What is Self-Compassion and How to Practice It

I was first introduced to the practices of mindfulness and self-compassion about ten years ago by my therapist. I found the work to be a powerful tool I utilize a lot in my life and with clients. Mindful self-compassion is one of the essential aspects of self-care and good mental health. Self-compassion allows for self-forgiveness and healing, gives us the strength to accomplish our goals, and improves our happiness and life satisfaction. 

What is Self-Compassion?

Self-compassion is about treating yourself with kindness, care, and understanding. It involves a persistent attitude of self-kindness and self-acceptance based on the knowledge that we deserve the same compassion and forgiveness we would give to a close friend.

Mindful self-compassion combines mindfulness and self-compassion to improve your mental health through the capacity to soothe and comfort yourself, self-forgive, and encourage yourself with positive thoughts. 

According to leading self-compassion experts Dr. Kristin Neff and Dr. Chris Germer, self-compassion is beneficial to our mental health because it leads to understanding common humanity, more accurate self-concepts, and improved resilience. 

We often tend to be tough on ourselves, engaging in negative self-talk and self-judgmental thoughts, punishing ourselves for what we do or how we look. We say words to ourselves we would never say to other people. 

With self-compassion, we learn to speak to ourselves with understanding, support, and care. According to Dr. Neff, self-compassion means offering ourselves the same kindness we would give to a dear friend. 

Based on her research, Dr. Neff identified three central aspects of self-compassion:

  • Self-kindness vs. self-criticism
  • Common humanity vs. isolation 
  • Mindfulness vs. over-identification

She believes that mindfulness is a skill that can help us learn to be kinder to ourselves and less self-critical, enhancing our capacity for self-compassion.

Self-Compassion and How to Practice It

Self-Kindness vs. Self-Criticism

We tend to falsely believe that self-judgment and self-criticism will protect us from other people’s judgment and rejection. However, self-criticism often causes anxiety and depression that hinder your ability to accomplish goals and be happy. 

The first step in overcoming self-judgment and self-criticism is becoming aware of your self-judging thoughts and the negative feelings they trigger. Once you start mindfully observing self-negative talk, ask yourself how true are such thoughts. This will allow you to offer understanding and compassion towards yourself when you fail or go through a difficult time.

Self-kindness can help silence your inner critic and give yourself permission to make mistakes, accept yourself as a human with flaws, and grow. Self-kindness can alleviate stress and anxiety symptoms triggered by negative thoughts, increase optimism and happiness, and improve your well-being. 

Common Humanity vs. Isolation

An essential aspect of self-forgiveness is common humanity – an understanding that humans are bound to flaws and imperfection. Of course, the consciousness of shared humanity doesn’t amend our mistakes and wrong choices. It helps us understand that we are not isolated in our imperfection, allowing us to be more compassionate and forgiving.  

Mindfulness vs. Over-Identification

Mindfulness is a receptive and non-judgmental state of mind. As such, mindfulness allows you to observe and accept your negative thoughts and emotions in a relaxed and non-judgmental mental state without judging or reacting to them.

When you become able to give your emotions full attention without either suppressing them or letting them overwhelm you, your self-acceptance will motivate you to treat yourself with more compassion. 

Compassion and How to Practice It

What are the Benefits of Self-Compassion?

Research of self-compassion shows self-compassionate people:

  • tend to experience less anxiety and depression
  • have better relationships
  • experience greater life satisfaction 
  • have healthy self-esteem 
  • tend to have stronger emotional resilience

Self-compassion is a road to self-love. Learning how to be self-compassionate can improve your stress resilience, help you let go of shame, guilt, and resentment, take responsibility for yourself, and forgive yourself. 

Self-compassion can improve your mood and boost happiness. It may help you become more aware of your emotions, enhance your emotional control and empathy, making you more sensitive to other people’s feelings, and improving your relationships.  

How to Boost Self-Compassion?

  • Practice Mindfulness Meditation, Mindful Walks, or a Mindful Activity Daily

Mindfulness can be a great strategy to tune out your inner critic and nurture self-kindness. It can help calm your mind and body and quiet the inner critic, freeing your subconscious mind from negative thoughts and experiencing more self-acceptance, self-kindness, and self-compassion. 

  • Practice Positive Affirmations

Affirmations are positive statements about ourselves based on self-acceptance. They can be a powerful tool to foster self-kindness and self-compassion. Affirmations can help overcome self-destructive thoughts and provide relief from negative feelings. 

Positive statements about yourself can enhance stress resilience, improve your mood, and improve your interpersonal relationships. 

  • Reflect on Your Feelings

To become more self-compassionate, you need to mindfully focus on your feelings of shame, resentment, and guilt. By consciously acknowledging self-beating thoughts without judgment, you will start understanding instead of blaming yourself. 

Journaling can be an excellent tool in identifying negative thought patterns that cause you distress. It can increase your awareness of negative thinking patterns and help you learn how to treat yourself with self-compassion.

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