In my work with clients, self compassion is a topic that almost always comes up. Many of us are taught to show compassion to others; however, when we are the ones walking through pain or suffering, it’s often not the response we reach for. Instead, we respond to our own suffering with judgment. With thoughts like “I need to do or be more”, with criticism, or even just by ignoring our pain and hoping it will disappear.
In this post, I first want to walk you through what self compassion is. Then, I’d like to share some signs you may find it helpful to begin practicing self compassion. A part two will be coming in the next few weeks. In that post, we’ll chat about the benefits of implementing a self compassion practice and some practices to introduce into your life.
First, What is Self Compassion?
Let’s define what compassion looks like in practice. One of the leading experts in the work of Self-Compassion is a woman named Kristin Neff. She wrote the book “Self-Compassion” and has such a beautiful explanation of compassion that I wanted to share that here:
There are three primary goals of the work of self compassion:
Self kindness instead of self judgment
Self kindness looks like a warm and understanding response to ourselves when we experience pain, loss, failure or feelings of inadequacy. When we are suffering and become angry or frustrated with ourselves (whether it’s pain that is outwardly inflicted or suffering that we are causing ourselves), there is an intentional practice of recognizing that pain and failure are parts of the human experience that are inevitable; therefore, we give ourselves permission to be kind in the midst of them.
Common humanity instead of isolation
There is great power in beginning to recognize that all human beings experiences pain and suffering. One of the hardest parts of suffering, is the isolation that it can bring and the feeling that “I’m the only one feeling this way”. When we begin to accept that suffering and feelings of inadequacy are experiences shared by all, we can lean into being more compassionate to ourselves.
Mindfulness instead of over identification
This third element of self compassion is quite possibly my favourite of the three. Mindfulness is the act of tuning into our thoughts, feelings and experience right now as they actually are. Mindfulness is a judgement free zone. When practicing mindfulness, we observe and take note of our thoughts and feelings but we do not criticize or try to change them.
We are not able to ignore our pain and feel compassion for it at the same time. We’re often quick to over identify with our pain by getting swept up in the emotions of the situation. Self compassion allows us to take a more balanced approach to witnessing our pain. So that it is neither ignored and suppressed nor exaggerated.
Three Signs You Might Need To Practice Self Compassion
We’re in a relationship with ourself the duration of our lives. Sadly, many would describe this relationship as anything but one marked by compassion. Take comfort in the knowledge that self-compassion is an intentional practice, not something you just happen to be “good” at. Here are three signs it might be helpful for you to build a self-compassion practice into your mindset and life.
- Many of your thoughts look something like “I should feel/think/be/look/act different than I am right now”.
- You have an idealistic version of yourself that always feels a bit out of reach.
- You speak to yourself in ways you would never ever speak to a close friend.
Stay tuned for part two of the self compassion series, where we will look at the benefits and some ways you can begin practicing it.