//Self-Compassion: Dr. Kristin Neff, a pioneer in the research of self-compassion, describes it as “being kind and understanding toward oneself in instances of pain or failure, rather than being harshly self-critical; perceiving one’s experiences as part of the larger human experience, rather than seeing them as isolating; and holding painful thoughts and feelings in mindful awareness, rather than over-identifying with them.”

Competition drives much of what we do in our world today. It is in the market, in the workplace, in our schools, and in our relationships.  We are told to work harder, to be the best, and to never settle. We rate our self-worth on achievement and how we compare to others rather than valuing ourselves for who we actually are with all achievements and shortcomings together. In much of our culture it is no longer acceptable to be average; we must all be above average.  Our self-esteem rests upon that premise. We say, “Well, at least I am not doing as bad as so and so,” or “I am still considered smarter than most,” or “I am better at this than that person.” This is a pretty shallow and narcissistic way of engaging with the world and our place within it.  It puts down others to lift ourselves up and rarely lasts. The moment we realize that the comparison does not go in our favor, our mood changes and the self-deprecation and depression seep their way into our minds.

Self-compassion offers us another way.  It offers us a huge sigh of relief.  We no longer need to be better than everyone at everything to feel good about ourselves. Whew! Instead, we get to see more truthfully and accurately, allowing us to live more deeply and wholly.  We can acknowledge pain and suffering when it enters into our lives and deal with it with a gentle heart rather than a critical mind. We get to connect to all of humanity knowing that what we are experiencing is part of the human story, not just our own lonely experience.  Lastly, we no longer need to identify with our painful experiences or thoughts, instead we get to observe them, learn from them, and take small steps to move beyond them. When we work within the constructs of self-compassion we love ourselves because we deserve love, care and attention, just like anyone else, not because we are better than someone else. When we develop and practice this great act of care, we are more open and able to discover our sankalpa, our vow or resolve to nurture our highest being, and continue on our life’s purpose. We are also more equipped to take courage and try something new or challenging, because failure is no longer so scary.

Below, you will find some excerpts by Dr. Kristin Neff.  These are all stated in her words and can also be found on her site.  The first section is her more in-depth view of the elements that comprise self-compassion. At the bottom of the article, you will find a compassionate break exercise that you can do to help strengthen your ability to give yourself a little love. I encourage you to check out her site and all of the wonderful techniques, research, and offerings she has.

Three Elements of Self-Compassion as stated by Kristin Neff

1. Self-kindness vs. Self-judgment: Self-compassion entails being warm and understanding toward ourselves when we suffer, fail, or feel inadequate, rather than ignoring our pain or flagellating ourselves with self-criticism.  Self-compassionate people recognize that being imperfect, failing, and experiencing life difficulties is inevitable, so they tend to be gentle with themselves when confronted with painful experiences rather than getting angry when life falls short of set ideals. People cannot always be or get exactly what they want. When this reality is denied or fought against suffering increases in the form of stress, frustration and self-criticism.  When this reality is accepted with sympathy and kindness, greater emotional equanimity is experienced.

2. Common humanity vs. Isolation: Frustration at not having things exactly as we want is often accompanied by an irrational but pervasive sense of isolation – as if “I” were the only person suffering or making mistakes.  All humans suffer, however. The very definition of being “human” means that one is mortal, vulnerable and imperfect.  Therefore, self-compassion involves recognizing that suffering and personal inadequacy is part of the shared human experience – something that we all go through rather than being something that happens to “me” alone.

3. Mindfulness vs. Over-identification: Self-compassion also requires taking a balanced approach to our negative emotions so that feelings are neither suppressed nor exaggerated.  This equilibrated stance stems from the process of relating personal experiences to those of others who are also suffering, thus putting our own situation into a larger perspective. It also stems from the willingness to observe our negative thoughts and emotions with openness and clarity, so that they are held in mindful awareness. Mindfulness is a non-judgmental, receptive mind state in which one observes thoughts and feelings as they are, without trying to suppress or deny them. We cannot ignore our pain and feel compassion for it at the same time.  At the same time, mindfulness requires that we not be “over-identified” with thoughts and feelings, so that we are caught up and swept away by negative reactivity.

A Self Compassion Break Exercise as developed by Dr. Kristin Neff

Think of a situation in your life that is difficult, that is causing you stress. Call the situation to mind, and see if you can actually feel the stress and emotional discomfort in your body.

Now, say to yourself:

1. This is a moment of suffering.

That’s mindfulness. Other options include:

  • This hurts.
  • Ouch.
  • This is stress.

2. Suffering is a part of life.

That’s common humanity. Other options include:

Other people feel this way.

  • I’m not alone.
  • We all struggle in our lives.

Now, put your hands over your heart, feel the warmth of your hands and the gentle touch of your hands on your chest. Or adopt the soothing touch you discovered felt right for you.

Say to yourself:

3. May I be kind to myself.

You can also ask yourself, “What do I need to hear right now to express kindness to myself?” Is there a phrase that speaks to you in your particular situation, such as:

  • May I give myself the compassion that I need
  • May I learn to accept myself as I am
  • May I forgive myself
  • May I be strong.
  • May I be patient

This practice can be used any time of day or night, and will help you remember to evoke the three aspects of self-compassion when you need it most.