psychology

Self-compassion: being kind towards yourself

Whenever I feel like a failure, I remind myself that every experience makes me grow – Ishi (www.ishitherock.com)

Many people experience insecurity about themselves or have low self-esteem. As a psychologist, I often see that people are more critical towards themselves than towards others. For example, people suffering from depression frequently say that they are not good enough. The smallest mistake they make is a proof for this image they have of themselves. If another person, say their best friend, would make the same mistake, they would never criticize that friend as harshly as they do to themselves. To this friend, they would say: ‘don’t worry, it’s not a big deal’, or ‘it’s okay, everyone makes mistakes sometimes’.

The way people talk to their friends is much more compassionate and leaves the friend with a much better feeling. Imagine what a difference it would make if  everyone would be a bit more kind toward themselves. It’s a lot more constructive to treat yourself the way you would treat a friend.

That’s exactly the premise of self-compassion: being kind towards yourself, in order to turn a destructive thinking pattern into a more constructive process. This is a principle that ultimately suits a yogic mind; one of the core values of yoga is positive thinking.

Three elements of self-compassion

So what exactly is self-compassion? Kristin Neff, a psychologist who introduced the principle in America, took Buddhist wisdom as a starting point. In Buddhism, compassion is defined as being kind, having a sense of humanity and practicing mindfulness. Being kind means that you are mild when something goes wrong – instead of beind judgemental, you tell yourself that it’s not a complete failure but just a point of improvement, something you can work on. A sense of humanity means that you normalize your own imperfections – you’re not the only one who is not 100% perfect. On the contrary: nobody is perfect, or to put it more positively: everyone makes mistakes now and then. Lastly, mindfulness in terms of self-compassion means that you observe your feelings with awareness. You don’t drown in your emotions, but neither you reject them. You just acknowledge them and allow them to pass.

Self-compassion helps you to accept and experience your emotions in difficult times through these three elements. It’s not overly harsh but also doesn’t make you feel weak or powerless. Instead, practicing self-compassion allows you to cultivate a more balanced attitude towards yourself.

How to practice self-compassion

To be more self-compassionate, you can do the following exercise.

Firstly, take a moment to think about a situation in which you were judging yourself. What did you tell yourself? Did you think you are a complete failure? Did you push your tears or anger away? What was the effect of your thoughts and behaviour?

Secondly, when you are aware of your own thoughts and feelings and how you cope with them, ask yourself the following question: how would you treat your best friend in a similar situation? Can you think of a few kind words you would say?

Finally, switch back to your own situation. Could you try saying the same words to yourself?

If you practice and repeat this exercise regularly, notice the difference over time. And keep in mind: you don’t have to be perfectly self-compassionate immediately! It’s normal for new patterns to develop gradually. Stay kind, be mindful, and enjoy the process.

 

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