Sometimes there are things in life you just can’t avoid. There are certain moments, feelings, and situations you have to go through whether you like it or not. Life happens and you can’t escape it, move around it, or ignore it. “The only way out is through.” It’s like a big pink elephant in the room we all try not to see, but we are all aware of its presence. It’s the same with unpleasant emotions and tough times in our lives.
At some point, someone needs to acknowledge its presence, open up about it, face it and accept it. And while all these challenging things are happening in your life, there is one thing you can do about it to make it easier for yourself, you can be self-compassionate.
When I talk about self-compassion what do I mean by that?
It is important to acknowledge that self-compassion and compassion are equally important and connected. The main difference between them is whether the object of compassion is yourself or others.
The first time I came across this whole concept of being kind to ourselves and being self-compassionate it sounded amazingly challenging. Often because we are our own worst enemies and the way we treat ourselves can be so much worse than the way we treat others. On many occasions, I felt I needed to be “more strict” with myself and tougher than with my close friends and family members. Like somehow I was different than them. The more judgmental, unkind, and self-critical I was, the better I would function and go through life.
Of course, it is necessary to be objective about ourselves, our triumphs and failures, but what happens is that an unkind attitude doesn’t give us the results we expected. The little self-critical voice can actually make us feel worse day by day, especially when we experience failure, make mistakes and feel vulnerable and hurt. Then the “truths” about ourselves from our heads become often unbearable.
How would you treat a friend, partner, family member in difficult times they are experiencing? If your friend was hurt like you were, would you tell him/her the same words you are telling yourself inside of your own head? Or would you be more understanding and compassionate? When I ask people these questions in workshops the answers are surprisingly different regarding how we treat others and how we treat ourselves.
Three elements of self-compassion
As someone who suffered from compassion fatigue, finding out about mindful self-compassion and the whole idea, research and practice behind it, I was “brought to life” by it. Now I try to spread the knowledge and teachings of Kristin Neff while teaching and learning together with my clients about the importance and meaning of self-compassion.
Kristin Neff self-compassion teacher and researcher identifies three elements of self-compassion: Self-kindness, Common humanity and Mindfulness.
- Self-kindness means that we are ready to be kind, emphatic and gentle towards ourselves when we feel inadequate, incompetent rather than ignoring our pain and becoming self-critical.
- Common humanity refers to resisting the tendency to isolate ourselves when dealing with adversity and being under stress. Vulnerability, imperfection, and pain are parts of human experience, so we can practice remembering that just like everyone else in the world we have our ups and downs.
- Mindfulness helps us to observe and notice our own thoughts, feelings, both pleasant and unpleasant, non-judgmentally without becoming over-identified with it or absorbed by it.
So listen to yourself, acknowledge the unpleasant, challenging, difficult emotions, thoughts, give them space and give yourself time to heal, give your friends a call, share your vulnerabilities and ask for help. Treat yourself as you would treat a close friend. Allow yourself to be self-compassionate.