What is Self-Compassion?
Self-Compassion is different than having good self-esteem or confidence; it is about having a healthy relationship with yourself (Neff, 2003). Self-Compassion is derived from three pillars according to Kristin Neff, Ph.D.: self-kindness, common humanity, and mindfulness. Self-kindness involves recognizing unfavorable emotions and experiences are a given in life, and avoiding or denying that concept causes frustration and self-criticism. The frustration surrounding difficult life experiences leads to some feeling isolated from others, believing they are the only people suffering. However, recognizing our common humanity shows us that the human condition naturally involves suffering and that no one is perfect. Mindfulness involves non-judgmentally acknowledging a difficult situation as an observer from a different perspective without minimizing, denying, or overidentifying with negative emotions.
It may also be important to know what self-compassion is not. First, it is not self-pity. Individuals tend to feel self-pity when they feel alone, but self-compassion allows you to see that suffering is a shared human experience. Second, it is not self-indulgence. Sometimes individuals try to motivate themselves by self-shaming. That guilt then leads to avoidance of the reward. Instead, self-compassion emphasizes helping yourself in the long-term by choosing actions that enhance your overall wellbeing and values. For example, giving yourself the night off after working hard all day is an act of self-compassion rather than self-indulgence. It is an investment in your mental and physical health that can benefit many areas of your life, including your work performance. In fact, self-compassion actually improves motivation, because it allows you to work on areas of growth without the fear of criticism. Third, self-compassion is not self-esteem. Self-esteem focuses on individual uniqueness, perceived successes, and an avoidance of personal weaknesses. However, self-compassion is not about self-evaluation. People deserve to receive compassion from themselves and others just for being human; that means even when they succeed or fail. There are going to be times when you do not feel successful. To practice self-compassion in those times, one would approach those perceived failures with self-kindness and acceptance of the uncomfortable emotions rather than avoid them.
When practicing self-compassion, uncomfortable emotions might arise. That is a natural response. Since acceptance plays a role in self-compassion, it is important to acknowledge these emotions rather than avoid them. Using acceptance and mindfulness techniques can help you to cope and ground yourself while experiencing those emotions.
Self-Compassion Activities to Practice
Are You Up For The Challenge?
We challenge you to practice self-compassion at least once per day. Try at least one of the exercises above and write down what thoughts and emotions came up for you when you practiced it. If you are up for an additional challenge, try out some guided self-compassion exercises too. Check out these guided exercises and meditations here.