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What is Self-Compassion?

Carleen Newsome

Beautiful african woman with hands in heart, expressing love and health concept, outdoor

Self-Compassion allows us to manage negative self-talk, perfectionism, people pleasing and judgmental thinking.  Self-Compassion increases our resilience to suffering, shame and failure.  In order to understand Self-Compassion, it is helpful to first reflect on what compassion is and what it feels like.

Compassion happens when we recognize the suffering of another.  We can only recognize the suffering of another if we are mindful or pay attention.  It is possible to go through life ignoring the suffering of others or pretending it doesn’t exist.  If we ignore a homeless person as we pass them on the street, it is unlikely that we will feel compassion for them.  So, step one of compassion is paying attention and acknowledging suffering when we see it.

Compassion involves empathy.  Once we notice suffering in another, compassion involves connecting with their pain and feeling moved to do something to help. We can imagine what it feels like to be in their situation.  Interestingly the word compassion means “to suffer with”

Compassion involves a nonjudgmental stance. A non-judgmental stance means we acknowledge that we are all imperfect and that failure, suffering and struggle are part of our common human experience. We realize that “There go I, but for the grace of God”.

Self-Compassion is simply applying these same concepts to ourselves.  When we are in the midst of a struggle, failure or suffering, self-compassion means we treat ourselves the way we would treat someone we love.  Too often when we are suffering we tell ourselves, “ I am not enough”, “I am alone, these things only happen to me”, and “If I was only skinnier, richer, smarter or prettier, this would not be happening to me.”  Those are the words of the Perfectionism trap and not how we would speak to someone we love.   Cultivating or practicing self-compassion means letting go of perfectionism.

Self-Compassion involves self-kindness, common humanity and mindfulness.

Self-kindness: Instead of ignoring our pain or beating ourselves up when we our suffering, self-    kindness means being warm and understanding towards ourselves.

Common Humanity: Common humanity means that we recognize that we are not alone.  It is a common human experience to have feelings of personal inadequacy and suffering.

Mindfulness: Mindfulness means that we do not exaggerate or suppress our negative emotions.  It is important to recognize and understand our suffering: to name it and claim it.  At the same time we do not want to over identify with the pain and emotions because it can increase our suffering.  Mindfulness allows us to take a balanced approach and a compassionate stance to our situation.

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