Changing your life with self-compassion
Self-compassion isn’t something that many are taught or come by naturally; in fact, it can seem contradictory to what we are taught in our Western culture – that you should be able to “pull yourself up by the bootstraps” if you find yourself in a tough situation.
While this may hold some truth (I certainly believe in one’s ability to create change in their own life), I equally believe that this notion of change must be balanced and held with self-compassion.
Change fueled by self-compassion rather than self-criticism (which is an all too common motivator for change), is change that is more likely to withstand the test of time and leave you feeling more fulfilled and empowered. Self-criticism may motivate us to make changes, but they are often short-lived and leave us feeling unfulfilled and downtrodden. It is important to remember that you are worthy and acceptable as you are and there are changes that can make your life even more brilliant.
In her work on self-compassion, Dr. Kristen Neff, a foremost researcher and author on the topic, outlines
three primary elements of self-compassion:
1. Self-kindness. Self-kindness is self-validation and self-acceptance. It’s understanding ourselves, even when we are failing, suffering, or feeling inadequate.
Self-kindness is not self-pity or self-criticism or self-indulgence. Self-kindness and self-compassion are also not self-esteem – self-esteem is about self-worth and how much we like ourselves based on self-evaluations. In contrast, self-compassion is not based on self-evaluations.
Self-kindness involves accepting that life involves difficulties and short-fallings. Self-kindness is being gentle with ourselves rather than angry or perfectionistic despite life’s difficulties. Self-kindness prevents suffering in life in the form of stress, frustration, and self-criticism.
2. Common humanity. Common humanity is a concept that recognizes that all humans suffer – not just “I”. Thinking “I am the only one suffering,” brings about feelings of isolation and inadequacy; however, in reality, pain is a shared human experience. All humans are mortal, vulnerable, and imperfect. Knowing that you are not alone in experiencing pain and hardship increases feelings of connectedness and validation, which allows you to accept reality as it is and thus prevents you from getting stuck in suffering.
3. Mindfulness. Self-compassion requires the use of mindfulness. With self-compassion, the same techniques used with mindfulness can also be used – observing, describing, and participating in a non-judgmental yet perceptive state.
In self-compassion, you take a mindful stance to your thoughts, feelings, and your personal experiences so that they are neither ignored nor exaggerated. It is important to be especially aware of any judgmental, self-critical thoughts and to let them be and replace with a self-compassionate thought.
Changing your life with self-compassion: Three Self-Compassion Exercises to Practice
1. Use common humanity statements. When experiencing difficulty in life, repeat internally or aloud to yourself, “I’m not alone,” “Other people feel this way,” “This is a part of life and it hurts,” or a similar statement that expresses common humanity.
2. Show yourself a loving gesture. Showing yourself a loving gesture can release the chemical oxytocine in the brain, which increases feelings of joy, openness, connection, and trust. To show yourself some love, you can place your hand over your heart, hug yourself, hold your hands in prayer position, or whatever feels genuine and comfortable to you. If in public, you can cross your arms and gently squeeze or caress your arms or shoulders. If you notice yourself having any judgments around giving yourself a loving gesture, let them go. Also, these gestures can be helpful when practicing the other self-compassion exercises.
3. Self-compassion journal. Keep a self-compassion journal and write on the three components of self-compassion: mindfulness, common humanity, and self-kindness.
Begin the entry with the mindfulness piece. Bring awareness to your thoughts and note them. Do the same with your feelings and experiences, even if they are self-critical in nature. Do not judge them or wish them away, simply observe and describe them.
Next, focus on the common humanity. Write down ways in which others have experienced something similar or how your experience was connected to the larger human experience.
Lastly, finish the entry with a self-kindness statement. Write something that communicates caring, comfort, empathy, and validation of your thoughts, feelings, or experience.