Self-compassion requires treating yourself the way you would treat your best friend.
Self-compassion is an antidote for self-criticism. Kristin Neff psychologist and a pioneer researcher on this subject has identified three elements of self-compassion: self-kindness, common humanity, and mindfulness.
Self-compassion entails being warm and understanding toward ourselves when we suffer, fail, or feel inadequate. According to her research, self-compassion is on the opposite spectrum of self-criticism. Self-compassion allows and inspires us to learn from failures and to try again. Self-criticism on the other hand, might lead to giving up or denying our failures. Who wants to be invalidated by the voice in their own head? Yet, people are doing it all the time.
Most of us feel compassion when a close friend is struggling. What would it be like to receive the same caring attention from yourself when we needed it most? All that’s required is a shift in attention—recognizing that as a human being, we too, are worthy of compassion.
People who are more self-compassionate have less anxiety and stress.Self-compassion involves the capacity to comfort and soothe ourselves, and to motivate ourselves with encouragement, when we suffer, fail, or feel inadequate. Self-compassion is learned in part by connecting with our innate compassion for others.
Treat yourself like a best friend
As the second step in Neff’s approach to self-compassion, you are asked to write a letter to yourself as you were writing to a friend to whom you are unconditionally loving, accepting, kind and compassionate. Reflect upon what this friend feels towards you, and how you are loved and accepted exactly as you are, with all human imperfections.
The purpose of this step is to address yourself from a stand point of human imperfection, kindness and forgiveness. If you could accept your friend and offer your unconditional love and forgiveness, why wouldn’t you be equally kind to yourself?
Write a letter to yourself focusing on the perceived inadequacy you tend to judge yourself for. What would this friend say to you about your “flaw” from the standpoint of unlimited compassion? How would this friend convey the deep compassion he/she feels for you, especially for the pain you feel when you judge yourself so harshly? What would you write to your best to remind him/her that all people have both strengths and weaknesses? And if you think this friend would suggest possible changes you should make, how would these suggestions embody feelings of unconditional understanding and compassion? Try to infuse your letter with a strong sense of acceptance, kindness, caring, and desire for your health and happiness.
Let self-compassion sooth and comfort you
After writing the letter, Neff recommends to put it down for a while. When you are ready, come back to re-read the letter allowing for each word to flow into your heart. Let the self-compassion sooth and comfort you. Your job is not to seek love, but to open yourself to it. Love, connection and acceptance are your birthright. To claim them, all you have to do is to lighten up the shadow that is burdening your heart.
When you are going through rough times, do you give yourself caring you need or you are ignoring your pain and flagellating yourself with self-criticism? Share your thoughts and experiences with us!