The Importance of Self-Compassion
“If your compassion does not include yourself, it is incomplete.” – Jack Kornfield
Compassion is defined as the sympathetic consciousness of others’ distress together with a desire to alleviate it. As human beings, we often can’t help but notice others suffering and be moved by someone’s experience. Our hearts respond to that pain and we hope to help alleviate their struggle with kindness and understanding, rather than pity, allowing us to see and partake in the shared human experience. So, if we are capable and willing to show compassion to friends, family, and strangers without a second thought, why is it so difficult to be kind and understanding to ourselves. Why do we berate ourselves in instances of failure, perceived inadequacy, insecurities, or general suffering? Why do we feel our suffering is not deserving of kindness?
We have often been taught to maintain our composure, to ignore our pain and ‘stay strong’ but that has also led to a shortcoming in our willingness to comfort and care for ourselves. I want to emphasize willingness because the mentalities we’ve been programmed to adopt in regard to ignoring our own suffering has led us to avoid self-compassion, but it has not stopped your ability to do so! Self-compassion is an integral aspect of bettering your mental health and managing your response to the obstacles you face every day. So how do you better your self-compassion?
Elements of Self-Compassion
Dr. Kristin Neff, an expert on self-compassion, depict how self-compassion can be broken down into three elements:
1. Self-Kindness vs. Self-judgement
This can be described as recognizing your imperfections, failures, and life difficulties as part of life and being gentle and kind with one’s self when faced with these situations versus allowing yourself to get angry when life doesn’t reach your expectations. By allowing self-kindness in, you can move towards greater emotional control and balance.
2. Common humanity vs. Isolation
Another human condition is that of feeling extremely isolated in our suffering and like we are the only person in the world facing these problems or making mistakes. It is important to recognize that being human means being imperfect, and therefore recognizing that suffering is a part of the shared human experience. Often times you are not as ‘alone’ as you feel when it comes to the difficulties you are facing.
3. Mindfulness vs. Overidentification
Self-compassion also requires us to be able to mindfully approach our negative thoughts and feelings in a way that doesn’t suppress or exaggerate them. This involves relating your experiences to others to see the bigger picture and the willingness to observe our negative emotions in an open and non-judgmental manner so we can be mindfully aware.
When you practice these three elements in your everyday life and actively remain mindful of self-compassion you can make huge strides in how your perceive your successes and failures and truly better your mental health in the long run.
Through counselling and exploring different topics of self-compassion, I have found a few practices that have helped me greatly in my self-compassion journey. Journaling is a great way to practice reflecting on negative thoughts in a non-judgemental way and showing kindness to yourself. You can use this method to process difficult events with self-compassion in mind. I personally write letters to myself where I try to write as if I was a close friend showing compassion to someone I love unconditionally, in this case, myself. Mediation is also a great tool to practice your self-kindness and mindfulness. It can be a great way to adopt the three elements of self-compassion over time and you work through some guided or self-meditations. The third thing I found extremely helpful was weeding through my social media. I choose to unfollow many influencers that made me insecure or allowed judgemental thoughts to surface. I also replaced some of those influencers with people I admire, who are authentically themselves.
“You can search through the entire universe for someone who is more deserving of your love and affection than you are yourself, and that person is not to be found anywhere. You, yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection.” – Anonymous
There are tons of more great exercises and readings to help you with your self-compassion journey. For more information and resources on self-compassion check out Dr. Kristen Neff’s website here.