Compassion for others is a widely valued trait in any individual. We understand that through compassion we gain connection, understanding, respect, and personal growth. And yet many of us skip one vital element of compassion: how to practice self-compassion. In fact, research shows that women consistently show less self-compassion than men.
What is self-compassion?
Self-compassion can be mistaken for self-pity, self-indulgence, or self-esteem. Although self-compassion can result in a healthier self-esteem, it is important to make the distinction. When you practice self-compassion, you are simply extending toward yourself the same consideration that you would toward a good friend.
In her work with self-compassion, Dr. Kristin Neff identifies three elements to self-compassion. Firstly, self-compassion involves acknowledging your own suffering, challenge, mistakes, and imperfections. Through acknowledgement without judgement you can work through your own experience (rather than prolonging it).
Secondly, self-compassion allows you to acknowledge that you are not alone in this. Rather than isolating yourself and feeling as if “I am the only one who feels this way”, you can recognise challenges, mistakes, and imperfections as part of the human experience.
Lastly, when you practice self-compassion you can put your situation into perspective. Rather than supressing or exaggerating your negative emotions, you can take a balanced approach to ensure you can acknowledge the experience without getting lost in it.
What happens when you practice self-compassion?
Through self-compassion you can develop greater emotional resilience, higher motivation (often due to being less afraid of failure), and a healthier lifestyle. When you practice self-compassion, you begin to take care of yourself better, meaning you are more likely to eat and exercise well, and more likely to seek the support that you need.
Research points to increased satisfaction in life, a stronger sense of connection, greater personal responsibility, and even links to building a stronger immune system. When practiced consistently, self-compassion can also lower the risks of depression, anxiety, and reduce the need for perfectionism.
Through self-compassion we build stronger relationships through developing a greater sense of compassion for others.
4 ways practice self-compassion
Consider how you would treat a dear friend
It can difficult to shift directly into high levels of self-compassion. Start by considering how you would treat a dear friend. What would you say? What would you do? How would you respond to their suffering?
Action point: when you feel stuck, try asking yourself “What would I say to someone I cared about in this situation?”
Watch your language
Pay close attention to the words that you use when you speak to yourself. Develop the habit of acknowledging when and how you place judgement on yourself. Ensure that you do this in a compassionate way (we often layer judgement on top of our judgements). Make a conscious effort to reframe your negative judgements in a more compassionate and useful way.
Action point: when you feel stuck, try asking yourself “What purpose does this self-talk serve?”
Utilise physical touch
Action point: identify a physical touch that can act as your trigger to practice self-compassion.
Identify some key compassionate phrases
Now that you can recognise some of your negative self-talk, identify some key compassionate phrases to replace them. Pick statements that resonate with you and help to shift you out of your old critical thinking. Combine these with your physical touch. Examples include: “This is a moment of suffering”, “May I be kind to myself in this moment?” and “May I give myself the compassion I need?”
Action point: identify 3-4 key phrases that resonate with you.
A final note on self-compassion
Whilst your self-compassion practice is aimed at alleviating your suffering, it is important to note that self-compassion is about showing kindness rather than controlling feelings. Approach your practice in a way that allows you to acknowledge and accept the moment as it is, in the knowledge that this will promote resilience and support your overall happiness.
You may find that when you practice self-compassion your experience of suffering increases at first. If you feel overwhelmed by your emotions, your most self-compassionate response may be to ease off temporarily. This simple act alone, reinforces your practice of self-compassion. By giving yourself what you need in that moment.
Understand that self-compassion is a practice. There will be times you get it right. And there will be times that you don’t. Both are equally a part of the experience.
About the Author: Tara Jackson
Tara is a Life Alignment Coach on a mission to empower women to make powerful and lasting change within their lives to establish a life where they thrive. With more than a decade in working in (and on) personal development she is committed to supporting people to find, not just their own potential, but the potential of their lives. Through coaching, she works with women to create real change that leads to the life that they want to be living.
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