What is self-compassion?

Self-compassion means having compassion with yourself. What self-compassion also means is that you have compassion for yourself in the same way as you have compassion for others. Dare to say to yourself, this is something I have a hard time with. So feel the same compassion for yourself, as you would feel for others. Being kind and gentle to yourself and comforting yourself. Exactly the same way you would do it for someone else, when they are having a hard time.

Instead of judging yourself harshly and unfeelingly. Criticizing yourself for all sorts of shortcomings, you have to do something different. So self-compassion means that you are kind and understanding towards your own faults. If you want everything to be perfect, you will soon discover that this often fails. Everyone has his/her mistakes and flaws. Instead of reckoning with them harshly, you learn to understand yourself.

Kristin Neff about self-compassion

Kristin Neff has written a book on the subject of self-compassion. The book appeared in 2011 and has also been translated in many languages. Kristin Neff is an associate professor at the University of Austin, Texas. This blog covers a number of topics from her book.

The definition of self-compaction has three main components:

  1. To begin with, self-compassion asks for kindness towards ourselves. It is about not being (too) critical towards yourself and not judging yourself too harshly. Instead, you are understanding and kind to yourself.
  2. What also matters is that we feel connected to each other. You’re not alone. We’re all connected in life. We experience and take life as it is.
  3. It also requires mindfulness. A non-judgmental but contemplative way of dealing with yourself. Give that annoying experience the attention it deserves. Don’t ignore it, but don’t exaggerate in the attention you give it.

One of the first things you can do is look at yourself from a different point of view. There is no point in ruthlessly screaming at yourself, or criticizing yourself. Look at the people around you. They sometimes do something stupid too and are just as imperfect as you are. From that point of view, it’s a lot easier to treat yourself a little softer.

Discovering self-compassion

The big problem with self compassion is that we always want to be better than someone else. Think of being smarter, prettier, more athletic, more funny, more successful, etc… Not everyone can be above average. There will always be a few things where you are above average. However, no one is better at everything than others. So most of the people around you live the same life as you do. With the arrival of social media, the world only seems more perfect.

Of course it’s not. The world is exactly the same as it was 10 years ago. But on social media we only show the things that do succeed. Of course we don’t show that 90% doesn’t work. We don’t tell anyone that we’ve worked half a day on that perfect picture.

social media and self-compassion

Uncertainty, fear and depression are incredibly common in our society. Most of them are the result of self-judgement and a very critical attitude towards ourselves. Especially the group of millennials scores above average when it comes to burnout. Millennials is also a generation that is very active on social media. This group in particular could need some self compassion. Life isn’t just prosperity, sometimes it’s hard and tough. The influencers they often follow seem to lead perfect lives, but the reality is often very different.

Stop judging yourself

We need to stop judging and valuing ourselves. That is a first step to work on fear, insecurity, burn-out, etc. Judging and valuing ourselves is just oil on the fire. It is the opposite of self-compassion. Therefore it makes no sense to pigeonhole ourselves with ‘right’ and ‘wrong’. Life is not so black and white. It is already a first step towards a milder attitude towards ourselves. There are still many shades of grey between black and white.

By looking at ourselves in a friendly way, the world starts to look very different for ourselves. Most people have a certain amount of  compassion for others. By showing that compassion towards yourself, you have already made an important step forward. But that’s exactly where the difficulty lies.

Most of us treat ourselves a lot worse than the people around themselves It’s important that you learn to care about yourself. If you can’t do that, you won’t be able to give love and compassion to other people as well.

When it comes to compassion towards other people, it is important that you see and acknowledge their suffering. Almost automatically we are kind to them. Before we know it, we have already offered to help and alleviate their suffering. The arm around them is there before we even know it. The feeling of compassion is really present in most people. When we look at others, we are often able to see that we are all imperfect and vulnerable people.

Friendliness towards ourselves

So self-compassion contains the same ingredients as compassion for others. If we are able to see the suffering of someone else. Then we are also able to see the suffering of ourselves. It takes some practice, but it can be done. Just move your own position to another person. For example to a good friend. Imagine that he/she feels as miserable now as you do. What would you say then? That’s often not a difficult job for us. The virtual transfer of your problem or feeling to another person can work perfectly well. It’s getting to know suffering in yourself. The suffering of others you usually already know, now it’s time for yourself.

Being kind to yourself also means learning to listen to your heart. Literally and figuratively touch your heart. Discover that there is warmth and tenderness in you. That you can show that kindness and tenderness to others, but also to yourself. Just look in the mirror and say to yourself: you are very sweet. You’re very sweet, even if you have a hard time. Say to yourself: you’re OK. Let go of all that unrealistic expectations. They only disappoint you and don’t satisfy you. So self-compassion also means that you have to learn to be satisfied with yourself.

Self-compassion is talking to yourself

Saying “you’re really sweet” to yourself is a wonderful first step. But it’s about learning to talk to yourself in a friendly, sweet way. Marshall Rosenberg recognized that in the book ‘nonviolent communication’. The central theme in the book is to connect with each other and with yourself.

self-compassion and compassion with others

Everyone will understand the importance of nonviolent communication with others. If it’s only to keep the good peace with each other. Just as important as nonviolent communication with others is nonviolent communication with yourself. You know what the effect is when you call someone stupid and ugly. What do you think the effect is when you say that to yourself? So instead of being critical, it’s about empathy. A sweet empathic attitude towards yourself is a big step forward.

Empathy for yourself

Empathy for yourself means wanting and being able to listen to yourself empathetically. Learning to listen without judgement or harsh criticism. It is about learning to convert self-criticism and bad thoughts into underlying feelings and basic human needs. To do that, Rosenberg has developed a methodology that consists of asking four simple questions:

  1. What am I observing and what’s the effect on my well-being?
  2. How do I feel about myself in what I am observing?
  3. What do I need to feel better?
  4. What would I like to ask myself or someone else?

By asking ourselves these questions, we communicate empathically. We no longer judge, we no longer try to empathize with ourselves. If you start communicating with yourself in this way, you will also learn to see yourself sharply. By doing so, you will blame yourself less and you will learn from your mistakes. That friendliness towards yourself has another advantage. In this way you will also see suffering as a great opportunity to be kind to yourself next time.

If you are kind to yourself in this way, you will also shut your heart less. Being kind to yourself also means getting back in touch with your heart. When you follow your heart you will never get lost in life. Following your heart is often the opposite of being critical and judgmental to yourself.

Stop criticizing yourself

An important part of self-compassion is turning criticism into being kind to yourself. Often this critical and judgmental attitude has crept in slowly since childhood. Without even realizing it, you slowly shifted towards that critical attitude.

There are a number of things you can do to get rid of that critical attitude:

  • First of all you have to be aware of the fact that you are critical and judgmental towards yourself. There is a component of mindfulness in this. So you have to be very alert in your observations. Therefore, you will have to learn to perceive when you are self-critical.
  • If you notice that you are critical towards yourself, make it sound a little friendlier. Little by little, break down that wall of self-criticism. Until all that remains is just love and understanding for yourself.
  • Try to reformulate the criticism towards yourself. Try to turn it into a friendly and positive tone of voice. Again, it will go step by step. But practice makes perfect.

If you master the above 3 points you have taken a big step forward towards self compassion. You have been transformed from a hard and ruthless criticist to an empathic personality. Someone who is kind to himself and also much rather to other people.

Also read this blog about how self compassion works. How does that critical attitude arise in yourself.

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