Strength Through Self-Compassion

kindness mindfulness resilience resiliency self-compassion Feb 07, 2022

Self-compassion is about relating to ourselves with warmth and kindness during times of failure, inadequacy, or suffering. Self-compassion packs power because it frees us from loneliness, keeps us from getting too carried away in our hardships, and empowers positive change in our lives. It’s a significant resiliency resource worth developing.

What Happens When We Practice Self-Compassion?

  • We become a source of comfort and support for ourselves
  • We transform negative self-talk into warm, patient encouragement
  • We gain a sense of self through connection to others rather than comparison
  • We see suffering as part of the human experience, not a personal failure
  • We relate better to others, able to both offer and receive support
  • We experience greater life satisfaction, happiness, and well-being
  • We become more curious, motivated, and resilient

 

Both Attacker and Attacked 

When we respond negatively to ourselves, we are both the attacker and the victim of our very own attack. All too often, when things don’t go well, we automatically find fault with ourselves, our actions, our decisions, our preparation, our personality, our skills … well you get the idea. The potential list of self-criticisms seems endless. There are so many ways we can beat ourselves up.

We easily fall into a habit of responding to ourselves negatively. This can happen in a variety of ways.  One is to deny our suffering all together. This usually leaves us feeling weighted down and unable to move forward. While putting on a happy face and toughing things out is often misconstrued as productive coping, suppressing the pain we feel is actually harmful to our well-being and undermines our efforts to build resiliency.

Another approach might be to exaggerate our suffering and in doing so limit our understanding of its true scale. This over emphasis of our problems robs us of the growth, insight, and connection to others we could experience if we maintained a more balanced perspective.

Alternatively, we might meet our suffering with harsh criticism and judgment which typically results in a cascade of negative emotions and harmful stress hormones like cortisol. This flood of feelings and hormones are likely to immobilize us and amplify our suffering. All of these responses bring us inward, isolate us, and can leave us stuck there, in our heads, alone with our negative thoughts. In many ways responding negatively to pain and hardship results in coping mechanisms that are more selfish, self-centered responses.

 

 

Having compassion starts and ends with having compassion for all those unwanted parts of ourselves.

- Pema Chödrön.

 

 

Choosing Self-Compassion

Alternatively, in the moment of failure, pain, or disappointment, we can make a choice to respond more compassionately. We can embrace our pain and shortcomings with kindness and understanding. This type of response helps us appreciate our situation in a broader, more objective way. It makes it easier to see that being human is difficult and that we are not alone in our suffering. Just like everyone else, we will have bad days, we will make mistakes, we will endure disappointment, we will fail, and we will experience painful losses. As part of being human we all experience suffering. This humanistic response helps us relate to others and to be supportive and supported. Although self-compassion is directed inward, it is not selfish. Paradoxically, this self-focused practice opens our awareness and our hearts to others.

With self-compassion, we recognize that our situation is not so unique. We are able to gain awareness and perspective of our struggles and the greater context of our suffering. We can gracefully accept ourselves and our circumstances. We can maintain a balanced view of our difficulties and see how even through our hardships we are connected to others. From this open, accepting place, we can meet our pain with grace and simultaneously honor our strength, desires, and potential.

Self-compassion is a mindful practice that enables an “inside-out” awareness. Looking inward, we harness the wisdom and passion that comes from our suffering. Our outward awareness helps us keep a balanced perspective and engage in what is most meaningful to us. By directing compassion inward, we discover a superpower for change. With self-compassion, we don’t try to heal old wounds or fix things, but rather to accept our pain and encounter our suffering in a new way. The ability to extend kindness, grace, and patience to ourselves helps us connect with others, understand circumstances on a broader level, and respond effectively to difficult situations. In this way, self-compassion is a powerful resiliency resource.

 

Learn more about self-compassion from Dr. Steven Hickman author of Self-Compassion for Dummies in Resiliency Well’s Podcast, Self-Compassion, Courage, and Kindness at Well Wisdom.


The Benefits of Self-Compassion
 

Research shows that self-compassion guards against depression, anxiety, and stress and is a valuable source of strength during periods of hardship. Individuals who practice self-compassion experience a greater sense of life satisfaction, are more likely to engage in healthy behaviors, and develop a broader range of positive coping skills. Self-compassion is associated with happiness, positivity, motivation, emotional well-being, and curiosity (Bluth & Neff, 2018; Shapira & Mongrain, 2010).

