What is Self-Compassion?

People are often very good at expressing compassion towards people they care about. For example, when we have a friend or family member who is going through a tough time, we often drop what we are doing to call them, send a text or meet up with them in person. Self-compassion however is harder for many of us to do and is often met with this idea that we are not worthy or even deserving of such care and positivity. Self compassion is extending compassion to one’s self in instances of perceived inadequacy, failure, or general suffering. Instead of jumping to your self-critical voice, i.e. “I am so dumb” or “I wish I was thinner” try changing that internal voice by being kind and understanding when you encounter a personal failing. This of course is not easy and takes a lot of practice and perseverance but Dr. Kristin Neff (the leading research and psychologist on self-compassion) has defined self-compassion as being comprised of three important elements – self-kindness, common humanity, and mindfulness.

Three important elements:

Self-Kindness- entails being warm and understanding towards ourselves when we suffer, fail, or feel inadequate. One does not ignore their pain or become self-critical.

Common humanity- Involves recognizing that suffering and personal inadequacy is part of the shared human experience – something that we all go through rather than being something that happens to “me” alone.

Mindfulness- Mindfulness is a non-judgmental, receptive mind state in which one observes thoughts and feelings as they are, without trying to suppress or deny them.

Loving-kindness is an important aspect of self-care. Wishing health and well-being for others can make us feel more connected to people around us and more in touch with our motivation to support and care for the people we love. Importantly, bringing an attitude of warmth, kindness, and concern to painful experiences (our own or others) creates a culture compassion. Both compassion for ourselves and others can help us have the courage we need to face difficult experiences. Most people find it easy and familiar to send well-wishes to others. However, the idea of sending these same wishes to ourselves can feel uncomfortable, strange, and awkward. This is why practicing loving-kindness for a loved one and then gradually transforming these same messages to ourselves can help us feel more connected to the people and things we love.

Think about a trait you often judge yourself for, and that is an important part of your self-definition. Ask yourself the following questions:

  1. How often do I display this trait? Can you remember when this trait didn’t exist ? What was going on in your life? Are you still you?
  2. That internal dialogue you have that focuses on your personal flaws, would you say that to a friend? Would you say it to a stranger?
  3. Say out loud three positive attributes about yourself! Once you have done this, put them on a sticky pad and place them where you will see it everyday, i.e. bathroom mirror or desk. Every time you see it, say it out load!


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