Self-compassion involves treating the self with care and concern when considering personal inadequacies, mistakes, failures, and painful life situations. Self-compassion predicts well-being and resilience. Self-compassion comprises 3 interacting components:
- self-kindness versus self-judgment,
- a sense of common humanity versus isolation,
- mindfulness versus over-identification.
Self-kindness refers to the tendency to be caring and understanding with the self as opposed to critical. Rather than attacking and berating the self for personal shortcomings, warmth and unconditional acceptance are offered (even though we may recognise some of our behaviours to be unproductive and in need of change). Similarly, when life circumstances are stressful, instead of immediately trying to control or fix the problem, a self-compassionate response might entail pausing first to offer oneself soothing and comfort.
The sense of common humanity in self-compassion involves recognizing that humans are imperfect; that all people fail, make mistakes, and have serious life challenges. Self-compassion connects one’s own flawed condition to the shared human condition so that the features of the self are considered from a broader and more inclusive perspective. Cultivating a sense of common humanity during moments of distress or self-criticism can help to combat feelings of isolation as people realize they are not alone in their suffering.
Mindfulness in the context of self-compassion involves being aware of one’s painful experiences in a way that neither ignores nor amplifies painful thoughts and emotions. It is necessary to be mindfully aware of personal suffering to be able to extend compassion towards the self.
Examples of thoughts that arise from a self-compassionate attitude are shown below. In order to reduce the negative impact of the inner critic and promote self-compassion, we must become aware of how we treat ourselves when we are confronted with personal weaknesses and obstacles. This is the aim of mindful self-compassion exercises.
Examples of thoughts that reflect self-compassion
- I tried my best
- I am a human being, just like everybody else
- I never signed a contract to be perfect
- I learned something
- Next time, I will do it differently
Characteristics of a self-compassionate voice
The self-compassionate voice is a voice that:
- understands that you are not perfect
- makes you stop to first take care of yourself rather than solve the problem
- is aware that everybody makes mistakes
- accepts you even when you make mistakes
- cares about your personal well-being
Self Compassion Increases Motivation to Cope
At first, self-compassionate behaviour may seem at odds with behaviour that is aimed to cope with problems. It is not uncommon for self-compassion to be mistaken for self-pity and passivity. Interestingly, research findings suggest that self-compassion does not make people complacent and unmotivated to change. Self-compassionate individuals may have high personal standards, though when they fail to meet these standards, they react with kindness rather than self-criticism. Moreover, self-compassion has been found to be negatively associated with procrastination and positively associated with holding mastery as opposed to performance. Self-compassion increases rather than decreases motivation to cope with personal weaknesses.
Replacing Negative Self-Talk with Constructive Self-Talk
Awareness of self-criticism allows the individual to change it in a way that promotes both self-care and self-improvement. In order to grow and learn, the individual must monitor one’s progress toward goals.
Our evaluation of behaviour can be considered an important ingredient of optimal human functioning; monitoring one’s behaviour and noticing when one’s actions do not align with one’s goals and values are crucial components of successful self-regulation
For example, a person who wants to lose weight must monitor food intake in order to prevent over-eating. What is problematic about self-criticism, however, is the way in which behaviour is evaluated—by making unsupportive, dichotomous, self-defeating statements about the self.
Self-criticism can be converted into constructive feedback by adopting a friendly, curious stance. After noticing self-critical talk, an individual might ask himself,
“What would I say to a close friend in the same situation?”
“What kinds of words would I use?”
“What tone of voice would I use?”
“What can I learn from this situation?”
“How can I use this to grow as a person?”
By replacing words that reflect harsh self-punishment with kind words that reflect a desire to learn and grow, the individual can become more familiar with a more constructive way of relating to weaknesses. This, however, is not a quick fix. It can take a considerable amount of self-awareness and practice to replace negative self-talk with more constructive self-talk.
