emerge performance - What is Self-Compassion and How to Cultivate It

What is Self-Compassion and How to Cultivate It



05-Feb-2019

If you found one of your loved ones in tears, how would you respond? Perhaps by asking what’s wrong or offering a hug and some encouraging words. But what if it was you who was in tears, whether in sadness or frustration or despair? Would you be similarly supportive towards yourself?

In this article, we examine the concept of self-compassion and how to cultivate it.

Making sense of self-compassion

Compassion is defined as “the feeling that arises when you are confronted with another’s suffering and feel motivated to relieve that suffering”. So what is self-compassion? It’s simply taking this same thinking and behaviour and directing it inward towards yourself.

Kristin Neff, a leading expert in self-compassion and co-creator of the Mindful Self-Compassion (MSC) programme, breaks down self-compassion into three main components:

  1. Self-kindness. If you see a friend or family member suffering, your first impulse is likely to care for and comfort them. Self-compassion requires you to behave similarly towards yourself. If you make a mistake or suffer a setback, it’s important to see the pain this causes you and respond to it with caring and support, not self-criticism.
  2. Common humanity. One of the worst aspects of suffering through hardship is the idea that you are suffering alone. Self-compassion recognises that while you may be facing a unique set of challenges, every human faces obstacles of some kind. It’s important to acknowledge this shared aspect of humanity and remind yourself that you are not alone.
  3. Mindfulness. When faced with their own suffering, some people do their best to ignore it while others may blow it out of proportion. Neither approach is helpful. To benefit from self-compassion, it’s important to approach your suffering with mindfulness by observing without judgement how it impacts your thoughts and feelings.

Together, these three components form the basis for directing compassion towards yourself. This in turn can help you avoid getting hung up on mistakes or misfortune so that you can move forward productively with your life when you encounter challenging times.


Tips for cultivating self-compassion

Knowing the meaning and purpose of self-compassion is one thing, but how are you supposed to be put this into practice? Here are three tips on how to direct greater compassion towards yourself:

  1. Engage in reflection. It’s difficult to be compassionate towards yourself if you aren’t aware that you need it. By making time to regularly reflect on how you’re feeling, you will be quicker to identify when you are suffering and more likely to show yourself kindness as you work through the underlying reasons for this suffering.
  2. Accept imperfection. Don’t believe the curated version of reality you might see on social media – no one’s life is perfect and obstacle-free. When you accept imperfection and acknowledge that everyone (including you) makes mistakes, it will become easier to show yourself forgiveness and kindness when things don’t go according to plan.
  3. Practice self-care. In order to engage in self-compassion, you need to accept that you are worthy and deserving of care. By looking after yourself physically, mentally and spiritually (e.g. eating well, getting enough rest, incorporating leisure time in your schedule), you will reinforce the idea that your well-being truly matters.

Self-compassion is all about recognising your own suffering and taking active steps to alleviate it. And as with other skills, self-compassion is something that can developed through practice. When you make an effort to tend to your well-being and show yourself love in challenging times, you will be well on your way to building a healthier, happier life.

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Become a better leader

Do you lead a team or an organisation? Discover how the application of self-compassion can help you become a better leader. Join us on 14 February for our Introduction to MSC for Leaders event, or sign up for our 8-week MSC for Leaders course. Spaces are limited, so book your spot now!

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Header photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

Body photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash