Adapted from Kristin Neff: Self-Compassion, The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself.
Having compassion for you is the same as having compassion for others. Self-compassion involves acting the same way towards yourself when you are having a difficult time. When we fail or notice something we don’t like about our self, we typically just try to ignore the pain or try to will it away. This is rarely effective, as you know from personal experience. Self-compassion allows you to stop and to tell yourself, “This is really difficult right now. How can I comfort and care for myself in this moment?”
Instead of mercilessly judging and criticizing yourself for various inadequacies or shortcomings, self-compassion means you are kind and understanding when confronted with personal failings. After all, who ever said you were supposed to be perfect? And who would we rather have assisting us through life, an inner enemy or an inner champion?
Things will not always go the way you want them to. You will encounter frustrations, losses will occur, you will make mistakes, bump up against your limitations, fall short of your ideals. This is the human condition, a reality shared by all of us. The more you open your heart to this reality instead of constantly fighting against it, the more you will be able to feel compassion for yourself and all your fellow humans in the experience of life. Self-compassion allows us to live our highest potential, live happier, and live more fulfilled. There are three main parts of self-compassion.
Self-compassion entails being warm and understanding toward ourselves when we suffer, fail, or feel inadequate, Self-compassionate people recognize that being imperfect, failing, and experiencing life difficulties is inevitable, so they tend to be gentle with themselves when confronted with painful experiences. People cannot always be or get exactly what they want. When this reality is denied or resisted, suffering increases in the form of stress, frustration and self-criticism. When this reality is accepted with sympathy and kindness, greater emotional equanimity is experienced.
2. Common Humanity
The very definition of being “human” means that one is mortal, vulnerable and imperfect. Therefore, self-compassion involves recognizing that suffering and personal inadequacy is part of the shared human experience – something that we all go through rather than being something that happens to “me” alone. Self-compassion also requires taking a balanced approach to our negative emotions so that feelings are neither suppressed nor exaggerated. This equilibrated stance stems from the process of relating personal experiences to those of others who are also suffering, thus putting our own situation into a larger perspective.
Mindfulness is a non-judgmental, receptive mind state in which one observes thoughts and feelings as they are, without trying to suppress or deny them. We cannot ignore our pain and feel compassion for it at the same time. At the same time, mindfulness requires that we not be “over-identified” with thoughts and feelings, so that we are caught up and swept away by negative reactivity.
What Self-Compassion is Not
(Misgivings of Self-Compassion)
1. Wimpy or passive.
Self-Compassion can be powerful force for change when actively implemented. It is intentionally working with emotions instead of letting emotions dictate mechanical and routine reactions to yourself and everyday events. It takes hard work implement emotional control.
Self-pity tends to emphasize egocentric feelings of separation from others and exaggerate the extent of personal suffering. Self-compassion, on the other hand, allows one to see the related experiences of self and other without these feelings of isolation and disconnection.
MSC recognize that others have the same problem, that they have learned to live with it, and that experiencing it is not unusual. Also, self-pitying individuals often become carried away with and wrapped up in their own emotional drama. They cannot step back from their situation and adopt a more balanced or objective perspective. In contrast, by taking the perspective of a compassionate other towards oneself, “mental space” is provided to recognize the broader human context of one’s experience and to put things in greater perspective.
People may be reluctant to be self-compassionate because they’re afraid they would let themselves get away with anything. This, however, is self-indulgence rather than self-compassion. Being compassionate to yourself means that you want to be happy and healthy in the long term. In many cases, just giving oneself pleasure may harm well-being (such as taking drugs, over-eating, being a couch potato), while giving yourself health and lasting happiness often involves a certain amount of displeasure (such as quitting smoking, dieting, exercising).
4. Making excuses or complacent
People are often hard on themselves when they notice something they want to change about themselves They think they can shame themselves into action (self-flagellation), and think that perfection would be possible if they were just to try a teeny-weeny bit harder. However, this approach often backfires if you can’t face difficult truths about yourself because you are so afraid of hating yourself if you do it. Thus, weaknesses may remain unacknowledged in an unconscious attempt to avoid self-censure. In contrast, the care intrinsic to compassion provides a powerful motivating force for growth and change, while also providing the safety needed to see the self clearly without fear of self-condemnation. Self-compassion means that we understand the myriad causes and conditions that lead us to act as we do. Compassion acknowledges the truth that we are limited, imperfect beings who are impacted by things over which we have no control — our genes, early family history, culture, life circumstances etc..
Research indicates that in comparison to self-esteem, self-compassion is associated with greater emotional resilience, more accurate self-concepts, more caring relationship behavior, as well as less narcissism and reactive anger. Self-esteem refers to our sense of self-worth or how much we like ourselves. But trying to have higher self-esteem can also be problematic because it is often based on how much we are different from others, how much we stand out or are special. It is not okay to be average, and we need to feel above average to feel good about ourselves. Self-compassion is not based on self-evaluations. People feel compassion for themselves because all human beings deserve compassion and understanding, not because they possess some particular set of traits (pretty, smart, talented, and so on). This means that with self-compassion, you don’t have to feel better than others to feel good about yourself. Self-compassion also allows for greater self-clarity, because personal failings can be acknowledged with kindness and do not need to be hidden. Moreover, self-compassion isn’t dependent on external circumstances; it’s always available.
What Course Participants Say:
“I’ve tried therapy, antidepressants, specialized workshops for the clinically depressed, meditation, and read countless self-help books. None of this was as beneficial as the Mindful Self-Compassion course. I was attracted to “emotional resiliency” because it was what I lacked. I was not able to “bounce back” after losing my health, having a relationship end, or any kind of failure on my part. We did exercises I had learned before, but this time we lived it. I also learned many new skills. For the first time, I feel confident that I can face whatever the world throws at me without sinking into depression. The cost of the course is minuscule in comparison to what I’ve gained, and I’ve saw every person in the group make positive changes in their lives. This course changed my life significantly. I fully recommend it as the single most powerful gift you can give to yourself.”
