Self Compassion

Young woman hugging herself

Did you know self compassion can improve your wellbeing?

Young woman hugging herself

Self-compassion helps you to recover from adverse life events; it improves your mental health, reduces stress and helps you achieve your goals.  

Self-compassionate people are happier, healthier, more resilient when facing adversity, they are more positive and grateful.

Kindness researchers have identified many benefits of being kind.  More recently, researchers have turned their attention to the benefits of being kind to yourself in a particular way; specifically: self-compassion.  Self-compassion has been described as extending the same compassion to oneself as would be given to others.

For example, in response to failure, a self-compassionate person would be understanding and encouraging thus recovering faster and motivating themselves to try again; after all, not everyone can succeed all the time.

People who are kind to themselves tend to be supportive and sympathetic toward themselves when noticing personal shortcomings, instead of harshly judging themselves.  Self-compassionate people respond to their mistakes and failings with tolerance and understanding; they recognise that perfection is impossible. Self-compassionate people have internal dialogues that are benevolent and encouraging rather than cruel or disparaging.

Compassion is more than just kindness. It involves focus and an intention to alleviate suffering. Self-compassion expert Kristen Neff defines it as ‘‘being open to and moved by one’s own suffering, experiencing feelings of caring and kindness toward oneself, taking an understanding and non-judgmental attitude toward one’s inadequacies and failures, and recognizing that one’s own experience is part of the common human experience’’.

3 important aspects to self-compassion

 

Self-kindness

This refers to the tendency to be caring and understanding with oneself when confronted with personal failures, problems, and stress; 

Common humanity

This is concerned with the inclination to recognise that one’s failure, problems, and stress are a normal part of human life; it is the acknowledgement that nobody is perfect and that everybody fails from time to time.  This aspect of self-compassion connects us to others, because we are all fallible, and sometimes it even recognises that things could be worse as they are for others; 

Mindfulness

This is the ability of not becoming too absorbed by one’s difficulties and associated negative feelings.  Mindfulness is the paradoxical acknowledgement of those negative feelings such that the observation of them distances us from experiencing them.    

Mindfulness is an essential component of self-compassion because unless suffering is first noticed it cannot be responded to.  While it might seem that suffering is obvious, many people don’t acknowledge the extent of their own pain. Or when confronted with life challenges, people often get so absorbed by the process of trying to fix their problems that they don't pause to consider how much they are struggling in the moment. 

While the tendency to suppress or ignore pain is very human, a consistently avoidant style of coping with negative emotions can lead to dysfunctional or ineffective strategies.

Importantly, self-compassion and its elements can be learned6. A good place to start is with the resources and exercises that are freely available from Dr Kristin Neff (http://selfcompassion.org/). 

Results from a randomised controlled trial of the program available from this site indicate that mindfulness, self-compassion, and wellbeing can be enhanced in the general community. It’s a great place to start improving your self-compassion and as a result your mental health, well-being, resilience and optimism.  

References

1. Zeller, M., Yuval, K., Nitzan-assayag, Y., & Bernstein, A. (2015). Self-compassion in recovery following potentially traumatic stress: Longitudinal study of at-risk youth. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 43(4), 645-653. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s10802-014-9937-y

2. Stephenson, E., Watson, P. J., Zhuo, J. C., & Morris, R. J. (2018). Self-compassion, self-esteem, and irrational beliefs: Research and reviews research and reviews. Current Psychology, 37(4), 809-815. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s12144-017-9563-2

3. Neff, K. D. & Germer, C. (2017). Self-Compassion and Psychological Wellbeing. In J. Doty (Ed.) Oxford Handbook of Compassion Science, Ch. 27. Oxford University Press.

4. Neff, K. D. (2003). Self-compassion: An alternative conceptualization of a healthy attitude toward oneself. Self and Identity, 2, 85-102.

5. Mills, J., & Chapman, M. (2016). Compassion and self-compassion in medicine: Self-care for the caregiver. Australasian Medical Journal (Online), 9(5), 87-91. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.4066/AMJ.2016.2583

6. Terry, M. L., & Leary, M. R. (2011). Self-compassion, self-regulation, and health. Self and Identity, 10(3), 352. Retrieved from http://ezproxy.slq.qld.gov.au/login?url=https://search-proquest-com.ezproxy.slq.qld.gov.au/docview/876285277?accountid=13378
 

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