Self-compassion: The proven power of being kind to yourself

publishedabout 1 year ago
2 min read

Do you tend to beat yourself up when faced with setbacks?

Do you believe that ignoring your pain with a "stiff upper lip" mentality will help you be more productive?

Self-criticism makes sure that "I pull myself together". Without it, I become lazy, right?

I've got news for you: it's not very helpful.

Instead of mercilessly judging and critising yourself for various inadequacies or shortcomings, self-compassion means you are kind and understanding when confronted with personal failings. After all, who ever said you were supposed to be perfect?

The 3 elements of self-compassion

According to researcher and expert Kristin Neff, self-compassion consists of three elements.

1. Self-kindness vs. Self-judgment

Self-compassion entails being warm and understanding towards ourselves when we suffer, fail or feel inadequate, rather than ignoring our pain or flagellating ourselves with self-criticism.

Self-compassionate people recognise that being imperfect, failing, and experiencing life difficulties is inevitable, so they tend to be gentle with themselves when confronted with painful experiences rather than getting angry when life falls short of set ideals.

People can't always be or get what they want. When this reality is denied or fought against suffering increases in the forms of stress, frustration and self-criticism. When this reality is accepted with sympathy and kindness, people experience greater emotional equanamity.

2. Common humanity vs isolation

Frustration at not having things exactly as we want is often followed by an irrational but pervasive sense of isolation – as if “I” were the only person suffering or making mistakes.

All humans suffer, however. The very definition of being “human” means that one is mortal, vulnerable and imperfect. Therefore, self-compassion involves recognising that suffering and personal inadequacy is part of the shared human experience – something that we all go through rather than being something that happens to “me” alone.

3. Mindfulness vs over-identification

Self-compassion also requires taking a balanced approach to our negative emotions so that feelings are neither suppressed nor exaggerated.

Mindfulness is a non-judgmental, receptive mind state in which one observes thoughts and feelings as they are, without trying to suppress or deny them.

We cannot ignore our pain and feel compassion for it at the same time. In other words, mindfulness requires that we not be “over-identified” with thoughts and feelings, so that we are caught up and swept away by negative reactivity.

Tips for practising your self-compassion

What kind of self-compassion are you practising today? Which would you like to try or do more of? Here are two exercies for you.

  1. Exercise: Listen to this befriending meditation by Mark Williams.
  2. Exercise: Self-Compassion Journal

Remember to be kind to yourself in this process. Be curious and allow yourself to try something new. You don't have to like it, or get any immediate feedback from it. Just give it a try!

Self-compassion vs self-esteem

In contrast to self-esteem, self-compassion is not based on self-evaluations. People feel compassion for themselves because all human beings deserve compassion and understanding, not because they possess some particular set of traits (pretty, smart, talented, and so on). This means that with self-compassion, you don’t have to feel better than others to feel good about yourself.

Over to you

How are you practising self-compassion in your everyday life? Could you see the benefits of being more kind to yourself?

Hit reply with any thoughts, comments or questions. I always look forward to hearing from you. I read and respond to everyone.

Have a great (self-compassionate) week!


Olle Lindholm

A Sweden-based author and coach.

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