Most people are very critical of and hard on themselves. This is especially true if you think you are missing or lacking something. People are usually hard on themselves when they have made a mistake because they think it will make things better. But in the end, it doesn’t make things any better at all. But you can achieve this with self-compassion.
Self-compassion is an alternative to self-criticism and harshness that helps you grow. It consists of treating yourself kindly and recognizing that you have things in common with the rest of humanity. But it’s also about accepting your own limitations.
According to American psychologist Kristin Neff, one of the top researchers in her field, self-compassion has three fundamental aspects:
- Kindness to yourself.
- Recognition of your own humanity.
- Focused attention.
Kindness to yourself, an aspect of self-compassion
Feelings of kindness to yourself change not only your mind, but also your body. When you calm your pain, you call on the attachment system that all mammals have.
One of the main functions of this system is the release of oxytocin, a hormone that increases your sense of confidence. It also makes you feel peaceful, safe, generous and connected and increases your ability to feel self-affection and compassion.
By being kind to yourself, you can treat yourself as a valuable human being who deserves affection. Marshall Rosenberg, author of Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life , emphasizes the importance of using empathic and non-critical language when talking to yourself. It’s about treating yourself well, not badly, with an understanding attitude.
Recognize your common humanity
The feeling of compassion comes from recognizing that the human experience is imperfect. Self-compassion consists of recognizing that all people can fail.
When you are in touch with your common humanity, remember that suffering is shared. Everyone suffers and feels pain at some point in their life.
Self-compassion is not the same as feeling sorry for yourself. Self-compassion makes you understand the situation better and in a kinder way. This leads to you finding better solutions for your own improvement.
Tara Brach (English link) explains: “The feeling that you don’t deserve something goes hand in hand with the feeling that you are separated from everyone else, removed from life. If we are imperfect, how can we feel part of a community? It seems like a vicious circle. The more useless we feel, the more removed and vulnerable we feel.”
Feelings of closeness to others, such as kindness, activate your attachment system in the brain. People who feel connected to others are less afraid of adverse circumstances and respond more flexibly to life’s challenges.
Cultivate Focused Attention
The third key element for practicing self-compassion is focused attention or mindfulness. Living in the present with acceptance and without judgment leads you to a clearer perspective of your suffering.
Practicing mindfulness also helps you recognize how you feel and identify the emotions and thoughts as they are, without defining you.
It is about observing what is happening in your consciousness and in the here and now. This allows you to identify thoughts about the past and future exactly as they are: thoughts.
In addition, mindfulness gives you tools to respond to different situations from a state of rest and relaxation. This prevents you from reacting too dramatically and avoids consequences that you may regret in the future.
When you really look at it, self-compassion is a constant practice of kindness to yourself that should never end. You have to cultivate it all your life.