Self-Compassion 101

 In Mental Health

If you identify with the term “perfectionist” or you have been told that you seem to have high expectations of yourself, this blog post is for you! In the fast-paced and often demanding world we live in, where expectations and pressures seem to be constantly on the rise, it’s easy to forget the importance of being kind to ourselves. In fact, we sometimes develop an inner critic to motivate us and help us keep up with high expectations that are placed on us from parents, partners, academia and the work place. Fortunately, the concept of self-compassion, pioneered by psychologist Kristin Neff, has emerged as a powerful tool for promoting mental well-being and resilience. You may have heard this term before, OR your therapist may have even brought it up to you. If you’re like many other people who have a critical voice that has helped them achieve what they’ve needed to achieve you might feel some resistance to it.  I encourage you to keep any open mind, as in this blog post, we will explore the origins of self-compassion, define what it is, provide specific examples of how to practice it, and delve into research supporting its effectiveness.


The Origins of Self-Compassion

Kristin Neff, a renowned psychologist and researcher, is credited with developing the concept of self-compassion. Her work, which began in the early 2000s, has since gained widespread recognition and has been a catalyst for change in the field of positive psychology. Neff defines self-compassion as treating oneself with the same kindness and understanding one would offer to a good friend, especially in the face of setbacks, failures, or difficult moments. If your therapist has ever asked you “would you really say that to a friend?” this might be what they’re getting at!

How Do I Use Self-Compassion?

Self-compassion consists of three main components, as outlined by Neff:

  1. Self-Kindness: Imagine you’ve made a mistake at work that feels embarrassing. Instead of berating yourself with thoughts like, “I’m so stupid,” practice self-kindness by saying, “It’s okay; everyone makes mistakes. What can I learn from this experience?”
    • Self-Criticism: “I’m just not good at this, and I’ll never succeed.”
    • Self-Compassion: “It’s normal that it takes me some time to learn a new skill. Learning skills takes time, and it’s okay to not be good at everything right away.”
  2. Common Humanity: When facing a personal challenge, remind yourself that you are not alone in your struggles. If you’re feeling overwhelmed as a parent, for example, acknowledge that all parents face difficulties. This shared humanity can reduce feelings of isolation.
    • Self-Criticism: “I’m the only one struggling with this. I must be a terrible parent.”
    • Self-Compassion: “Parenting is challenging, and many parents feel overwhelmed at times. I’m not alone in this experience.”
  3. Mindfulness: Suppose you’re feeling anxious about an upcoming presentation. Instead of ignoring or pushing away those anxious thoughts, practice mindfulness by acknowledging them without judgment. Say to yourself, “I notice I’m feeling anxious, and that’s okay. It’s a normal human reaction. I’ll do my best.”
    • Self-Criticism: “I shouldn’t be feeling anxious. I’m not good enough to handle this.”
    • Self-Compassion: “It’s okay to feel anxious; it’s a natural response to stress. I can acknowledge these feelings without judgment and work through them.”

How Can I Practice Self-Compassion?

  1. Self-Compassionate Journaling: In your journal, write about a recent failure or mistake. Instead of dwelling on self-critical thoughts, respond to yourself as you would to a friend. For instance, “I understand this is tough right now, but everyone faces challenges. What would I say to a friend going through the same thing?”
  2. Mindful Self-Compassion Meditation: Engage in a meditation session where you focus on your breath and allow thoughts and feelings to arise without judgment. When a self-critical thought surfaces, gently redirect your focus to self-compassionate phrases like, “I can be kind to myself in this moment.”
  3. Affirmations: Create self-compassionate affirmations tailored to your needs. If you’re struggling with self-doubt, repeat affirmations such as, “I am worthy of love and acceptance, even with my imperfections.”

Research Supporting Self-Compassion

Numerous studies have explored the positive impact of self-compassion on mental well-being. Some key findings include:

  1. Improved Mental Health: Research has consistently shown that individuals with higher levels of self-compassion experience lower levels of anxiety, depression, and stress.
  2. Enhanced Resilience: Self-compassion is linked to greater emotional resilience, helping individuals bounce back from setbacks and cope more effectively with life’s challenges.
  3. Increased Motivation: Contrary to the belief that self-criticism fuels motivation, studies suggest that self-compassion is a more sustainable and effective motivator, encouraging individuals to learn from failures rather than be demoralized by them.

If you made it this far – I am so glad!! If you didn’t, because things came up, life got in the way, you weren’t that interested in this blog – that’s okay too! I hope that you were able to learn a few things that might make being kind to yourself a litttttttle bit easier this week! If you want more support in implementing self-compassion, battling your inner critic, and living a more peaceful, inner life, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us. Our team would love to help you on your journey.

Interested in learning more about Self-Compassion? Book a free 15-minute consultation with one of our counsellors below:

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