Do you ever wonder what those people are talking about when they tell you that you need to be kind to yourself? Like, what is that? Dr. Kristin Neff has authored several books and research studies relating to the practice of self-compassion and tells us that it’s much more important than one might imagine.
What compassion is
Neff’s definition of compassion is the sympathetic consciousness of other’s distress, and includes a desire to alleviate that situation. For this to happen, one must be willing to recognize and acknowledge that someone is suffering in some way.
When compassion occurs, there’s a connection with another being. Science has proven that humans are, by nature, social beings. Actually, being alone for an extended period of time is one of the most damaging states we can experience. When we are with a group, we experience stability and strength, and find we are capable of accomplishing much more than when on our own. Plus, offering compassion activates the reward center of the brain. People who are willing to offer, or receive, compassion feel happier.
And then there is self-compassion. The same elements that occur in compassion will take place in self-compassion. While there is no doubt that we offer more compassion to others than to ourselves, Neff has shown that we need to offer self-compassion to ourselves, as well as to others.
There are two sides to self-compassion. The first is taking care and responding appropriately to oneself in a comforting, soothing, and kind manner. The second side of self-compassion involves knowing how to set boundaries for what is okay for you, personally. That means learning how to say NO when you realize that something is not in your best interest, and could be emotionally damaging.
First, you need to acknowledge that you are experiencing a difficult time. Next, you need to offer yourself kindness and understanding rather than judging yourself. Finally, you must decide what will assist you during your time of need. You do need to make sure that self-compassion doesn’t turn into self-pity; self-pity helps no one!
To practice self-compassion
To help you practice self-compassion, these strategies might prove to be helpful:
- Check your perspective. Ask yourself if you’d treat another person the way you’re treating yourself. If not, ask yourself why. Then, do your best to treat yourself the same way you’d be treating someone else who was experiencing the same difficulty.
- Remember that touch is a powerful signal of compassion. Put your hand on your face, or your heart. Even though it’s your own touch, it will make a positive difference to you and how you feel.
- Give yourself a few minutes to practice self-compassion when you’re experiencing a difficult time. Reflect on your struggles; try writing a journal or letter to yourself, in much the same way as you’d write to another person. Offer the same kindness to yourself that you would to that other person.
- Find language that works for you. Not everyone will respond to the same words in the same way so it’s important that you use the words that will actually help you, rather than just resulting in an eye-roll.
So, the next time you’re experiencing some type of difficulty, respond with kindness and understanding. Offer yourself this resource that will allow you to successfully cope with your difficulty, and then experience the resiliency to move forward.