Understanding and Practicing Self-compassion

Self-compassion is the practice of relating towards yourself with curiosity rather than criticism. It helps us adapt to life changes and challenges as well as strengthens resilience, emotional wellbeing, and psychological healing.

practicing self-compassion; woman making heart shape with joined hands over heart

This practice supports the therapy process and helps bring the work being done in session out into the world through specific, actionable skills and practices in the form of: reflections, meditations, mindfulness exercises, and behaviors.

Understanding the Components of Self-compassion

Self-compassion is made up of three components: self-kindness, common humanity, and mindfulness. These components represent the opposite of most of our instinctual reactions to suffering and difficulty that tend to get us in trouble by causing self-inflicted pain, withdrawing ourselves or hiding our challenges, and identifying with failure or becoming reactive.

One of the founders of the Center for Mindful Self-Compassion, Dr. Kristin Neff, defines each component as follows:

Self-Kindness vs Self-Criticism
“Self-compassion entails being warm and understanding toward ourselves when we suffer, fail, or feel inadequate.”

Common Humanity vs Isolation
“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.”

Mindfulness vs Over-Identification
“Self-compassion also requires taking a balanced approach to our negative emotions so that feelings are neither suppressed nor exaggerated.”

The Power of Self-compassion

It’s easy to get stuck in some self-compassion myths. Perhaps you think to yourself:
“I need that inner criticism to hold myself accountable.”
“To be kind is being soft towards myself, and I’d lose ambition.”
“I need to honor my experience and my past – to make it like everyone else’s is dismissive.”

You might believe that self-compassion is synonymous with being: selfish, self-indulgent, the same as pity and self-esteem, a form of complacency, and/or weak.

In fact, research shows the opposite of these beliefs are true! A body of research over multiple disciplines demonstrates that self-compassion training is correlated with:

  • Reduced symptoms of depression, anxiety, and PTSD
  • Improved stress resiliency
  • Improved trauma recovery
  • Healing after divorce/death of a loved one
  • The ability to shift and empower motivation
  • Increased altruism and altruistic behavior
  • Increased sense of gratitude
  • Improved body image
  • Better long-term outcomes for behavior change

Self-compassion training is made up of structured, tiered skills and practices. Some examples of these are:

  • Developing compassionate self-talk
  • Exploring difficult emotions
  • Recognizing and responding gently to body sensations
  • Identifying unmet needs
  • Discovering core values

Putting Self-compassion into Practice

What’s an area of your life you find yourself getting down on often? For most of us it isn’t too hard to come up with a few! What’s the most common way you talk to yourself about this?

Your self-talk may sound something like:
“I know I need to meet my next publishing deadline. Stop being so lazy! I can never get anything done on time. What’s wrong with me?”

This may inspire action through fear, but usually that doesn’t get folks very far. Research shows that a self-critical approach is associated with under-achievement and self-handicapping behaviors like avoidance or procrastination.

A reframed self-compassion talk may sound something like:
“I haven’t followed through on my deadlines in the past month, and this has made me feel stuck and ashamed. Maybe I should make a change.”

Self-compassion helps us harness warmth and understanding to safely acknowledge our weakness and work to change them for the better.

If you feel you need a little extra help to support your mental health and your self-compassion practice, reach out to Sunstone and find the right counselor to guide you to a brighter tomorrow.