Have you ever felt discouraged, confused or simply unhappy? Have you ever felt bad about the way you feel? If you answered, yes, you are not alone we all have. What we really need in these cases, though, is a bit of self-compassion...
Definitions and background
Compassion is "the altruistic motivation to intervene in favour of someone who is suffering or is in need". The first aspect is about being aware of the other's suffering. The second one is about the intention to relieve it. Compassion means you feel a genuine concern. Unlike empathy, it doesn't mean you are actually feeling the suffering. (Matthieu Ricard, Altruism 2015)
Self-compassion, then, is about being kind and caring toward yourself. It is benevolent - the more of it the better. Unlike, self-esteem, increasing compassion does not make you more narcissistic.
"One reason that self-compassion may be more beneficial than self-esteem is that it tends to be available precisely when self-esteem fails. Personal flaws and shortcomings can be approached in a kind and balanced manner that recognises that imperfection is part of the human condition, even when self-evaluations are negative. This means that self-compassion can lessen feelings of self-loathing without requiring that one adopt an unrealistically positive view of oneself - a major reason why self-esteem enhancement programs often fail." writes Dr Kristin Neff pioneering mindfulness researcher and creator of the self-compassion scale.
Self-compassion has three elements. First, it encourages self-kindness over self-judgment. Second, it invites us to recognise our commonality and interconnectedness with all people. This helps us avoid the trap of isolation and dramatisation. Third, it emphasises mindfulness instead of over-identification. This is about neither suppressing nor exaggerating.
Neff also emphasises that self-compassion differs from self-pity and self-indulgence. Both of these involve an inflation of our sense of self, our ego, if you want.
In self-pity, we ignore the fact that feelings of inadequacy are common among people and become isolated in our own little world. In self-indulgence, we try to escape from the way we feel by seeking stimulation of the senses through food, TV, etc.
It is helpful to think of self-compassion as a habit. So, it requires repetition in to become habitual and our default way of being.
It is also helpful to see it as a skill. This reminds us that it requires practice to see improvements.
Self-compassion is about how we relate to our internal world and not about its contents. It is not about trying to get rid of uncomfortable feelings. It is about embracing with awareness and accepting them with kindness.
It is important to always remember that imperfection, dissatisfaction and change are part of the human condition. They will only go away when you go away.
When practising self-compassion uncomfortable feelings, pain, doubt can increase at first. This is due to the increased awareness and willingness to allow rather than suppress.
Self-compassion is about learning to be at peace with these internal states rather than trying to change them. They will never disappear as long as you live. So, it is much better to learn to be at peace with them.
Developing self-compassion is like raising your fitness level. Long-term commitment to exercise raises your baseline of physical well-being. When you practise self-compassion, you working with uncomfortable or challenging mental states rather than avoiding them. The outcome is an increased baseline level of contentment and peace.
If self-compassion interests you, take a look at the following resources.
Start by establishing your current level with the self-compassion test. Next, you feel drawn to, consider using some of the exercises and guided meditations to deepen it. Finally, keep improving by keeping these tips for practice in mind.