3 Important Components of Increasing Your Self-Compassion

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When we show others compassion, we are sympathetic, empathetic, and concerned about their suffering and pain. 

To have self-compassion means turning that concept inwards and showing that same empathy and concern to yourself even when it feels hard to. 

We tend to be very harsh, critical, and judgmental of ourselves, but we would never say those things to a friend going through the same thing. 

Generating a store of self-compassion has many science-backed benefits including lowering levels of anxiety and depression since self-criticism is a common predictor of anxiety and depression. 

When a friend or loved one is suffering or in pain, we show curiosity about what is causing the pain and often ask "What can I do?" Why can't we do that for ourselves? 

The three components of self-compassion discussed later are helpful tools for generating a sense of self-compassion.



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Building Self-Kindness

What does being kind to others mean for you? 

Some different meanings of kindness include being generous, being considerate, choosing to do something that helps others, and being understanding in times of challenge.

To reiterate an earlier question – why can't we do that for ourselves? 

When we mess up, are struggling, or feel emotional/mental pain, it is common that we are much harsher with ourselves and say unkind, judgmental things to ourselves that we would never say to a friend or loved one. 

Skill #1: A positive self-talk is a fundamental tool and skill in generating self-kindness. 

What if instead of saying to yourself "You're such an idiot" when you forget to complete a project for work, you say "Everybody makes mistakes and I can make this right". 

This is not shirking responsibilities or accountability, but it is also providing a warm and accepting stance toward yourself that is less likely to evoke feelings of anger, shame, or depression. 

When we are able to change the dialogue of our internal self-talk to a more kind voice and tone, we can acknowledge that we have shortcomings and make mistakes while also accepting ourselves despite those shortcomings and mistakes.



Finding a Sense of Common Humanity

Have you ever asked yourself "Why does this always happen to me" or "No one understands what I'm going through"? 

When something unfortunate happens, whether it is by our own hand or external circumstances, we tend to believe that everyone else is just fine and we are the only ones that have messed up or feel bad. 

This is an emotional reaction that distorts our reality and makes us believe that we truly are the only person struggling. 

This belief can develop a strong feeling of disconnection and isolation from the people around us. 

How compassion and self-compassion play a role in this is their relational aspect that emphasizes the reality that everyone experiences suffering in some way.


Skill #2: Keep a self-compassion journal and write down the ways your experience was part of being a human being. 

This could include the imperfections of life as a human being and that all types of people have painful experiences. 

You could also write down and acknowledge the unique causes and conditions impacting that painful event, for example, "My frustration was exacerbated today because I only got 1 hour of sleep since my baby was sick".

Learning Mindfulness

In order to have compassion for ourselves we need to be willing to turn toward our own pain, to acknowledge it mindfully. 

Mindfulness is a type of balanced awareness that neither avoids nor exaggerates the discomfort of our present-moment experience.

We may become overly identified with our negative thoughts or feelings and be swept away by our aversive reactions. 

This type of rumination narrows our focus and exaggerates implications for self-worth. With mindfulness, however, we recognize that our negative thoughts and feelings are just that— thoughts and feelings—which helps us to be less absorbed by and identified with them. 

When we turn toward difficult emotions, however, even with mindfulness and self-compassion, our pain often increases at first and a natural instinct might be to turn away. 

However, if healing is the goal, turning toward emotions is the answer. 

Being present with emotional pain means living present and authentic lives. 

Does this mean a person needs to face all of their difficult emotions at their full intensity? No! 

Thich Nhat Hanh said that people only need to allow a little bit of emotional distress into their meditative practice to gain perspective and growth. 


Skill #3: The practice of mindfulness includes a wide range of techniques and strategies and the goal is to find the best one that works for you. 

This can include a type of meditation or can be another strategy that helps you stay more in the present moment. 

One mindfulness practice to experiment with to build self-compassion is, when you feel some type of distress, first say to yourself "This is a moment of suffering" or "This is stress". 

Second, remind yourself that "other people feel this way too". 

Lastly, say to yourself "May I be kind to myself", "may I forgive myself", or "May I learn to accept myself as I am". 

Guided meditation can also be a helpful tool to build mindfulness. 


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Conclusion

By relating to our mistakes with kindness rather than self-judgment, remembering our common humanity instead of feeling isolated by our shortcomings, and being mindful of our negative emotions rather than identifying with them, we can dismantle the structure of shame and insert self-compassion into our life instead. 

Like many things, it takes intention and effort to change some of these unhelpful patterns; however, the payout is great enough and worth the effort and time it takes to implement more self-compassion.

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May 23rd, 2024

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