What is Self-Compassion?
With self-compassion, we give ourselves the same kindness and care we’d give to a good friend. Instead of judging and criticizing yourself for various failures, self-compassion means you are kind and understanding when confronted with personal failings.
Using self-compassion, when I undergo frustrations, failures, or limitations I can choose to honor and accept my human experience.
As per Dr. Kristen Neff, self-compassion has three elements to itself. Each is very essential to its practice. We’ll discuss each one of these.
First Element: Self-Kindness (as opposed to Self-Judgement)
Let’s take the case of a friend who is in trouble. When we are kind to her, we offer her with whatever possible help we can. Similarly, when we are in trouble ourselves and practice self-kindness, we understand and accept ourselves in sufferings, failures and difficulties. They are an inevitable part of life. We are gentle towards ourselves. This results in calmness, and control over oneself.
Now, the other side of the coin is to be self-judgemental to this friend by ignoring her pain and suffering. When we are self-judgemental, we ignore the pain, criticise ourselves and get angry towards ourselves. Such an attitude results in stress, frustration and self-criticism.
Second Element: Common Humanity (as opposed to Isolation)
Common Humanity understands that all humans suffer. Being “human” means that one is mortal, vulnerable and imperfect.
Self-compassion involves recognizing that suffering and personal inadequacy is part of the shared human experience.
On the other side of the table is Isolation. Frustration and continuous sense of isolation – as if “I” were the only person suffering or making mistakes.
Third Element: Mindfulness (as opposed to Over-Identification)
“I feel happy”
“I feel jealous”
I want all of you to read the two statements on the screen. Go back to the last time you felt jealous and go back to the last memory of you being happy. And then tell me, for how many of you it is easier to accept the first statement as compared to the second one?
All our lives we’ve been taught to give so much attention to positive feelings like happiness, pride, joy that we often forget to look at the other side of the coin – the negative feelings like being angry, hurt, jealous or sad. We often ignore or avoid these feelings entirely. But in doing so we also ignore or avoid a part of ourselves. Being mindful involves not only the positive but also the negative, being mindful is all about accepting everything as it is, without any judgement.
So how can you and I accept all our positive and negative thoughts and feelings? By being a mere observer to both, without any sense of attachment to any. Think of yourself as a screen on which both positive and negative feelings can be projected and changed from time to time. These feelings are represented on the screen but do not define it. The moment the projector is switched off, there it, your clean screen.
So the next time, you feel angry, take a deep breath and say to yourself, “I feel angry”.
So the next time, you feel hurt, take a deep breath and say to yourself, “I feel hurt”.
Acknowledge and accept your negative feelings.
One thing to keep in mind while being mindful is to not over-identify with your negative feelings. This means that yes, you can acknowledge and accept your anger but thinking only about your anger all the time is not healthy. After you have given your anger the respect it deserves, learn from it and let it go slowly.
Use it the next time you see some scope for self-compassion.
- This is a moment of suffering (mindfulness)
- Hardships are a part of life (common humanity)
- May I be kind to myself? (self-kindness)