meier &; B. Ostafin (Eds.) Mindfulness and Self-Regulation. New York: Springer.
Neff, K. D. & Germer, C. (2017). Self-Compassion and Psychological Wellbeing. In J. Doty (Ed.) Oxford Handbook of Compassion Science, Ch. 27. Oxford University Press.
Neff K.D., Kirkpatrick K., Rude S.S. (2007) Self-compassion and adaptive psychological functioning. Journal of Research in Personality, 41(1), 139-154, .