What do we think about when we think of self-compassion? Is it being kind to yourself when times are hard? Is it having patience and even positive feelings towards ourselves?
Dr Kristin Neff defines the term self-compassion as comprising of three components: self-kindness, common humanity (recognising that it is human to suffer, to fail, to experience limitations), and a mindful stance towards our emotions (neither denying nor exaggerating our emotional experiences).
If you are anything like me, you would have heard statements along the lines of “you should be more kind to yourself” hundreds of times. We hear these words and sentences about self-kindness thrown around by well-meaning relatives, friends and acquaintances. But what do these words actually mean? I mean…in real world terms. As they apply to us. As they apply to our lives.
Maybe we are accustomed to thinking that because we have so much understanding and compassion for others, it must mean that we are automatically compassionate towards ourselves. But let’s be honest for a second…Do we really practice self-compassion? Are we REALLY kind to ourselves?
Often when we talk about self-compassion (see above definition), we talk about a feeling…a feeling of warmth, caring and understanding directed toward ourselves during trying times, at times of failure or challenge. We talk about a feeling of understanding that we have towards ourselves as human beings…understanding that to be human is to experience suffering, to fall. We talk about cultivating a different relationship towards our emotional experiences, which include being open and receptive to difficult and painful emotional states.
Whilst all of this, no doubt, is at the very core of self-compassion, I believe that by talking about it as a FEELING can put a lot of people off trying to cultivate self-compassion or even to reflect about self-compassion. Because let’s face it: nobody wakes up every day brimming with feeling that they are 100% lovable, deserving of kindness and patience and understanding.
As a behaviourally trained therapist I like to think that we can gradually build feelings of self-compassion through behaviours that we can engage in day to day…that instead of focusing so much on building the feeling of kindness and understanding towards ourselves, we can instead do simple day to day things that are steeped in self-care but that don’t require us to have any particular feeling to begin with. Instead all we need to do is to just ACT like we deserve to treat ourselves with kindness (even if we do not feel that at all)
If this sounds simple and do-able enough, here are some ideas that can help you to start:
– Do something JUST for you. Yes, YOU. You know, the person that is with you 24/7. Think of something that you enjoy or used to enjoy (and please do it without the guilt). For at least 30minutes, every day.
– Give yourself oxygen. It’s free and you need it for survival. It is the best self-care that there is. So practice deep breathing. Aim for at least 2-3 times per day to start with. It may sound like a lot but it need only be 2-5minutes at a time.
– Establish healthy lifestyle patterns, like going for a walk or finding any way to make some exercise part of your daily routine.
-Be aware when a difficult feeling arises, such as sadness, grief, anger, anxiety, and breathe into the feeling. Breathe through it. Instead of berating yourself for having the feeling, simply let it be there for as long as it needs to.
– Offer yourself a “treat” or a small luxury once a week. Soak in a bath tub, watch sports, go to your favourite place. Whatever. Allow yourself to enjoy the indulgence by switching off your phone and just focus on you and the experience.
-Ask yourself what you would DO for a relative or friend who is struggling and then do that very thing for yourself.
Once we treat ourselves the way that we deserve to be treated (as a human being worthy of being seen, being respected and being cared for) we start to build healthy habits that over time build healthy emotions of kindness, patience, and understanding – which are all at the core of self-compassion. Once we are in that emotional space of self-compassion, we can be more forgiving towards ourselves for mistakes and shortcomings, we can also create more space in our life to acknowledge and have openness toward any emotions that show up, and build the resilience to allow those emotions to be a part of the landscape that is our life.