By Ann Tharayil, LCSW, The Juniper Center
Self-compassion sounds like being nice to yourself. Most of us would probably equate it to self-care and think “Yeah, I got this already. Make sure you slow down and treat yourself to a massage once in a while.”
But self-compassion is a much deeper concept. My understanding is that it is a practice of identifying and re-working the way we talk to ourselves, and hence feel about ourselves. I’ve been thinking about this distinction a lot lately, following a professional training we hosted at The Juniper Center by Sarah Buino, LCSW, CADC from Head/Heart Therapy. Sarah talked to us about self-compassion.
The information she shared was based on the research of Kristen Neff, PsyD. It left me thinking differently about our inner dialogues and how we respond to ourselves when we face difficulties and disappointments. Neff says self-compassion by itself is really just feeling moved by seeing suffering. It’s what motivates us to respond from a place of care and warmth and the desire to help. It is a state in which we are in touch with our common humanity. To work on one’s self-compassion is to work on giving to ourselves the kind of compassion we often more readily feel for others in distress.
What Self-Compassion Isn’t
One way to get more clarity on what self-compassion is, is to look at what it isn’t. It is not self-pity or giving yourself excuses for why something didn’t go as hoped. And it’s not doing things for yourself, like buying yourself something or indulging in a treat. It is not self-esteem, which is an evaluation of what we THINK of ourselves based on comparisons or achievements.
Self-compassion is based on how we FEEL about ourselves. A way to sense how you truly feel about yourself is to start to listen to your own inner-dialogue. How do you talk to yourself through difficulties and struggles?
People can have high self-esteem and point to a great resume or list off great characteristics about themselves, but still silently still feel like they have very low self-worth. How we think about ourselves can be very different than how we feel about ourselves deep down. Many of us who can respond to others with true compassion do not speak to ourselves with the same loving care when we are struggling.
Self-Compassion is a Practice
Self-compassion is a practice, something to work on over time. Like mindfulness and being more present to ourselves and our surroundings, we can learn to apply compassion to ourselves as the “knee-jerk” response to challenges. The more we practice it, the more it comes naturally.
If you’d like to get an idea of how self-compassionate you are, Kristen Neff provides a quiz on her Website: http://self-compassion.org/. But I caution you to expect that you may start with a low score. This is not a judgement of your success on working on yourself. It’s just a different way to look at how we treat ourselves internally and how we could be more loving if we practice a new style of self-talk.
It’s a practice that starts with one thought at a time. But it can, over time, be revolutionary in how we feel about ourselves.