Test how self-compassionate you are on the Self- Compassionate Scale
This questionnaire is about how you act toward yourself in difficult times. Take the test here
Understanding the Inner-Critic Exercise
It is when the going gets tough, when we fail or make mistakes, that we need self-compassion the most. However, for most of us it is not a self-compassionate voice that assists us in these times, but rather a harsh self-critical voice that mentally beats us up. For self-compassion to grow, you must become aware of what prevents you from being self-compassionate. The inner critic is the voice inside our head that delivers critical, disapproving dialogues. The critiques may include statements like: “You are useless”, “You can‘t do anything right”, “You are not capable”, etc.
The goal of the exercise is to make you aware of your inner critic and the consequences of this voice in terms of emotions and motivation. Many people argue that they need the inner critic to be productive or to prevent them from being lazy or sloppy. This exercise can help you to understand the judgmental tone of your inner critic is unlikely to create a positive starting point for doing things differently. Moreover, many people will agree that they would not allow other people to talk to them like their inner critic does. Still, they allow their inner critic to say whatever it wants. The awareness of this discrepancy can be the starting point for a different relationship with the inner critic.
Which parts of yourself or your life are you most critical?
When you are critical of yourself, how does that criticism manifest? Do you use insults? Do you try to understand your limitations?
What does it feel like to be self-critical?
What type of language do you use when you are being self-critical? Can you give some examples?
Imagine another person would speak to you, using the same words and tone that you use towards yourself when you are being self-critical. How would you react? Would you allow this?
If you would not allow this, how come you allow your inner critic to treat you like this?
As a result of your criticism, do you feel a sense of motivation to strive for self-improvement, or do you feel defeated?
What would a good friend, who loves you unconditionally, say to you when you identify something about yourself that you consider a flaw when you fail or make a mistake?
Would it be possible to replace the inner critic with a voice that is similar to your friend’s voice (see the previous question)? What could you do?
Building Self- Compassionate Routines
For some, practising self-compassionate behaviour feels unnatural after criticising themselves for many years. For instance, a workaholic may feel awkward and uncomfortable taking time off work to rest and relax. While taking a bath, he or she may experience feelings of guilt and restlessness for not being “productive”.
You need to realise that self-compassion takes practice. While self-compassionate behaviour may feel unnatural in the beginning, like any habit, it will become familiar with time. Importantly, rather than focusing on what prevents you from cultivating more self-compassion, it is often more effective to build self- compassionate routines so that you can re-define the self-relationship through action. When introducing the idea of self-compassion, you may respond with “This is not me. I am not at all like that”. What is more likely here is that you may not be familiar with expressing this kind of behaviour. Thus, building more self-compassion into your daily life can help you to relate more and more to your “new” self-compassionate self.
Try this loving-kindness meditation daily
- Loving-kindness meditation can also be aimed at other people. As an object for your meditation, you can keep in mind:a friend – someone you trust, you are grateful for, and for whom you cherish positive sentiments a neutral person – someone you don’t know personally and therefore do not like or dislike
a difficult person – someone who has hurt you or towards whom you carry negative feelings
a group of people – for example, everyone at home, work or in your city
- Sit in a comfortable position with your back upright. Close your eyes and bring your attention to your breath. Remind yourself that every living being wishes to live in peace and happiness. Concentrate on a different person (one of the above-mentioned examples) and try to keep them in mind. Tell yourself: as I am entitled to be happy and free of suffering, may you be happy and free of suffering as well.
- Repeat the following phrases in silence and serenity while keeping this person or group of people in mind:May you be peaceful May you be healthy May you be happy
- After some time, you can include yourself in the wish as well: May you and I be peaceful May you can I be healthy May you and I be happyIn some cases, such as when thinking of a difficult person, feelings of aversion, anger, shame, guilt or sadness can emerge. While experiencing these emotions, the sentences can start to sound hollow and empty. Simply, label the emotion you experience (“anger”) and allow it to be there. Focus the exercise for a minute on yourself again (“May I be happy”). When you start feeling better, you can return to the other person as your focus of attention again.(adapted from positivepsychologyblog.com and Self- compassion: the proven power of being kind to yourself – book by Kristin Neff)
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