Author: Diana Diaconu, LMSW
July 24, 2021
Self-Compassion as a practice has been around for over 2,000 years with roots in Buddhist philosophy. One of the core beliefs of this Eastern tradition is that we must learn to love ourselves before we can truly extend love to others. This core concept was later incorporated into Western society by scholars, psychotherapists, and educators, each putting their own unique spin on it. You may have heard of unconditional positive regard, self-empathy, or self-acceptance- all of these concepts are centered around the benefits of appreciating ourselves.
How do we begin to make sense of such a longstanding belief? I like to start with Dr. Kristin Neff’s breakdown. She believes that self-compassion is made of three primary components: self-kindness, common humanity, and mindfulness. Before reading on, I’d like to challenge you to take a couple moments and reflect on what these components mean to you. How are you interpreting them and what thoughts are arising as you read them? It’s okay if this is the first time you’ve ever heard of any of them, just take inventory of what you are noticing.
Life is often filled with challenges, curveballs, and wtf moments, this is where I believe self-kindness comes in. When we are kind to ourselves, we practice understanding, acceptance, and gentleness. When people struggle to live up to their extensive lists of expectations, it can be very easy to be judgmental, critical, and even cruel to themselves, or maybe the default is to ignore the disappointment or hurt and shove the pain down. The above survival mechanisms may take away from the intensity of the moment at hand, in some cases making it “easier” to deal with, but what I see is that both taking it out on ourselves and denying or avoiding create more hurt in the long run.
When people are struggling, it can lead to them becoming engulfed by their internal world. Beliefs such as: “why is this happening to me,” “what did I do to deserve this?,” and “everyone around me is doing so much better” may begin to circulate their thoughts. All of these beliefs have a common root, which is insidious isolation. They all focus on the internal experience and the ego’s belief that only they are suffering. This is where common humanity comes in, which is centered in the idea that all humans struggle. The human experience is unpredictable and it is helpful to reflect upon the commonalities between all humans as we navigate disappointment, hurt, and existence together.
Mindfulness begins with intentional awareness. Gaining awareness of sensations within the body, thoughts circulating the mind, and emotions that are present in a given moment or moment by moment. The next piece to mindfulness is how the awareness is approached. It is important to maintain curiosity rather than judgement, acknowledgment rather than denial, and openness rather than reactivity. When people practice curiosity, acknowledgment, and openness they are more able to strengthen the connection with themselves. When judgment, denial, and/or reactivity take over, it can often lead to maintenance of harmful narratives about oneself. It is worth mentioning that mindfulness is not synonymous with meditation, rather meditation can be a form to practice mindfulness, but it is not the only form.
I’d like to challenge you to reflect on self-compassion before going about your day: Are you curious to learn more? Is it something that you feel drawn to? Could it be incorporated into your daily life? What patterns would have to shift to make way for self-compassion?