Self Compassion 101
How to Give Yourself A Break
If my Imgur feed is to be believed, far too many of us beat ourselves up all day. We recognize other people deserve compassion, patience, kindness, and understanding… but not ourselves.
If that feels all too familiar: welcome.
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Let’s talk about Self Compassion:
Self compassion is the ability to meet your own suffering with kindness.
Sounds simple, right?
Whelp - if you’re like me, there’s a gap between the understanding of the concept and the ability to act those skills into one's own life. But fret not! There’s some good science to guide us on what to do about it.
According to the work of Kristin Neff, the world’s leading researcher on the subject, self-compassion has 3 parts:
Choosing kindness over self-judgement
Recognizing your common humanity over believing you’re alone in struggle
Being mindful of your self, reactions, & stories so you can recognize genuine suffering or over-reaction
Those seem like some solid places to start, so let’s break them down a bit more.
Depending on your life circumstances you may have been raised in ways that taught you not to be kind to yourself. You might make simple mistakes and internally think “You moron!” Anyone else making those mistakes you’d think “yeah, that happens sometimes”.
Some of the guidance on how to re-work those responses may sound trite, but they’re often repeated because they’re effective. Here are a few strategies that have worked for me and my clients:
How would you want your child, grandmother, or someone else you love to be treated in the same situation?
Create mental distance between you & the knee-jerk narrative that’s unhelpful. For example, I call the mean voice in my head “Ashley” (she was the mean girl in middle school) to dis-identify myself from the mean thought.
Explore the reaction. Who spoke to you that way earlier in your life? Was the thing they were trying to teach you helpful or useful? Do you want to be that way anymore? How would you like to be instead and what would reinforce that new thing?
Recognizing Common Humanity
All human being suffer at times, whether they admit to their suffering or not. Sometimes when we struggle and suffer we can come to believe we’re alone in that suffering. Sadness, loneliness, fear, and grief can be isolating emotions ~ but when we take the time to recognize that all humans suffer and all humans have the capacity to heal we have the opportunity to connect through our pain.
It’s easy to believe we’re the only ones. It’s part of the duality of being human. On the one hand, you are the only you who will ever live. On the flip side, it’s estimated that 117 billion human beings have existed on this planet in our combined total history. It’s likely with 117 billion instances of humanity that someone else has worked on the same problems you are facing emotionally right now.
You are alone in your own mind.
You are not alone in your existence.
Cultivating Mindful Reactions
As a little kid I was labelled “dramatic” by those around me. My parents were going through a divorce and I emoted… a lot.
Fast forward to my adolescence and I learned to suppress my experiences. Pain and suffering were kept minimized because I hated the reaction I got to being “too much”.
Jump again to my early adulthood and I had a series of injuries that had festered - turns out I was ignoring a genetic disorder that resulted in a scary prognosis at 23.
In my mid 30s I was in a car accident and smashed 2 teeth out in the middle of the night. The next day I was embarrassed that I’d called my friend for help.
I share these as examples of the ways we can be taught to minimize or conflate our suffering. We may not know the appropriate reactions to the situations we find ourselves in. That’s alright. But through mindfulness and reflection we can learn to monitor our state, meet ourselves where we are, and offer the nurturing we need to heal and grow.
(Sidenote for clarity - I don’t blame my adult caregivers. They were doing the best they knew with what they had that the time.)
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As with many positive changes, they start with building mindfulness so you can learn about yourself. Sometimes mindfulness can be uncomfortable as you gain awareness of painful things that have come up for you. That’s okay. Gaining awareness, even if it hurts a bit, is part of how you heal on the journey towards your own wellbeing.