What is Self Compassion?

How often are we told “be kind to yourself”? As if it were that easy just to switch off the negative self talk and all of a sudden be the sort of person who is unflinchingly kind to themselves under periods of increased distress.

Self compassion is learning how to be kind to ourselves, yes. But it is so much more than that.
Self compassion comes from being able to notice things about ourselves- traits, patterns of thought and behaviour even physical attributes as if we were noticing them within our child or someone we love deeply.
Instead, for most of us we tend to notice these things with a critical eye or with the punitive view of guilt or shame- “I don’t like this about myself” or “I always do this, why can’t I just change?”.

Self compassion isn’t about words, it’s about thoughts and actions.

In mindfulness we learn that we can’t control thoughts, but that we can learn how to be with them.
All of them, even the uncomfortable ones. Like our tendency to be harsh with ourselves.

So what is the link between mindfulness and self compassion?
Well it is through the practice of mindfulness that we can start to notice these thoughts that have been leading us to not be kind to ourselves in the first place. Not to change them or to inflict further hurt and harm by berating ourselves for having them in the first place.
Just to sit with them.
To notice that these self flagellating thoughts tend often to appear in response to similar triggers.
That when these thoughts come, our mind and body often follows them to familiar places- of self loathing or criticism. Or we attempt to dull or suppress them with our chosen vice- whether it be food, social media scrolling or other such distractions.
We can notice what feelings and sensations sitting with these thoughts brings up within us.
Is there a visceral reaction? Does our body physically rebel against the discomfort of these uncomfortable observations?
Or does it trigger a cascade of emotional memories, held within the vault of our sub conscious?
What tends to happen, is that we realise that those thoughts that have been leading us to be self critical or unkind to ourselves, are only a very small part of our inability to practice self compassion.
That simply changing how we speak to ourselves is just one part. Albeit a very important part.
That in fact, a much larger part is noticing these ‘flow on’ effects of those original self critical words and learning how to stop that process from eventuating.

So how do we go about changing this?
How can we show ourselves more self compassion?

  1. Learning how to practice mindfulness is an important skill. Being able to sit with these uncomfortable thoughts and feelings as we begin to process them is a great first step. From this grounding, we can begin to allow the self critical thoughts to come, and just leave it that. No guilt or rumination- just simply noticing those thoughts and letting them go.
  2. Journalling can be another wonderful way to learn how to process our thoughts and feelings in a more compassionate way. By getting our thoughts out of the echo chamber of our minds and into the tangible realm of the written word, we are forced to look at them differently. It is very easy to think awful things about ourselves, but much more difficult to physically write them down.
  3. We can remind ourselves that we all share the common desire to live a happy life filled with health, support and love. We are not alone in this. The practice of Loving Kindness meditation (or Metta) is based on this shared thread of humanity. That in the same way we see that others in the world are worthy of kindness, as are we.
  4. You can also know that you’re not alone. That the ability to practice self compassion is a skill that we must all work on. That our brains are wired to remember the negative as learning from mistakes and surviving ‘near-misses’ has historically been what kept us alive. We have literally evolved to look at ourselves critically and always strive to be and do better. That counterbalancing this inherent negativity bias can be tough sometimes. 
  5. And finally, being kind to ourselves means remembering that humans are all beautifully rich and complex creatures who together create an amazing tapestry of humanity. Connection with those around us, with our natural world and then ultimately taking this sense of connection inwardly to ourselves helps us to realise that just as all beings deserve our love and kindness, so to do we.

Self compassion is not self indulgent or weak. Self compassion is simply the training ground for how you then treat the world. We perfect these skills on ourselves so we unlock the very best of ourselves for the world.
Like anything worthwhile, it takes times, commitment and practice.
But you’re worth it.

by Emily Amos

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