Self-compassion is often interchanged with self-care, but while the two are related there is a distinct difference. The former is regarding yourself compassionately, while the latter is treating yourself compassionately; one is a thought, the other is an action.
Kristin Neff, Ph.D, widely recognized as one of the world’s leading experts on self-compassion, defined it as “being understanding towards one’s self during times that we experience perceived inadequacy, failure, or general suffering.” She adds that it is composed of three main components:
This entails being warm and understanding toward ourselves when we suffer, fail, or feel inadequate, rather than ignoring our pain or beating ourselves up with self-criticism. Dr. Neff says that self-compassionate people recognize that being imperfect, failing, and experiencing difficulties are inevitable aspects of life, so they treat themselves gently when confronted with painful experiences, rather than getting angry when life falls short of set ideals.
2. Common humanity.
Dr. Neff explains that when something bad happens to us, we tend to feel frustrated and even isolated, i.e. “I’m the stupidest person in the world for doing this,” “Why is this happening to me?” or even “No one else understands what I am going through.” But in reality, all humans suffer and make mistakes, so self-compassion means recognizing that problems and trials are things that everyone in the world goes through and not just “me” alone.
This is a non-judgmental, receptive state of mind in which one observes thoughts and feelings as they are, without trying to suppress or deny them. If we take a balanced approach or our negative emotions so that feelings are neither suppressed or exaggerated, then we are practicing self-compassion.
Self-compassion and mental health
If you practice self-compassion you will tend to have lower levels of anxiety and depression. Self-compassionate people recognize when they are suffering and are kind to themselves at these times, which reduces their stress. Luckily, self-compassion is a learnable skill.
Here are some ways:
1. Comfort your body.
Anything you can do to improve how you feel physically is already self-compassion. Eat something healthy. Lie down and rest when you feel tired instead of pushing on. Get a massage or massage different body parts on your own. Take a walk.
2. Write a letter to yourself
In the letter, describe a situation that caused you to feel bad (a breakup with a partner, losing your job, receiving negative feedback). Write how the events occurred in a factual manner, without blaming anyone. This is a good way to help you unburden and acknowledge your feelings.
3. Give yourself encouragement.
If something bad happens to you, think of what you would say to a good friend if the same thing happened to him or her. Then direct these compassionate responses toward yourself.
4. Practice mindfulness.
Observe the direction of your thoughts, feelings, and actions after a particularly stressful event, without trying to suppress or deny them. Instead, accept the bad events in your life (as well as the good ones) with a compassionate attitude.
5. Practice self-forgiveness
Stop beating yourself up for your mistakes. Accept that you are not perfect, and be kind to yourself when you are confronted with your shortcomings.
6. Employ a Growth (vs. Fixed) Mindset.
This means viewing and embracing challenges as opportunities to grow rather than as impossible obstacles (fixed) that should be avoided.
7. Express gratitude.
Instead of constantly wishing for what you do not have, find strength in appreciating what you do have at the moment. By focusing on your blessings, you move the focus away from your shortcomings and to all that is good in your life.
The next time you do not meet the expectations you have for yourself, resist the urge to feel sad, angry, or inadequate. Instead, take a moment to pause and reassess, then forgive yourself and recognize that you are only human.
Written by Jacq of Mindnation