Self-compassion sounds great, but how, exactly, are you supposed to practice such a warm, fuzzy concept? For those of us who’ve spent decades (or a lifetime) beating ourselves into shame and submission, it’s easier said than done to make nice with our inner demons.
Researcher Kristin Neff (who I seriously want to be BFFs with) is an expert in the science of self-compassion. She’s spearheaded all kinds of research that suggests it has incredible power when it comes to helping humans be healthier, happier and more motivated.
“The pain caused by self-judgment, I think in some ways that’s some of the worst pain all of us experience,” Neff has said.
I couldn’t agree more. What’s more painful than walking around with an emotional abuser affixed to your spinal cord? That’s what many of us have endured — a mean-spirited, relentless bully with impossible expectations. A bully that never goes away, never leaves us alone and can follow us into our dreams. That’s the burden of self-judgment.
So what does it mean to be compassionate instead of cruel? Well, according to Neff, self-compassion has three attributes:
1. Offering kindness, care, understanding for yourself versus harsh judgment.
2. Feeling a sense of common humanity versus isolation or alienation from others.
3. Being mindful and staying aware of your personal suffering versus overidentifying with negative feelings.
Self-compassion is, in essence, seeing yourself as a human being full of flaws and faults who’s dealing with the difficulties of life as best they can — a person deserving of kindness and respect. It differs from self-esteem, which usually requires extrinsic support to be maintained, IE, the achievement of goals, societal positioning or other people’s good opinion.
Self-compassion is extended regardless of circumstance or perceived failures. It’s all-encompassing and never diminishes. Basically, it’s about believing in your own worthiness, no matter what.
So how do we foster these three attributes? According to Neff, “You are only being asked to relax, allow life to be as it is, and open your heart to yourself.”
Next time you catch yourself carried away by negative self-talk or harsh judgments, stop, breathe, and extend yourself some kindness. Try the lovingkindness (metta) meditation mantra: “May I be safe, may I be happy, may I be healthy, may I be at ease.” Replace the nasty chatter in your mind with kind and gentle thoughts. Talk to yourself like you would a best friend or loved one.
This takes time and practice, but it IS doable. Trust me. Self-compassion has opened up a whole new world of positive possibility for me. The voice in my head is nicer than ever, and that feels pretty fantastic.