Self-Compassion

Researchers are beginning to conceptualise self-compassion as a buffer, or moderator, of the relationships between distressing events and negative self-feelings.

Self-compassion contains three components:

  1. Self-kindness versus self-judgment
  2. Common humanity versus isolation
  3. Mindfulness versus over-identification

These components combine and mutually interact.

Self-compassion is relevant when considering personal inadequacies, mistakes, and failures, as well as when confronting painful life situations that are outside our control (Germer & Neff, 2013).

It is a skill that can be learned

Self-Kindness

Self-kindness entails treating oneself with understanding, patience, and forgiveness, even when confronted with perceived inadequacy or disappointment. People who are self-kind affirm that they deserve love and affection. It entails being warm and understanding toward ourselves when we suffer, fail, or feel inadequate, rather than flagellating ourselves with self-criticism. With self-kindness, however, we soothe and nurture ourselves when confronting our pain rather than getting angry when life falls short of our ideals. The inner conversation is gentle and encouraging rather than harsh and belittling. We clearly acknowledge our problems and shortcomings, but do so without judgment, so we can do what’s necessary to help ourselves (Germer & Neff, 2013).

Self-compassion appears to facilitate resilience by moderating people’s reactions to negative events.

Common Humanity

Refers to the recognition that all people are imperfect, make mistakes, and experience failure. As a result of this recognition, self-compassionate people do not feel isolated by the experience of failure or struggle. So it is about recognising that the human condition is imperfect, and that we are not alone in our suffering. We can’t always get what we want. We can’t always be who we want to be, either. This is part of the human experience, a basic fact of life shared with everyone else on the planet. We are not alone in our imperfection. Rather, our imperfections are what make us card-carrying members of the human race. Often, however, we feel isolated and cut off from others when considering our struggles and failures, irrationally feeling that it’s only ‘me’ who is having such a hard time of it. We think that somehow we are abnormal, that something has gone wrong. This sort of tunnel vision makes us feel alone and isolated, making our suffering even worse. We forget that failure and imperfection actually are normal. With self-compassion, however, we take the stance of a compassionate “other” toward ourselves, allowing us to adopt a broader perspective on our selves and our lives. By remembering the shared human experience, we feel less isolated when we are in pain. For this reason,  self-compassion is quite distinct from self-pity. Self-pity is a “woe is me” attitude in which people become immersed in their own problems and forget that others have similar problems. Self-compassion recognises that we all suffer, and therefore fosters a connected mindset that is inclusive of others (Germer & Neff, 2013).

Individuals who were higher in self-compassion demonstrated less extreme reactions, less negative emotions, more accepting thoughts, and a greater tendency to put their problems into perspective while at the same time acknowledging their own responsibility.

Mindfulness

Mindfulness refers to being open to and moved by personal distress while taking a nonjudgmental attitude toward perceived inadequacies and failures.

It involves turning toward our painful thoughts and emotions and seeing them as they are–without suppression or avoidance. You can’t ignore or deny your pain and feel compassion for it at the same time. Of course, suffering might seem blindingly obvious. But how many of us, when we look in a mirror and don’t like what see, remember that this a moment of suffering worthy of a compassionate response? Similarly, when life goes awry, we often go into problem-solving mode immediately without even knowing we’re in pain or recognising the need to comfort ourselves for the difficulties we’re facing. Being mindful of our suffering is therefore necessary for self-compassion. Mindfulness also requires that we not be overly identified with negative thoughts or feelings, so that we are caught up and swept away by our aversive reactions. This type of rumination on our negative feelings narrows our focus and creates an overly negative self-concept. The mental space provided by taking a mindful approach to our difficult feelings, however, allows for greater clarity, perspective, and equanimity (Germer & Neff, 2013).

Self-compassion is associated with numerous psychological strengths such as happiness, optimism, wisdom, curiosity and exploration, personal initiative, and emotional intelligence.

Concluding Remarks

Self-compassionate people are less afraid of failure, and more likely to try again when they do fail. Breines and Chen (2012) found that having self-compassion for personal weaknesses, failures, and past moral transgressions resulted in more motivation to change for the better, try harder to learn, and avoid repeating past mistakes. Similarly, self-compassion appears to motivate health-related behaviors such as sticking to a diet, quitting smoking, or starting a fitness regimen.

These findings support the notions that (a lack of) self-compassion could serve as a vulnerability factor for depression and that cultivating self-compassion may deserve a focus in depression prevention programs or treatments.

References

Germer & Neff (2013) Self-Compassion in Clinical Practice,  Journal of clinical psychology: In session, Vol. 69(8), 856–867 click here

 

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