Self compassion is treating yourself in the kind way you would treat a dear and respected friend. Research has found that at the root of self-esteem, a critical variable is self-compassion, and not self-confidence as many of us would think. So, why aren’t we more self-compassionate to ourselves since it would likely make us feel better and lead to increased self-confidence by the reduction of self-criticism?
Well, the answer lies in what Dr. Kristin Neff has found in her years of research on the topic, that people believe that they will become self-indulgent and “simmer” in their misery. Most of us believe that it’s the self-criticism that keeps us in line, like the drill Sargent that yells at the enlisted so that he can get him or her to perform.
In her research, rather than becoming self-indulgent, she found that self-compassion actually allowed people to more quickly move through the difficult emotions and situations that they experience. I believe that just the easing of personal suffering makes it something worth investigating.
How can we practice self-compassion?
1 Acknowledge that what you’re going through at the moment is really hard and that you are struggling. As opposed to ignoring what is going on in your inner world and trying to solider on, it is taking the time to check in with yourself and accept rather than fight the difficult emotions. This is a mindfulness practice, to be present with what is happening as it’s happening.
2 Common Humanity. One of the most difficult parts of difficult emotions/situations is that we feel quite alone or different. In this step we can remind ourselves that this is a normal feeling in our given situation. Rather than telling yourself that you’re weird for feeling this way, remind yourself of the good reasons that it makes sense to feel the way you do. Additionally, widen your perspective by recognizing that you’re not alone in this. There are many people in this city, state, and country that are feeling the things you are feeling. Recognizing our common humanity, that all of us are imperfect is powerful.
3 Give some words of kindness to yourself. Like speaking to that dear friend, you might ask something like, “You’re really struggling, how can I help you right now?” It may helpful to memorize a few statements that resonate with you. Dr. Neff suggests, “May I be kind to myself in this moment, May I give myself the compassion that I need”.
4 Comfort yourself with a physical gesture. Research has shown that the contact comfort that we receive can calm jittery neurons. So, even a hand to your heart or holding your arm in conjunction with the kind phrases will be helpful.
May we all give ourselves the compassion that we need.