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What is Self Compassion Really?



Self Compassion - this is a term that we hear so much of these days. You hear it in the media, you hear it online and if you’ve come to our in person events or listened to a meditation of ours, you’ve probably heard it there too. It’s become quite the buzzword and I think that I even heard it used in a pizza commercial the other day. While the term is turning into a bit of a ‘trend’ it’s actually something that is super important. The thing that often gets missed however is that we have to actually practice it and not just pop it in a meme that we post to our Instagram stories.


What Self Compassion Really is…


In a nut shell, being compassionate with yourself is treating yourself the same way that you would someone you cared about that was struggling. Would you yell at that person and tell them that they are stupid for messing something up again? Probably not, but we do this kind of thing to ourselves all the time. We tend to have a pretty staggering double standard when it comes to compassion for others vs. compassion for ourselves.

In 2003, Dr. Kristin Neff, a pioneer in self compassion research, and an avid meditator, identified these three parts of self compassion. We’ll dive into those three components below:

  • Kindness vs. Judgement

“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. Self-compassionate people recognize that being imperfect, failing, and experiencing life difficulties is inevitable, so they tend to be gentle with themselves when confronted with painful experiences rather than getting angry when life falls short of set ideals. “


  • Common Humanity vs. Isolation

“Frustration at not having things exactly as we want is often accompanied by an irrational but pervasive sense of isolation – as if “I” were the only person suffering or making mistakes. All humans suffer, however. The very definition of being “human” means that one is mortal, vulnerable and imperfect. Therefore, self-compassion involves recognizing that suffering and personal inadequacy is part of the shared human experience.”


  • Mindfulness vs. Over Identification

“Self-compassion also requires taking a balanced approach to our negative emotions so that feelings are neither suppressed nor exaggerated. This equilibrated stance stems from the process of relating personal experiences to those of others who are also suffering, thus putting our own situation into a larger perspective. It also stems from the willingness to observe our negative thoughts and emotions with openness and clarity, so that they are held in mindful awareness. 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. We cannot ignore our pain and feel compassion for it at the same time. At the same time, mindfulness requires that we not be “over-identified” with thoughts and feelings, so that we are caught up and swept away by negative reactivity.”


Putting Self Compassion into Practice


So how do we actually put this into practice? It’s super easy. Just kidding - see point two above, self compassion is something that we ALL struggle with, you aren’t alone. We aren’t experts in this field, but we have spent quite a bit of time on this journey and have a few things that we’ve picked up that make it a little less confusing to actually put self compassion into practice. In this blog post, we’ll go over a couple of ways to practice self kindness over self judgement. (Stay tuned for parts 2 and 3 where we go over the other two points!)


Journaling:

This isn’t your grandmas type of journaling, where we chat about the weather and gossip with our future selves over who did nor didn’t get asked to the dance. When you have an unkind thought, write it down. Write it down exactly as it is, don’t sugar coat it. Just get it on the paper. Then, go do something. I don’t know, put on a load of laundry, return that e-mail, have a two minute dance party in your kitchen. Come back to that thought that you wrote down, read it, read it again and ask yourself -

1. Is this true?

2. Is this kind?

3. Who’s voice is this thought in? (Ie: can you hear your moms voice when you read this thought? Or maybe your second grade teacher?)

4. What message is this thought trying to send? Is this a message that I need?

5. How can this be reframed so that I’m practicing self kindness?


Here’s an example:

  • Thought: "I’m really not good at learning."

  • This isn’t true, I have many examples of times in which I was able to learn quite well.

  • This isn’t kind, I’m being really hard on myself unnecessarily and I have lots of evidence (see point one) that I’m actually quite good at learning.

  • This voice is definitely my grade 7 math teacher.

  • This thought is telling me that I’m frustrated with trying to learn something that isn’t making sense to me in this moment. This is telling me that I need to take a break, maybe get some help in understanding what it is that I’m just not getting. The message to ask for help rather than to sit in frustration is one that I really need to hear.

  • I can reframe this so that I’m practicing self kindness by recognizing that not everyone learns in the same way. I can congratulate myself on my perseverance. I can be gentle with myself and take myself for a walk so that I have a clear headspace to dig into this problem again with fresh perspective, and I can take the time to reach out and ask for help with understanding what I’m trying to learn.

And then, let it go. It’s in the journal, you’ve investigated it, you’ve done your part. At the end of the day, the week, the month, whenever feels good for you, take a peek over your journal, see the trends. It can be really interesting to see which thoughts are popping up over and over again where we really need to lean into kindness for ourselves. And sometimes when you’re looking back over your thoughts, you can see them in a totally different light, it can feel almost ridiculous that you thought that - the separation between you, and the weird things your mind can come up with becoming more and more clear.



Meditation:

Another favourite of ours is to practice a loving kindness meditation. In this style of meditation, we repeat phrases of meta (loving kindness) to ourselves and others. The idea is that loving kindness grows. It might be that you don’t feel it right off the bat, but the repetitions help us to foster a place of compassion and kindness for ourselves that gets easier and easier to find over time. Here is a link to a Loving Kindness meditation.

If you have a post-it note, write down an affirmation and put it in a location that you look at often. Get these little gems stuck in your head! Things like:

  • I lean into kindness for myself

  • I give myself the benefit of the doubt

  • I practice loving kindness towards myself

  • I am gentle with myself

  • I am human, I am growing.

  • I am always learning

  • I practice kindness towards myself in all situations

  • I am deserving of the same kindness that I give to others.

We’d love to know any practice that you already have in place to help you lean into self kindness!


Keep your eyes peeled for parts two and three of this blog post as we explore common humanity and mindfulness. ♡

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