Responding to ourselves with warmth and kindness has the added benefit of enhancing our relationships. Specifically, in romantic relationships, partners who practice self-compassion are described as more emotionally connected and supportive. In a general sense, individuals who practice self-compassion are more forgiving, more altruistic, and better able to see others’ perspectives (Germer & Neff, 2019).

 

Self-compassion is simply giving the same kindness to ourselves that we would give to others.

-Christopher Germer

 

Self-Compassion has Three Distinct Components

  1.  Self-kindness
  2.  Mindfulness
  3.  Common Humanity

 

Self-kindness is the action part of self-compassion. When we relate to ourselves with kindness we are accepting, supportive, encouraging, warm and loving to ourselves. We take action to care for ourselves. We respond and talk to ourselves as we would relate to a dear friend or beloved family member. And there is an important distinction to make between self-kindness and self-indulgence. Just as a loving parent would not indulge a child with impulsive desires like cake for breakfast, or opting out of homework, or never cleaning their room, self-kindness is not boundless. Self-kindness is a middle road between harsh self-criticism and foolish self-indulgence. It is a realistic and beneficial affection directed to ourselves. It is warmth, love, and acceptance.

Mindfulness is essential to self-compassion because it raises awareness of our suffering and of the nature and quality of our responses to ourselves during difficulties. It helps us stay steady when difficult emotions surface. It creates a balanced perspective of our struggles, and opens an accepting space that allows for compassionate action.

Being aware of both our suffering and our responses to ourselves during times of failure, loss, disappointment, or hardship is the first step in self-compassion. Seeing our pain objectively, and accepting it without judgment, criticism, or blame opens the door to self-kindness. One of the most challenging things is to simply be with our suffering. Most of us find it incredibly difficult to be still and sit with uncomfortable emotions. Yet to grow and build resiliency we must process through the pain of our hardship, consider how it is affecting us, and possibly even changing our lives going forward.

Mindfulness eases this uncomfortable task of being with our pain so that we can properly absorb it as part of the resiliency process. Mindfulness also helps us notice how our relationship with ourselves is promoting or hindering our well-being. It helps us see possibilities and opens our hearts to embracing ourselves with love and kindness.

A balanced perspective ensures that we don’t deny our suffering or over exaggerate it.

Mindfulness allows us to observe what is happening internally and appreciate the context for what is true externally. In this way it creates an “inside-out” awareness. This expanded vantage point allows us to see multiple perspectives and to notice possibilities. In this open, accepting space, we gain greater awareness and are able to act compassionately. Mindfulness helps us honor ourselves during challenging times while appreciating perspectives and happenings outside of our suffering.

Common Humanity is the understanding that we are all flawed, we all fail, we all make mistakes, and we all suffer hardship and pain. It recognizes that there is no perfect life. It is the profound realization that our imperfections, our failings, and our struggles, are the threads woven through the human tapestry of life that connect us all in the human experience. With self-compassion, our flaws and human frailties create connection rather than comparison and isolation. This is the essence of common humanity.

As Kristen Neff PhD and leading researcher on self-compassion describes, self-compassion has many tangible benefits to our well-being and is a constant and accessible source of support and refuge because it only requires that we be a flawed human being like everyone else. 

  

 

Self-compassion calls us to have the wisdom and grace to accept ourselves exactly where we are and the courage to honor our hopes and potential.

-Beth Guyton

 

 

Simple Ways to Practice Self-Compassion

  • When you are experiencing a difficult time, pause and take a moment for yourself. Quickly scan your body and notice any place that you feel tension or pain. You may realize that your neck or shoulders are very tense. Gently touch the painful spot and name the pain. For example, you may touch your shoulder and say “This is really tight… this hurts.” Then try taking three deep rounds of breath and see if you can soften the area hurting as you exhale.
  • Begin to notice your self-talk especially when you make a mistake or a misjudgment. If your self-talk is negative, write it down. Then draw a line through it and write a positive statement that you can use in place of the negative self-talk. Repeat the positive statement out loud to yourself several times in a warm, nurturing tone.
  • If you are in a stressful situation at work or in the company of others, try gently placing one hand on top of the other. This is a simple way to extend warmth and kindness to yourself. It is a self-soothing technique that lovingly acknowledges your stress and offer yourself support.

 

If you would like to learn more about mindfulness and self-compassion, explore our mindful journaling self-compassion mini course.

If you have enjoyed this blog and are interested in building your personal resiliency resources, join us for our free First Things First Fridays sessions. The first Friday of every month, we connect for a 15-minute live session designed to offer a little self-care amidst the chaos of life. Follow us on Facebook, LinkedIn, or YouTube to get our live-streaming notices.

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