These days kindness and compassion appear to be in short supply. Whether it is on social media, at a family or work gathering, or even in your own thought life, cynicism and despair can battle to take root as you try to navigate your own hurts along with the pain of loved ones and those in the world. The toxic residue of the messy and noisy aspects of culture can take a toll on your community and on your own physical and emotional health. That’s why a practice of self-compassion is non-negotiable.
When we are in the presence of hurting people, we literally feel their pain; our brain is hard-wired to feel what other people feel. This can be an overwhelming experience, especially for those who care and feel things very deeply, and self-critical parts of our complex internal system can leap in to protect us from disappointment and unmet expectations.
Suffering and struggle are a part of being human and a common response is to criticize ourselves when faced with distress. So many are not aware of how critical they are in their self-talk, so critical that it feels like the norm. Self-criticism actually triggers a physiological danger response in the body furthering the negative spiral and hijacking beliefs about worth. This is why self-compassion is so critical to practice; yet, it’s often misunderstood and brushed aside as a self-indulgence.
Some of these misunderstandings are that:
– Self-compassion makes you weak.
– Self-compassion means you only care about yourself.
– The only way to solve problems is by being a harsh critic and “realistic,” otherwise you are lazy and indulgent.
– Self-compassion is only for kids, not for grown-ups.
In fact, self-compassion is when we choose to treat ourselves with the same kindness, care and concern with which we would treat our friends and loved ones. Self-compassion researcher Kristen Neff found this important practice is a simple concept to understand but a difficult one to implement.
Her research discovered that:
– 76% people are significantly more compassionate to others them themselves.
– 16% of respondents are equally kind and compassionate to self and to others.
– 7% of respondents are kinder to themselves than others.
The practice of self-compassion is highly connected to personal well-being. The cause and effect of self-compassion is simple: The more we practice being kind to ourselves, the more we have to give to others and to serve the communities we live in. Dr. Neff identified three components of self-compassion as:
– Self-kindness instead of judgement.
– Common humanity instead of isolation.
– Mindfulness instead of over-identification.
Self-compassion is what helps us show up in life’s hard moments and to do so with empathy, preventing judgement, shame and burnout from taking over. A self-compassion practice helps re-author the negative beliefs that can surface in the presence of suffering and pain. The most painful and important learning comes from our stories of struggle and suffering. Self-compassion is a super power to living a wholehearted life.
For some, self-compassion is a more difficult practice because of early childhood experiences. Those who grew up in homes where criticism and/or abuse were prevalent tend to struggle more with self-compassion. But there is hope because all of us are capable of developing a self-compassion practice. In a world where competition, scarcity mindset, shame and blame are so prevalent, self-compassion may feel foreign. But most things are awkward when we first try them and building new emotional muscle begins with time, intention and awareness. Remember, self-compassion is a life-long practice and not about perfection. You do not arrive and then coast; you just show up and recalibrate as needed.
Self-compassion is a super power to living a wholehearted life.
A practice of self-compassion can lead to re-organizing your life as you seek to respect your limits. Remember, it is an act of self-compassion to set a boundary and state your needs. A practice of self-compassion helps provide comfort when attacks or the curve balls of life come our way, helping us worry less and be more confident in the presence of difficult emotions. And since difficult emotions are a part of the human journey, then self-compassion is a crucial traveling companion in order to develop confidence and clarity of purpose. As a result, self-care shifts from being a luxury to a priority every day, in our work and personal life. When self-compassion is practiced, it is contagious. The world desperately needs all of us to create more spaces of safety, love and kindness to show up as we are.
Are you ready to bring more self-compassion into your life and your circle of influence? To get a tangible understanding of what compassion feels like, ask yourself: How do you treat a close friend? What is the language you use when you share about something you are struggling with? What comes up when you are feeling difficult emotions?
To test your level of self-compassion and read more about the different components of self-compassion, take Dr. Neff’s self-compassion inventory.
Image via Jeremy Samuelson for Darling Issue No. 15