Compassion is a particular type of empathy towards others when we perceive they are suffering. It is characterized by sensitivity towards the suffering and a desire to alleviate it and includes the qualities of tenderness, comfort, kindness and connection. Self-compassion is when we embody these qualities towards ourselves when we are suffering.
According to Dr. Kirstin Neff, a pioneer in the research of self-compassion, there are three primary components of self-compassion: self-kindness, common humanity and mindfulness.
Self-kindness is a stance that we take towards ourselves that embodies warmth, acceptance, tenderness and comfort. It is the same approach and relationship we would have towards a good friend. Instead of engaging in self-talk that is critical and disparaging, we speak to ourselves with loving-kindness. Instead of being impatient and judgmental towards ourselves, we are understanding and supportive. Instead of rejecting and ignoring our suffering, we acknowledge the pain and take steps to ease it.
Another important component of self-compassion is the awareness and understanding that all of us struggle and experience emotional pain. When we are the ones struggling and suffering however, we often tend to feel quite isolated and alone, believing that we are the only ones just not getting it right, that something is the matter with us and we are deeply flawed. We begin to ruminate and get further entangled in these negative ideas of self. Self-compassion is different than “self-pity”. It recognizes that suffering is a common experience shared with others and encourages steps to alleviate it.
The last component of self-compassion Dr. Neff identifies is mindfulness. Mindfulness is being present and open to whatever arises within and outside of ourselves, including our suffering. So often however, we tend to want to avoid unpleasant and painful experiences and emotions. It is difficult to be compassionate towards ourselves if we are not aware or do not allow difficult emotions and sensations to be present. In fact it is these times in which we would benefit the most from kindness and compassion towards ourselves. Mindfulness is accepting of all emotions and experiences, pleasant or unpleasant, and encourages us to be more aware and disentangled from our thoughts, emotions and sensations so we can respond more skillfully and compassionately to our suffering.
Self-compassion can be learned by anyone, even those who did not receive enough affection in childhood or who feel uncomfortable when they are good to themselves. It is a courageous attitude that stands up to harm, including the harm that we inflict on ourselves through self-criticism, self-denial, or self-absorption. Self-compassion provides emotional strength and resilience, allowing us to admit our shortcomings, forgive ourselves, motivate ourselves with kindness, care for others and be fully human.
Rapidly expanding research clearly demonstrates that self-compassion is related to emotional well-being, lower anxiety and depression, maintenance of healthy habits such as diet and exercise, and more satisfying personal relationships. To learn more about self-compassion