Self-compassion is the purest form of self-love. Aside from the many health benefits — including reduced stress, increased happiness, and increased social connectedness — the practice of self-compassion produces a ripple effect that results in a greater ability to be compassionate towards others. It’s also a powerful path toward healing any abuse you may be inflicting upon yourself.
Many people are engaged in an abusive relationship with themselves and don’t even realize it. This can manifest in many different forms. Anything from critical self-talk to emotional eating, and other more severe forms of addictive behavior, are all examples of self-abuse. Behaviors and habits that serve to inflict mental, emotional, and physical harm upon the body, mind, and spirit. The practice of self-compassion transforms this abusive behavior to a more gentle, kind, and loving connection with yourself.
Kristin Neff, in her book Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself, defines self-compassion as having three core components:
- Loving Kindness
- Common Humanity
- Mindful Awareness
According to Neff, we must achieve and combine these three elements to be truly self-compassionate.
Let’s examine each component and some ways in which you can begin to practice self-compassion, starting today:
The first component of self-compassion involves the practice of being gentle and understanding with ourselves, rather than harsh and critical.
The first step in this process of loving kindness is to become aware of your inner dialogue. We are generally harder on ourselves than anyone else. Changing your inner dialogue from negative to more compassionate can be difficult, especially when you have ingrained patterns of negative self-talk. Mantras and positive affirmations can help interrupt and ultimately override negative thought patterns.
The next component of self-compassion is recognizing our shared common humanity, feeling connected with others rather than alienated or isolated by our suffering.
Support groups are a great resource for empathy, compassion, and the experience of common humanity. Writing a compassionate letter to yourself is also a great way to cultivate a sense of common humanity and cultivate self-compassion. This exercise has three parts:
- Write about your struggle and the feelings associated with your struggle.
- List others you know of who have experienced something similar.
- Write a letter to yourself as a compassionate friend, focusing on what a compassionate friend would say to you about your situation.
The third component of self-compassion is the practice of mindful awareness. This involves holding our experience in balanced, present-moment awareness, rather than ignoring our pain and suffering or exaggerating it. Achieving present-moment awareness of any negative thoughts, feelings, and body sensations starts with engaging in daily mindfulness practice.
The result? You’ll develop greater resilience to pause and sit with your uncomfortable thoughts, emotions, and body sensations.
Ultimately, mindfulness meditation practice will provide you with the ability to step out of your automatic reactions and choose alternate, more self-compassionate ways of responding. If you are new to mindful meditation, I recommend starting with 2-5 minutes of general mindful breathing practice per day, and then gradually progressing to incorporate more and more mindful self-compassion practices.
Giving ourselves compassion is an incredibly powerful tool for dealing with negative emotions. We need to be willing to turn toward our pain and suffering, and embrace it, rather than trying to reject it. Trying to reject our pain or escape discomfort is what leads many people to engage in unhealthy behaviors in the first place. Self-compassion is a spiritual practice that will help you gain the strength and resilience to deal with any challenges in a way that supports your overall health and wellbeing.
About the Author
KJ Foster, PhD, LMHC, CAP is the Founder and CEO of Fostering Resilience™. She is a leading expert on fostering resilience for overall health and wellbeing. Dr. Foster specializes in working with individuals and family members who are impacted by substance abuse issues, helping them to effectively communicate from a place of forgiveness and compassion, instead of anger and shame. She is an author, speaker, and YouTube creator. Her latest book is entitled Fostering Resilience for the Family in Recovery: A Guide to Helping You and Your Loved One Get Out of the Swamp of Substance Abuse and Addiction. Available on Amazon and on her website www.drkjfoster.org