Practicing Self-Compassion: When Self-Love Seems Out of Reach
It's that month again where we celebrate all things love. The stores covered in pink and red hearts; images of flowers, teddy bears, and chocolates dancing down each isle. For those of us who are in a romantic relationship it's another occasion to get creative with our gifts. How can we show that person we love...our love? For those of us who are single it's a reminder that we are very much NOT in a relationship. Nothing like Valentine's Day to remind us we haven't been on a date in months. Many chose to celebrate "Galentines Day" on Feb. 13th, "Single Awareness Day" on Feb. 15th or just practice a bit of self-love. But what happens when self-love seems so out of reach (this is valid for those in relationships as well)? How can we self-love when it feels forced, fake, and inauthentic?
Compassion means acknowledging another's suffering and responding with understanding and kindness. Their pain somehow becomes our pain, we feel that knot in our throat, that anxious feeling in our stomach and the overwhelming desire to help. We want to provide comfort and remind them that their mistakes and failures are part of the human experience, we seek to soothe rather than judge. Self-compassion is acting the exact same way...towards ourselves. It looks like giving ourselves grace when we notice something we don't like about ourselves or have made epic fails (which doesn't make us failures, by the way). It means choosing kindness over criticism and honoring the human experience of imperfection. It sounds like, "Hey you, yup, you, this is really tough. You are allowed to feel whatever is coming up! What do you need right now to self-soothe?"
According to Dr. Kristen Neff, one of the world’s leading experts on self-compassion, there are 3 elements to self-compassion.
1. Self-kindness vs. Self-judgment. Dr. Neff states, "Self-compassion entails being warm and understanding toward ourselves when we suffer, fail, or feel inadequate, rather than ignoring our pain or flagellating ourselves with self-criticism." When we practice self-compassion we are gentle with ourselves. We treat ourselves the way we would treat our pets, loved ones, even strangers. We can ask ourselves: Would I say these things or act this way towards anyone I care about? If I wouldn't, why is it ok for me to carry this weight? Why am I not giving myself the treatment I give others?
2. Common humanity vs. Isolation. We are not alone. The struggles and hardships we face throughout life often make us feel isolated: we are the only ones going through it. This is more than likely not the case as to feel pain is to be human. According to Dr. Neff, "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."
3. Mindfulness vs. Over-identification. "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." states Dr. Neff. This means that self-compassion requires us to take an observer mindset. In this balanced way of viewing our reality we are honoring the here and now, stating what is happening and acknowledging without over-exaggerating our thoughts and feelings.
Now that we understand Self-Compassion. How can we start to incorporate it into our lives?
Practice the suggestions below with the mindset outlined by Dr. Neff: Mindfully accept failures and difficult moments as painful, surround self with kindness and care, remember that imperfection is part of the shared human experience.