“Through self-compassion, we become an inner ally instead of an inner enemy”.
-Kristin Neff, PhD
We’ve all had the concept of self-esteem thrown down our throats, which usually teaches us that the ultimate goal is to have high levels of self-esteem. While the idea of feeling good about ourselves is absolutely essential, we’ve learned that our “feeling good” is based on: how many trophies we have on our mantle, how many A’s we earn in school, and how many points we scored in the last game. What happens when we don’t score that last point or we end up with a B+ instead of an A? For some of us, our sense of self can crumble and our self-critic can begin screaming at us telling us that we’re not good enough, smart enough, or strong enough. It doesn’t have to have such a strong voice, though. Self-compassion provides us that cushion and soft blanket to catch and cradle us when we do fall short of our goals and expectations.
The concept of self-compassion is broken into three categories: self-kindness, mindfulness, and common humanity. Through the interweaving of these three ideas, we’re able to shift our focus from the potentially superficial feelings of goodness that self-esteem can bring, and replace them with a solid embracing of who we are through self-compassion. Let me break down the three components of self-esteem:
Self-kindness – Think for a second what you would say to a close friend who has come to you expressing feelings of sadness and low self-worth. Perhaps they just failed an exam and said to you, “I just knew I’d fail that test! I’m so stupid!!” Would you agree with them and tell them that they are indeed stupid? Well, no, of course you wouldn’t. You would amp up your compassion meter and do everything in your power to help them feel better and dispute their negative self-talk. Now let me blow your mind for a minute; what would it be like if you were to display that same level of compassion and kindness to yourself? What if you were to change your harsh thoughts of, “This is so stupid...I’m never going to get this...I’m a complete failure!” to “I didn’t do so well on that last test and I’m going through a lot right now. I need to cut myself some slack”? Feels weird yet oddly comforting, huh? That’s self-kindness. Giving yourself the same kindness and compassion that you give to a good friend.
Mindfulness – I know that I’ve talked about mindfulness a lot in previous blogs. Take all of that and add to it the idea of recognizing and embracing your feelings for what they are. Feelings and emotions are just a piece of information for you to acknowledge without placing any judgment on them. Being quick to judge our feelings and emotions can quickly lead to desires of suppressing those feelings or over-identifying with them. Being truly mindful allows us to shift our focus from the “shoulda, coulda woulda’s” to the present, because the present is the only state of being where we possess control.
Common humanity – When we trip on that crack in the sidewalk or drop our cup of coffee in front of our friends, it can easily feel as though we are the only one’s in the world that have done this. Likewise, when we feel down, sad, angry, and hurt, it can also seem as though no one else has ever felt as bad as we do. In embracing the concept of self-compassion, we’re able to see that we’re all in this boat together. We all trip, fall, cry, yell, struggle, and suffer. Why? Because we’re human and we all have feelings and emotions.
For more information on the concept of self-compassion and to obtain deeper tools on how to begin practicing your own journey toward self-compassion, I encourage you to check out Dr. Kristin Neff’s work at www.self-compassion.org. In wrapping these three components into your daily life, you will be able to enhance that love that you feel for yourself and, in turn, the love that you feel for the world around you.