“Tired of being hard on yourself? You are not alone. It gets old beating myself up every time I screw up and not being able to resolve my internal conflicts. This course provided tools and a new mindset in dealing with my shortcomings and failures. Yes, I still experience pain and I still screw up, but the time it takes to recover has shortened because now I can resolve my inner critic. If you are done fighting with yourself and are ready for new strategies, then I highly recommend the course. You honestly owe it to yourself to find some relief and to be compassionate with yourself.”
“The content and instruction were the perfect antidote for my habitual self-criticism. Nothing has ever touched the Critic in me so deeply. I discovered that I can’t be a truly loving human without this necessary piece of human development — self-compassion.”
“The facilitator, Skip Hudson, guides the 8 classes with kindness and passion. Enough can’t be said about how valuable and timely these skills are. The mindfulness practices awaken one’s interest in being an embodied human, directly experiencing the life we’re given. The self-compassion practices provide opportunities for exploring how we disregard and mistreat ourselves, unlike our regard for friends or even strangers. The material, very skillfully constructed, stirs and reveals beliefs that drive us, yet viewed from a compassionate place. A subtle but galvanizing change occurs when presented with new choices and behaviors.”
“I attended the MSC Course because I thought my wife would like me to do it with her. It ended up meaning a lot more to me than that. The techniques and perspectives that were taught have been, and will continue to be, invaluable in my life both personally and professionally. They allowed me to assess differently the situations that would have derailed my day in the past. The experience made me a happier and more productive person.”
“This was an extraordinary experience for me! I learned new concepts which brought extreme peace and joy into my life. I knew what compassion was, and tried to live with compassion for others. But I did not understand that I was missing self-compassion and love for myself. Through the course experiences, I reconnected with a part of myself that I had not connected with for over 40 years. This was an amazing experience to acknowledge, to see the spirit within my body and work through the layers of emotions to reach this treasure within myself. I feel a great sense of peace knowing now, through mindful self-compassion, that I can meet my own needs. I feel whole again!!!.”
“As some point life got hard, and I reached within myself to find a way to get past the struggle. I found that screaming at myself gave me strength to carry on. But I had unwittingly entered a self-destructive battle and I didn’t initially see the costs of self-hating internal language. When I did realize the cost, I started screaming at myself to stop the screaming. I had so many years to improve my self-destructive weapons and to make better war on myself. But it didn’t work and the self-destructive thoughts were still there. Finally, after too many years at war, I discovered what to do – a way to fill the silence that rang in my ears from all the screaming – a way to utilize the energy that I had been using to berate myself. I found the strength to actively hold myself in a state of compassion. And in that compassion I was able to stop screaming, fighting and finally win the war.”
“This course allowed self-compassion practice in a very loving and respectful environment. It had a balanced approach, educational as well as experiential. It was allowing and accepting of individual participant differences. As a counselor, I use material from this course with my clients and family. It is an antidote to anxiety and depression. We all experience challenges in life, and this class teaches us to live with more gentleness towards ourselves and others. Without self-compassion we have a tense constricted response to life’s ups and downs, when we practice self-compassion we have a wise, soothing friend on board to help (of course that’s yourself).”
“As a new practitioner to mindfulness meditation, I feel a feel a level of peace that I haven’t experienced before. I feel my perspectives have changed as I allow myself to feel loved, accepted, and cherished with fewer negative barriers.”
“It’s difficult to describe something unseen. Like a slow, soaking rain the experience from the course continues to permeate my days since the course ended. It’s more an atmosphere of love, ease, compassion and remembering that there are other scripts I have for speaking compassionately to myself – an atmosphere that you modeled for us. I’m so grateful to you for holding such a loving, generous, and accepting space; and for the tools you passed along. Guilt used to be the gift that kept on giving. Now I think MSC is that gift. I’m actually having pangs of wanting to take the class again and to be with another group of amazing people.”
“My experience in the MSC class was amazing! I am a thinker and I was trying to think my way through emotional challenges, which got me nowhere! I learned how to just “be” and “be in the moment” and how valuable mindfulness is to my daily life! I am thankful for the course and to have skills that I can use to live happier for the rest of my life!”
“Attending the MSC course has been a life changing experience. With an unpleasant childhood, full of pain, shame, and abuse; I honestly thought I was alone in my suffering. The most freeing experience of the course was learning about common human experience of suffering and that we are all connected in this. I learned that our common suffering comes from our need to be loved. I was broken, but am now mending myself with self-love and I have more value because of the mending.”
“The course was helpful because it emphasized that I am not abnormal just because I am not feeling happy and anxiety-free all of the time. It taught me constructive ways to help navigate through the challenging times we all face. It was wrong for me to think that life will stop handing me challenges at some point. Resistance to that caused me suffering. Having more tools for dealing with these ups and downs helps. Thank you for your help and compassion”
“I meditated for years, but the techniques I learned in this course were so much easier to apply in my daily life than my past experiences. I use at least one of the new practices nearly every day – and some days I use several of them. The practices are simple, easy to remember and life-changing. I also read a lot of self-help books, and while many of them sound great as I read them, I find it difficult to implement the ideas into my daily life. That’s where this course is different. The practices you learn from this course make sense and are easy to implement in a modern busy life.”
For information about the adult Mindful Self-Compassion program: www.centerformsc.org.
More information can also be found on Dr. Chris Germer’s website: www.mindfulselfcompassion.org