Article by Wendy Huang

Self-compassion is the act of being kind, supportive, encouraging, and understanding towards oneself. It can be an important and worthwhile skill to develop in order to effectively navigate challenging life experiences. Self-compassion offers a way for individuals to care for themselves in the face of suffering, and can inspire intrinsic motivation for positive growth and change. 

The Components of Self-Compassion

According to world leading researcher for self-compassion and author of Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself, Dr. Kristin Neff, there are three components that make up self-compassion: mindfulness, self-kindness, and common humanity. Mindfulness is becoming aware and acknowledging our experience of pain in our suffering. The act of recognizing our pain as opposed to avoiding or disconnecting from it is the first step in allowing ourselves to move through suffering. Self-kindness involves actively engaging in self-soothing with the intention to alleviate the suffering. Self-kindness may be expressed through written words, positive self-talk, or physical gestures. Common humanity is understanding that suffering is normal and universal to the human experience. The knowledge that everyone encounters hardship prevents us from feeling isolated in our experiences of suffering.

The Benefits of Self-Compassion

Engaging in self-compassion can have a profound impact on one’s psychological and emotional well-being. It can help reduce self-criticism by promoting a more kind and supportive approach towards oneself. Individuals who are highly self-critical tend to experience greater levels of stress, anxiety, and depression. In contrast, self-compassionate behaviours allow for a non-judgemental and accepting attitude towards one’s shortcomings and vulnerabilities, helping to provide a sense of emotional safety and well-being. Self-compassion is also closely tied to mindfulness. The awareness of one’s emotions can play a vital role in emotion regulation, facilitating self-reflection and deeper understanding of a difficult experience. Finally, self-compassion can increase motivation for progress and achieving goals. Inward-directed kindness can enhance one’s desire to improve their lives from a place of care, inspiring the growth process. 

Practicing Self-Compassion

Beginning a self-compassion practice may look different for everyone. The following exercises are examples of how to integrate the three components of self-compassion, mindfulness, self-kindness, and common humanity, in a continuous practice to alleviate the experience of suffering. 

  • Self-Compassionate Letter: Address yourself in a kind manner, and acknowledge the difficulty of a situation you are currently experiencing. Offer words of encouragement and understanding, similar to how you might comfort a loved one. Provide a reminder that everyone encounters suffering at some point, and that you are not alone in your challenges. Keep the letter and re-read when you feel necessary.
  • Self-Compassion Break: When you notice yourself engaging in self-criticism, take pause. Recognize the pain and notice the discomfort this harshness is causing. Remember that everyone thinks unkindly of themselves sometimes, though it is in our power to change our self-talk. Using a phrase or mantra, connect with the understanding that this suffering will pass (E.g., This is a moment of suffering. Suffering happens to everyone. May I be kind to myself in this moment).
  • Self-Compassion Journaling: Take note of moments throughout your day where you notice self-criticism. For each moment, acknowledge that everyone engages in self-criticism sometimes, and then reflect on how you could respond with self-compassion instead. Consider how you could be understanding and nurturing with your words.

Give these exercises a try and note how they might impact your experience of suffering, or any shifts you notice in the way you view yourself.

Self-compassion is a tool to help you cultivate safety, care, and support within yourself. By acknowledging your pain, tending to yourself with kindness, and remembering the common humanity of suffering, it is possible to become resilient in the face of challenge, and rise above your hardships. Practicing self-compassion is a valuable skill which can lead to improved mental health, and a more satisfying and fulfilled life.

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