What if I told you there’s a secret superpower you can use to drown out your inner critic, build emotional resilience and feel happier overall? Here’s how self-compassion can help you go from self-criticism to self-kindness…
‘Having compassion for oneself is really no different than having compassion for others… Self-compassion involves acting the same way towards yourself when you are having a difficult time, fail, or notice something you don’t like about yourself. Instead of just ignoring your pain with a “stiff upper lip” mentality, you stop to tell yourself, “this is really difficult right now, how can I comfort and care for myself in this moment?”’
Kristin Neff, Ph.D. is widely recognised as one of the world’s leading experts on self-compassion. She was the first one to operationally define and measure the construct almost twenty years ago. Neff identifies three elements of self-compassion:
Rather than ignoring our pain or beating ourselves up when we suffer, fail or feel inadequate, self-compassion is about being warm and understanding toward ourselves. Self-compassionate people know that being imperfect, failing, and experiencing difficulties is inevitable, so they are more likely to be gentle with themselves when confronted with painful experiences.
To be human is to be vulnerable and imperfect. Self-compassion involves recognising that suffering and personal inadequacy is part of the shared human experience – something we all go through rather than something that happens to ‘me’ alone.
Self-compassion requires a balanced approach to negative emotions so that feelings are neither suppressed nor exaggerated. This is partly achieved by relating personal experiences to those of others who are also suffering. In other words, putting our own situation into a larger perspective. We must also be willing to observe our negative thoughts and emotions with openness and clarity, so that they are held in mindful awareness.
For some people, practicing self-compassion has connotations around being ‘self-indulgent’. They think it involves feeling sorry for yourself, being complacent and selfish. These are important myths to bust, so here are some key points to remember:
Self-compassion has a lot of benefits for our mental health and wellbeing, including making us happier and more resilient to life’s challenges. Instead of meeting our failures and imperfections with self-blame and criticism, we can bring mindful attention to our experiences and a sense of love and care to ourselves.
Cultivating self-compassion can be difficult, so don’t be surprised if it takes practice! Here are some simple tips to get you started:
I share tips and advice to help you cultivate self-compassion on my Instagram page, the.perfectionism.therapist. And I also send a fortnightly newsletter to encourage you to be kind to yourself and embrace your imperfections with self-compassion. You can sign-up here.