What is self-compassion?
Dr Kirstin Neff, one of the world’s leading experts on self-compassion, explains that it is the same as the feelings of compassion we have for others, only we turn it inward, to ourselves. She says when we feel self-compassion, we acknowledge and feel moved by our own suffering. This in turn, leads us to feel tender toward ourselves and motivates us to want to help, or care for ourselves. It also leads us to be gentle and understanding of our limitations, struggles and mistakes. When we are in pain and we practice self-compassion rather than ‘soldiering on’ or giving ourselves a hard time, we acknowledge that we are suffering, and we give ourselves comfort and support. To have compassion, means to accept and embrace our imperfect humanness.
This short video from The School of Life explains self-compassion beautifully.
Following, are ten possible ways to practice self-compassion. See how many of them work for you…
1. Be kind to your ‘ugly’ bits
Be kind and gentle with the parts of yourself that you are not happy with. This could be the eating disorder you struggle with, your shyness, that thing you wish you hadn’t said, your anxiety, your single status, or the texture of your hair. When we berate ourselves for being ‘not good enough’, we make ourselves feel worse, not better. Imagine a small child, or a loved one with your ‘problem’; would you bully them for not being perfect? When we are kind and gentle with the parts of ourselves we consider undesirable, we can begin to heal. Hurt needs love, not criticism.
2. Move everyday
Contrary to popular belief, our minds and our bodies are not separate entities. They are linked, interconnected, entwined, and interact and affect each other in profound and powerful ways. When we move our body, we move our mind. Moving our body – in whatever way works best for us (walking, swimming, yoga, tree climbing) – helps us to sleep better, gives us more energy, gets us thinking more creatively and reduces stress, anxiety and depression.
If you are interested in exploring this further, the book Move Your Body Tone Your Mood, by Kate F. Hays has more information. Also, Pip Lincolne’s book ‘Craft for the Soul’ has a chapter called ‘Movement is the Key to Happiness and Creativity’ which I found inspiring.
3. Don’t compare yourself to others
We are all unique individuals, with our own interests, purpose and values. Comparing ourselves to others really is like apples and oranges – it is absurd and futile. It also has the potential to cause us a lot of grief. Of course if we focus on the attributes of others in a favourable light, then compare that to our own perceived inadequacies, we are going to feel disempowered and inadequate. Alternatively, some of us compare ourselves to others in an attempt to make ourselves feel superior, or ‘better’. Comparing ourselves to others, when each of us is so very unique and on our own personal path in life – involving different histories, families, personalities, struggles, achievements, likes, dislikes, interests and goals – really makes no sense. Neither does it serve us. Beating ourselves up for not being more like someone else, or gloating because we feel better than someone else, does not empower us. It disconnects us from others. It undermines who we truly are – in our own, special way.
4. Spend time in nature
Spending time in nature can have a profound affect on our stress levels – making us feel calmer. Walking in the bush, sitting by the river, picnicking in the park, swimming in the ocean, or camping, often have the effect of slowing us down. The natural world doesn’t operate at the same pace as we humans now do. The experience of being in nature, can show us how fast we’ve been living and how caught up we have become in the dramas of life. Often in the natural world, we glimpse a bigger picture of our life – it can help us to put things into perspective.
5. Create moments of peace
Creating moments of peace for ourselves is about stopping for a while – giving ourselves some time and space away from all the usual activities of life. It’s about rest and rejuvenation. It’s about stopping still and silently long enough to listen to our inner voice – that part of us that deep down knows what we need. This can look any way we’d like it to. It could be: listening to music, drinking tea in the garden, fishing, a spiritual practice, reading a book, staring at the ocean, writing out all our thoughts and feelings, doing something creative, taking a nap, meditating (such as these Self-Compassion Guided Meditations and Exercises), listening to a mindfulness app (such as Smiling Mind or Buddhify), creating a ritual, or having a massage.
If you are interested in becoming more in tune with your own needs, here is a cool exercise: Grab some paper and a pen and find somewhere to sit quietly on your own. Close your eyes and take a few long, slow, deep breaths. Take some time to feel your feet on the ground and your body supporting you in your chair. When you’re ready, write out a question for yourself. It could be something as simple as, “What do I need right now?”. Or, “What do I need when my boss speaks to me that way?” Then, using your non-dominant hand, write yourself an answer. Try not to think about it, rather, just start writing and see what happens. Try not to judge or edit your answer. Just write. That may be enough for you, or you may have further questions you’d like to ask and then answer. Be curious and open and see what comes up. When you give yourself the time and space, what do you discover about what you truly need?
