Three Steps to Self Compassion

Compassion translates as 'to suffer with'. The Collins Dictionary defines compassion as "a feeling of pity, sympathy and understanding for someone who is suffering." We are taught and encouraged from a young age to be compassionate to others, but not necessarily to ourselves. In fact, British culture encourages us to be self deprecating! We will say negative things to ourselves or judge ourselves harshly in ways that we would not treat a friend or family member. This can lead to a negative feedback loop in which self criticism makes us feel worse about our own self and our circumstances, which can lead to discontent and depression. Studies have shown that people who are more self compassionate are happier. So you can see that self compassion is an important aspect of health and wellbeing. 

How to learn the skill of self compassion?

Step1 Be Kind

The first step is to be aware when you are being harsh on yourself and instead respond kindly. Try talking to yourself with your inner voice as you would to a friend or family member and as they would speak to you. When I need self compassion, a voice in my head says "It’s okay sweetheart" as if it were one of my parents. It is important because it acknowledges the suffering and offers comfort. Other times I tell myself "It doesn't matter" and I look for the silver lining of whatever has upset my equilibrium. And just as a friend or family member would give you a hug, you can hug yourself or at least touch your arm or hand to add the physical reassurance to the emotional.

Step 2 Feel Connected

The second step is to acknowledge that suffering is universal, that life is not perfect and no person is perfect. We have a deep need for connection and by feeling that we are not alone in our suffering, not other, can be soothing. As well as extending the circle of compassion to others, you can extend it to yourself. Fearne Cotton talks more about that in this bitesize episode of the ‘Feel Better Live More’ podcast: Self Compassion Matters.

Step 3 Be Mindful

Thirdly, mindfulness can play an important role in self compassion. Instead of trying to eliminate or ignore the negative aspects of life or yourself, acknowledge them whilst nurturing the positives. As Elisabeth Kubler-Ross explains in Life Lessons: "we all have a negative side, or a potential for negativity: denying it is the most dangerous thing we can do… To admit we have the capacity for negativity is essential. After admitting it, we can work on and release it." 

Mindfulness is awareness of awareness. Being mindful involves pausing to notice your thoughts and feelings so that you can observe them objectively and choose how to respond to them. As Kristin Neff so beautifully describes in her book Self Compassion "We don’t need to lambaste ourselves for thinking those nasty thoughts or feeling those destructive emotions. We can simply let them go. As long as we don’t get lost in a story line that justifies and reinforces them, they will tend to dissipate on their own. A weed that is not given water will eventually wither and fade away. At the same time, when a wholesome thought or feeling arises, we can hold it in loving awareness and allow it to fully blossom."

To Conclude

If you would like to explore the subject further, I can highly recommend Kristin Neff’s work. The best way to access it is via her website Self Compassion, which has a variety of resources, including exercises and meditations.

Finally, I will leave you with the Buddhist meditation on self compassion, which I love and recite to myself almost daily. I hope that you will find it a helpful reminder too.

May I be peaceful, happy and light in body, mind and spirit.

May I be safe and free from harm.

May I be free from fear.

May I know how to look at myself with the eyes of love and understanding.

May I be able to recognise and touch the seeds of happiness and joy in myself.

May I learn how to nourish the seeds of happiness and joy in myself every day.

May I be able to live fresh, solid and free.