Audio Version (09:42)
We often hear the term self-compassion. But what does self-compassion actually mean, and how do we do it?
I got asked that question recently by a subscriber who said that a therapist had told her she needed to have more self-compassion, but she didn’t explain what it was.
That’s what we’re unpicking in this article. To watch the extended YouTube version, click here.
In essence, self-compassion involves treating ourselves with the same kindness and understanding that we readily extend to others in times of struggle.
For many of us, especially those of us who grew up in challenging environments where self-compassion was not modelled or where our caregivers were either preoccupied or emotionally immature, not knowing how to give ourselves compassion can have a profound impact on both our physical and mental health.
Dr. Kristin Neff, a pioneering researcher in the field, defines self-compassion as having three key components: self-kindness, common humanity, and mindfulness.
Self-kindness involves treating ourselves with warmth and understanding rather than harsh self-judgment. It’s about acknowledging our flaws, mistakes, and imperfections with the same compassion we offer to others, especially when our destructive inner critic raises its ugly head.
Instead of berating ourselves for falling short of expectations, self-kindness encourages a nurturing and supportive internal dialogue.
2. Common Humanity
Recognising our shared human experience is central to self-compassion. It’s an understanding that everyone encounters difficulties, failures, and challenges.
By acknowledging our common humanity, we connect with the collective nature of the human experience, realising that we are not alone in our struggles. This shared perspective fosters empathy and diminishes feelings of isolation.
Mindfulness, a key component of self-compassion, involves being present and aware of our thoughts and emotions without judgment. It’s about approaching our experiences with an open and non-reactive mind.
Mindfulness allows us to observe our thoughts and feelings without becoming entangled in negative self-talk or destructive patterns, creating space for self-compassion to flourish.
Strategies for Cultivating Self-Compassion
The practice of self-compassion has a profound impact on mental health, contributing to overall well-being and resilience.
Research indicates that individuals who cultivate self-compassion are more likely to experience lower levels of anxiety, depression, and stress.
Following are some ways in which self-compassion influences mental health. I’ve covered some of these items in a previous video: 041 – 5 Simple, easy-to-use, science-backed tools to build your MENTAL TOUGHNESS and manage STRESS, so I won’t go into detail on those here.
I’ve talked about the basics in previous articles, but I can’t stress enough how important they are:
These are fundamentals to all of us, regardless of what you’re going through. If you’re not taking care of the basics, EVERYTHING will always seem worse.
Mindfulness meditation is a powerful tool for cultivating self-compassion. Set aside time each day to engage in mindfulness practices, such as focused breathing or body scan meditations.
Meditation can help you become more aware of your thoughts and emotions without judgment, laying the foundation for self-compassionate responses.
I also use self-hypnosis frequently. My two favourites are Paul Mckenna and Andrew Johnson. Again, I discuss this and NSDR – Non-Sleep Deep Rest – in more detail in the previous video I mentioned earlier.
Challenge Negative Self-Talk
Most of us have an internal critic. However, for some, it can be severe and debilitating.
What I’ve learnt in my studies is that if you have a particularly strong inner critic, it’s likely a continuation of bullying you experienced as a child (either from a parent, sibling, friend or classmate) or behaviours modelled in your childhood home.
If you grew up in a particularly critical or even bullying household, the voices of your bullies often become your adult critical internal voice.
Now, I’d love to say that there’s a quick fix to managing your inner critic, sadly not. Although the process is relatively simple, it takes time to build new neural connections to replace the old ones used by your inner critic.
Calming Your Inner Critic
The following are tools I use to silence my inner critic when it gets overwhelming:
Firstly, tune in to how you’re talking to yourself. Are you being kind, loving and supportive or negative, mean, cruel, self-pitying (incidentally, many of us talk to ourselves in a way that we’d never allow another person to!).
If your inner voice is overly critical, mean or even cruel, confront it by deliberately saying something that’s the exact opposite.
Reframe your thoughts with kindness and understanding. It’s crucial to remember that YOU create your thoughts AND your inner critic, which means that you can change them both, too!
Treat and talk to yourself as you would a close friend, offering words of encouragement and support.
Change the pitch, tone, and pace of the voice – I like to use a whiney teenager’s voice or a distinctive one like Donal Duck’s. Doing that takes the scariness out of it and will likely make you laugh.
Stick out your thumb, and in your mind, move the voice to the end of your thumb. Sounds weird, but when we dissociate from the voice and project it outwards, it dilutes its power.
Each one of these tools is really easy to do. You can do them anytime. The hardest thing is noticing when your inner critic has taken over and remembering to use them!
Integrate self-kindness into your daily routine. Treat yourself with the same care you would offer to a friend or even a child.
This may involve taking breaks when needed, prioritising self-care activities, and avoiding self-imposed perfectionism.
Small acts of self-kindness can accumulate, contributing to a more compassionate overall mindset.
Many people feel guilty for taking time for themselves. If that’s you, remember you can’t pour from an empty cup. Even if you just do something that’s kind for yourself or something that you enjoy for just 10 minutes a day (I call that the 10-minute happiness challenge), over time, it will make a positive difference to your well-being.
Again, I’ve discussed the many psychological benefits of journaling in a few of my previous articles, so I won’t go into detail here.
However, journaling can be a valuable tool for self-reflection and cultivating self-compassion. Write about your experiences, acknowledging both the challenges and successes. When faced with difficulties, explore your feelings with a compassionate perspective, recognising that imperfection is a shared aspect of the human experience.
Instead of striving for perfection, strive for excellence. No one can be perfect, but every one of us can be excellent.
The Wrap Up
In the journey of self-discovery and personal growth, self-compassion is a guiding light, offering solace and resilience in the face of life’s challenges.
By understanding and incorporating the principles of self-kindness, common humanity, and mindfulness, you can nurture the soul within, fostering a compassionate relationship with yourself.
As research continues to underscore the transformative power of self-compassion, integrating these strategies into daily life becomes not just a choice but a vital step towards a more fulfilling and emotionally resilient existence.
If you have any words of wisdom on this topic, or if you have any questions you’d like me to answer, please leave them in the comments section below. I love interacting with you and really value your feedback.
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