6. Learn to say no (Boundaries)
Saying “no” when others make requests of us that compromise our own needs, is an example of having healthy boundaries and self-compassion. To do this, we need to know what our needs are. We need to be aware of how we feel, and what is okay and not okay for us (number 5, ‘create moments of peace’, may be a good place to start asking ourselves how we feel and what we need). When we are clear about these things, we are then in a position to say “yes” or “no” to others. By doing this, we are honouring ourselves, and we are being authentic with others. When we say “yes”, when we secretly want to say “no”, we give up the opportunity for connection with the other, we are not acting in our own best interest, and we often feel resentful. Saying “no” when something is not right for us, is an act of self-compassion.
Writer and researcher, Brene Brown, describes the role of boundaries beautifully in this short video.
7. Ask for what you want
This is about being responsible for ourselves. There is great personal power in being self-responsible. It can be difficult to get our needs met if we are not willing to speak up and ask. This is not the same as expecting others to do everything for us. This is about us knowing what it is that we need, and clearly communicating that to others. It is linked to number 6 (boundaries and being assertive) and number 9 (reach out to others). For example, if you are feeling sad, and what you’d love, is for a friend to come over and watch movies and eat chocolate with you, the solution would be to ask. This may seem simple and obvious, but many of us are not great at asking for what we want. Sometimes, we expect others to read our minds – to ‘just know’ what we need. Often, they don’t. Not because they don’t care, but because they can’t read our mind! We can fall into the trap of thinking, “If you really loved me, you’d know what I need. I shouldn’t have to ask.” Alternatively, we might think, “I can’t ask for what I want! That’s selfish/inconvenient/I might be rejected.” I say, asking for what we want is not selfish, but rather, self-care and self-compassion. Yes, it may be inconvenient for the other, but that is for them to decide. It’s also true, that when we ask something of another, they may say no. However, we’ll never know unless we ask.
8. Cut yourself some slack
We can be so incredibly hard on ourselves. I see this every day in my counselling practice. The standards we expect from ourselves can often be quite unrealistic. If we make a mistake, we can be very quick and ruthless with judging and punishing ourselves with harsh words. We can often expect ourselves to be ‘perfect’ in a way that we’d never expect of another. This level of expectation and self-criticism can be exhausting and extremely stressful. One way to put our self-expectations into perspective, is to ask ourselves what we would say to a friend if they were in our shoes. Most often, we would never judge, or speak to a friend the way we do to ourselves. Be your own friend. That is self-compassion. Made a mistake? Understand that one, we all make mistakes; two, often we learn the most from the things we don’t get ‘right’; and three, mistakes sometimes turn out to be the best thing we’ve ever done – some of the best discoveries and most amazing creations have occurred through a ‘mistake’. Let’s allow ourselves to be imperfectly perfect!
9. Reach out to others
Humans are social creatures. We are designed to live in communities and support each other. However, many of us have come to believe that we should be able to cope on our own – that asking for help is ‘weak’. It may be scary to reach out to others when we feel vulnerable, but the rewards can be enormous. ‘Soldiering on’ alone when we are finding something difficult is not self-compassion. As humans, we all experience suffering sometimes. Let’s be kind to ourselves, and get some support when we need it.
10. Practice gratitude
Practice gratitude. Not instead of accepting what is, but in addition to. What I mean is, to practice gratitude, we do not need to pretend everything is great when it’s not. It’s not about pretending, or forcing ourselves to ‘think positive’, or denying how we truly feel. No. It’s about looking around us, and looking within us, and noticing what is good for us. We may be going along okay at the moment, or we may be really struggling; but in addition to that truth, what are we also grateful for? Noticing three things every day that we’re grateful for can, over time, influence our perception and our mood. For example, we may be suffering with a broken heart and at the same time, we’re grateful for the friend who made us soup, the comfort of a warm bed and the flowers blooming in our garden. This does not deny that we are sad and hurt and emotionally raw – our gratitude can sit side-by-side with our pain.
It is important to note here, that sometimes we can misuse/misinterpret the practice of gratitude, and use it to beat ourselves up. We do this when we say to ourselves, “I shouldn’t feel so upset, I should be grateful for what I have. There are others in the world worse-off than me.” Don’t do that to yourself. That is not self-compassion.
As I go to sit in the garden with my cup of tea, I wonder how you will show yourself some compassion today?
To make an appointment with Counsellor and Psychotherapist Toni Jackson, please phone: 0439 995 302,
or email: firstname.lastname@example.org