What if instead of "hello" or "how are you", we greeted folks with: What have you done to take care of yourself today?
Is that a tough question? How would you respond?
Self-compassion is similar to the kindness and compassion that we would show for others. Let's learn about how to treat ourselves with the same kindness, patience and love.
How to use mindful self-compassion
1. Notice your suffering
"Wow I don't feel great today"
2. Feel for the yourself and your pain - offer kindness and understanding
"It makes sense that today isn't great, I didn't sleep too well"
3. Acknowledge that suffering and all other feelings are universal and part of the human experience
"Last week, my friend mentioned they were grumpy because they didn't sleep well. Maybe I could reach out to them and see what they did about that"
There are three elements of Self-compassion
1. Self-kindness vs. Self-judgment
Failure is a fact of life. Self-compassionate people accept this and treat themselves with kindness when they experience failure or suffering. If this fact is ignored or denied, there is an increased amount of frustration, stress or self-criticism.
"I am not perfect and it is okay that I messed up"
2. Common humanity vs. Isolation
When we are suffering, we tend to isolate ourselves. There is an assumption that “I” am the only one to ever feel this way or make a mistake. Everyone goes through tough experiences over their lifetime. It is a part of the human experience to suffer and feel inadequate.
"Others have experienced what I am going through right now. I am not alone"
3. Mindfulness vs. Over-identification
There is balance in self-compassion. There is a chance of becoming overwhelmed with emotions or ignore how we feel completely. Mindfulness is acknowledging our feelings and experiences without being judgmental. This is the happy medium.
"I am feeling sad right now. Let's see where I feel this and why. I will try to be nice with myself while I do this"
Common misconceptions about self-compassion
Now that we have a greater understanding of self compassion, let's talk about what it is not.
Self-compassion is not pity
Self-pity leads to personalizing an experience. By personalizing, we take 100% blame or assume that we are the only ones who are experiencing this situation. This pity ignores the fact that other people are experiencing similar things. Self-pity allows for magnification and leads to people over exaggerating their problems. They are not able to step back from their suffering. A subjective viewpoint is held.
“This is the worst thing ever, no one else is hurting as much as I am. No one could possibly know what this is like. I will never be happy.”
Self-compassion encourages connection and decreases feelings of isolation. A more objective viewpoint is held that is balanced with a broader perspective.
“This is a tough time, but I’m sure there are other people that can relate to me. I wonder what my friend did in a similar situation.”
Self-compassion is not self-indulgence
A common fear that is associated with self-care is over-indulgence. “If I take some time for myself, I won’t be able to help others”
The other approach to change might be cruelty. “If I am not critical of myself, then I’ll let myself go.” By criticizing ourselves, we use fear to change. The idea of being imperfect is terrifying therefore we avoid it by setting unrealistic goals and treating ourselves harshly. This approach tends to backfire if you become aware of your weaknesses.
Self-compassion uses love to aid motivation. Folks that use this method have an increased sense of self-efficacy. Efficacy refers to the confidence one holds about their ability to succeed. You are able to see your failures, but you learn from them. Another aspect of self-compassion is intrinsic motivation. This motivation comes from within and is not influenced by outside forces such as a reward, punishment or judgement. People that use this technique set goals to improve personal learning and growth instead of trying to impress others.
"I trust that I can study for this test. I know I can stay focused and motivated because this is important to me"
Self-compassion is not self-esteem
Self-esteem reflects the way we see ourselves: our worth, value and how we are viewed in our eyes.
Self-esteem is based on individuality in modern Western culture. In other words, to be better, we must be different. In order to achieve this might we might put others down, be selfish or self-absorbed. “If my friend is doing well, that means they are taking away from my enjoyment” When we feel threatened, we feel anger towards the people that make us feel bad about ourselves. The obsession with following a high self-esteem can lead to a distorted perspective and result in us ignoring our failures. Self-esteem fluctuates because it varies based on the latest failure or success.
Self-compassion instead is based on the idea that everyone is deserving of compassion. “I deserve love because everyone deserves love.” Self concept (how accurately we see ourselves) increases with self compassion because we are not hiding part of ourselves. It relies on internal motivation so it can be available when there isn’t outside motivation (money, compliments, opinions).
Now that we have learnt about self-compassion, let's go over self-care.
Self-care includes acts of kindness and compassion that we do to take care of ourselves. This looks different for everyone.
Reading an entertaining book, watching a TV show
Going for a walk, gardening
Having a shower, brushing your teeth, making your bed
Setting boundaries, talking to a friend
Have your favourite food, make some tea
Let me ask the question again: What have you done to take care of yourself today?
Download your own checklist (PDF):