It seems like everywhere you turn these days, there are instagram posts, TED Talks, and podcasts imploring us to practice self care. And with good reason! Self care is, for many people, integral to maintaining their mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual health. To this important conversation, I would like to add a related, but fundamentally distinct concept that gets far less attention than self-care, but which I believe is vital to our ability to care for ourselves: Self-Compassion
How are Self-Compassion and Self-Care related?
Personally, I have found that when self-compassion precedes self-care, it deepens the practice of self-care. Self care asks us to prioritize our own needs; to say “no” or “not right now” to others in order to attune to what will fill us up. I believe that when people struggle with incorporating self care into their lives, it is because they fundamentally do not believe that they are deserving of the time and energy that is required to do so.
Here is where Self-Compassion coping comes in. As discussed below, Self-Compassion can help provide a framework that allows us to be responsive to our own needs because we understand that caring for ourselves, especially when we are suffering, is a profound act that affirms our humanity.
What is Self-Compassion?
Dr. Kristin Neff, a leading researcher in Self-Compassion, defines Self-Compassion as having 3 components:
- Common Humanity,
- and Self-Kindness.
Mindfulness as a practice is the non-judgmental acknowledgement of our thoughts and feelings. This process can be particularly challenging when what we are thinking or feeling is painful or shameful because it asks us to identify, not deny, what feels real for us in each moment.
Practicing mindfulness allows us to engage in the next component of Self-Compassion, which is Common Humanity. Often, when we sit in our feelings of distress or pain, it feels as though we are sitting in them alone. We may have thoughts such as “No one can understand what I’m going through or how badly I feel”. These feelings of isolation not only compound our suffering, but they deny the reality that to be human is to feel- to feel pain, to feel lost, to feel ashamed. When we allow ourselves to believe that we alone have felt what we feel, we deny our humanity and put unrealistic expectations on ourselves to be super human. We are all in this experience of being human together and that means that I can empathize and connect with you in your feelings of discomfort or despair because I have experienced them too in my own life.
This last component of Self-Compassion is often the one that people struggle with the most. Once we have identified what we are feeling and acknowledged that others have felt that too, we can still exist in a place of self blame and shame. We may believe that “Just because other people have experienced this too doesn’t mean that I don’t deserve to be punished”. Self-kindness asks us to treat ourselves with the care, understanding, and gentleness that we would show a friend or a family member with the very same issues. If a friend came to you and shared how they had made a mistake and were feeling ashamed, would you tell them what a failure they are? What a terrible person they are? How they deserve to suffer? Maybe. But more likely than not, you would tell them that it’s okay. That people make mistakes all the time. You may even share with them your stories of times where you have done something you didn’t mean to do in order to foster connection and help them feel less alone. Then you may ask them how you can help or what they need in order to feel better. You would show them the compassion that we often forget to give ourselves or don’t feel we deserve. If we turn that compassion inwards, we often find that we are able to realistically assess what we need and practice a self care rooted in the idea that we deserve to be cared for by virtue of being human.
Self-Compassion is a challenging and rewarding practice that can open up new ways of engaging with ourselves. If you’re ready to take the next step towards Self-Compassion, specific practices can be found at Here or come talk to US about ways that you can begin to incorporate these elements into your personal journey of healing and improved self-relationship.