What do we mean by Self Compassion?
Self compassion means that we are able to be warm and understanding towards ourselves even when we feel that we have failed, feel that we are inadequate or are in suffering rather than ignoring the unpleasant emotions and being self critical (Neff, 2011).
We acknowledge our difficult experience and respond kindly to ourselves rather than harshly and critically.
Humans can be interesting as we can generally automatically treat others in our world (family, friends) and those who we don’t know with kindness, understanding, care and warmth, however our automatic responses regarding ourselves in pain is to be critical.
Many people can struggle with the idea of self compassion and there are many people in the world who have very little or no self compassion. It can be a very uncomfortable idea as this is a very new concept to them, spending a lot of their lives perceiving themselves as being unworthy/undeserving of kindness. Our Inner Critic (Neff & Germer, 2017) feeds us the thought patterns (followed by behaviours) to support this belief of being ‘unworthy/undeserving’ of kindness.
3 main components of self compassion (Neff, 2003) are:
- Self Kindness-understanding and kindness to ourselves even when feeling failure, inadequate or suffering instead of being self critical
- Common Humanity- we can see our experiences as part of being a human being in the world rather than this/these ‘bad’ things happening to us as an individual
- Mindfulness- being aware of and sitting with our unpleasant thoughts and feelings
How do we build self compassion?
When we begin to feel our mental health and our quality of life is improving (Campion & Glover, 2017), we can address the inner critic and start to move that criticism into support and encouragement. The way that we think (our perspective) affects how we feel therefore how we behave.
We need to be aware of our situation, thoughts and feelings. Generally as humans we want to avoid anything that feels unpleasant, however when we lean into the experience, accept that this is how we feel at the time (Yadavaia, Hayes & Vilardaga, 2014) we can understand ourselves and the world around us better.
When we have uncomfortable thoughts/feelings, we can be quite judgmental of ourselves (the inner critic loves this). It is important to remember that feelings are temporary and we are not our thoughts or feelings. We can try to take a step back and observe the thoughts and feelings as just that (Yadavaia, Hayes & Vilardaga, 2014). ‘Im having the thought that ………’, ‘I am noticing the feeling of…….’
Kind self talk is important (Georgakaki & Karakasidou, 2017). We can find it so easy to be critical and judgemental of ourselves, which can lead us to feeling low. Imagine if we were our own cheerleader, were encouraging and supportive of ourselves. If we found ourselves faced with a challenge and in the mindset of acknowledging this is difficult however I will try my best and be ok.
Self care is another important element, ensuring that we engage in activities that we enjoy, ground us, relax us and fills our cup.
Those who have a (high) level of self compassion, treat themselves with understanding and kindness when faced with a challenging or negative experience. This is due to relying on positive cognitive restructuring rather than avoidant types of thinking (Allen & Leary, 2010).
Why are we generally not self compassionate?
This practice can be very difficult for those in the world who have experienced trauma, psychological abuse etc.
These experiences can teach us what is and isn’t safe in our world and impacts the way we see ourselves in the world around us. We can begin to believe that ‘bad’ things happen to us because we are not good enough, not worthy etc. We may construct our self belief based on our role/experiences in a family/social dynamic. Additionally, we can learn growing up that people who are confident in themselves are ‘egotistic’ or ‘up themselves’ and that this is a ‘bad’ thing to be and that it is more socially acceptable to criticize ourselves and downplay our talents, passions and desires.
We are the ones that live with ourselves all the time, why not be our own best friend, be kind, supportive and encouraging to ourselves, actively practicing self-compassion, just like we would to our loved ones.
Author: Aleah Haffenden, B Soc Wk, Grad Cert Suicide Prevention, AMHSW.
Aleah Haffenden is an Accredited Mental Health Social Worker, working primarily with young people (aged 15 and up). She takes a client-focused approach, using a mix of Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), tailored to their specific needs.
To make an appointment with Aleah Haffenden, use Online Booking. Alternatively, you can call Vision Psychology Wishart on (07) 3088 5422 or M1 Psychology Loganholme on (07) 3067 9129.
- Neff, K. (2003). Self-compassion: An alternative conceptualization of a healthy attitude toward oneself. Self and identity, 2(2), 85-101.
- Neff, K. D. (2011). Self?compassion, self?esteem, and well?being. Social and personality psychology compass, 5(1), 1-12.
- Neff, K., & Germer, C. (2017). Self-Compassion and Psychological. The Oxford handbook of compassion science, 371.
- Yadavaia, J. E., Hayes, S. C., & Vilardaga, R. (2014). Using acceptance and commitment therapy to increase self-compassion: A randomized controlled trial. Journal of contextual behavioral science, 3(4), 248-257.
- Allen, A. B., & Leary, M. R. (2010). Self?Compassion, stress, and coping. Social and personality psychology compass, 4(2), 107-118.
- Campion, M., & Glover, L. (2017). A qualitative exploration of responses to self?compassion in a non?clinical sample. Health & social care in the community, 25(3), 1100-1108.
- Georgakaki, S. K., & Karakasidou, E. (2017). The effects of motivational self-talk on competitive anxiety and self-compassion: A brief training program among competitive swimmers. Psychology, 8(05), 677.