“When you make mistakes or fall short of your expectations, you can throw away that rawhide whip and instead throw a cozy blanket of compassion around your shoulders.” Kristin Neff
If you want to become more resilient, develop your self-compassion muscle. This is not intuitive, so let’s start by understanding what self-compassion is, what it isn’t and looking at the three facets of self-compassion. Literally compassion means to suffer with, but we don’t want to add to our suffering.
Self-compassion is being a good friend to yourself. Unlike self-care, self-compassion can help you in the moment. Self-care, like going for a walk in nature, is not always available right when you need it. Self-compassion includes more than just self-care, it includes emotionally caring for ourselves. You might look at self-compassion as an inner support system which provides you with resilience. We treat ourselves with the same support we would give to a good friend.
It does not try to capture and define our worth as self-esteem does. Self-compassion does not label, judge or evaluate our actions or ourselves. Kristen Neff says, “It is caring about ourselves—fragile and imperfect as we are. Unlike the practice of positive affirmation, you don’t have to fool yourself to make it work. Self-criticism asks if you’re good enough, self-compassion asks what’s good for you?”
Self-compassion involves wanting health and well-being. It differs from self-indulgence where short term pleasure is grabbed at the expense of long term harm such as eating a whole bag of M&Ms. In Neff’s research, self-compassion has been shown to lead to proactive behavior to better one’s situation. When we soothe our agitated minds, we are not so contracted. We can see what’s right as well as what’s wrong, so that we can make choices toward things that truly give us joy.
Neff’s research shows self-compassion is strongly linked to well-being. It brings a reduction in anxiety, depression, stress, perfectionism, shame, body dissatisfaction, and disordered eating. Self-compassion is linked to more life satisfaction, more happiness, and more optimism. Thus, it is a powerful way to achieve emotional well-being and contentment in our lives. By giving ourselves unconditional kindness and comfort while embracing our difficulties, we avoid destructive patterns of fear, negativity, and isolation.”
Three Facets of Self-Compassion
The three facets of self-compassion are: mindfulness; self-kindness; and a sense of common humanity.
Mindfulness is the idea is that we need to see things as they are, no more, no less. This means that we need to see that we are suffering. We often fail to recognize negative feelings like loneliness, guilt, unworthiness, sadness, as suffering. We have trained our entire lives to deny our suffering. When we offer ourselves the same quality of unconditional kindness that we would offer to a friend, we can stop denying our suffering.
Our mind tends to focus on the failure itself, rather than the pain caused by failure. This is a crucial difference. When we see something about ourselves that we don’t like, our attention tends to become completely absorbed by our perceived flaws. So, we don’t have the perspective needed to recognize the suffering, let alone to respond to it with compassion.
Most people, even if they don’t blame themselves for their suffering, tend to immediately go into problem-solving mode. We need to stop for a breath or two, acknowledge that we’re suffering, and provide ourselves with a kind, caring response. If we don’t, we risk getting exhausted and overwhelmed, because we’re spending all our energy trying to fix problems without refreshing ourselves.
When we notice our pain without exaggerating it, this is a moment of mindfulness. When you focus on the fact that you are having certain thoughts and feelings, you are no longer lost in their story line. You can wake up and look around you and take a best friend’s perspective on your experience. This friend would soothe and comfort you with compassionate understanding.
One of the enemies of mindfulness is the process of overidentification—becoming so carried away by our personal drama that we can’t clearly see what is occurring in the present moment.
Self-kindness, begins with stopping the constant self-judgment and negative stories on our “top ten” list. It requires us to understand our shortcomings and failures instead harshly condemning ourselves. But self-kindness involves more than merely stopping our inner critic. It includes actively comforting ourselves, just as we would to a dear friend. We can recognize that everyone has times when they blow it, and treat ourselves kindly.
As Kristin Neff said, “When we consistently give ourselves nurturance and understanding, we also come to feel worthy of care and acceptance. When we give ourselves empathy and support, we learn to trust that help is always at hand. When we wrap ourselves in the warm embrace of self-kindness, we feel safe and secure.”
When faced with our human flaws, we can respond with kindness and care, or with judgment and criticism. Although we can’t always change the channel on our judgmental thoughts, we don’t have to encourage or believe in them. Neff says, “With self-kindness, we can stop seeing ourselves as a problem to be fixed, and begin see ourselves as valuable human beings who are worthy of care.”
Sense of common humanity according to Kristin Neff “honors the fact that all human beings are fallible, that wrong choices and feelings of regret are inevitable, no matter how high and mighty one is. Whereas self-pity says, “poor me,” self-compassion remembers that everyone makes mistakes and suffers. When we focus on our faults, and identify them as our faults, our perspective tends to narrow. We become absorbed by feelings of insufficiency and insecurity. We think we are the only one who is being ignored, rejected, or made a fool of. Our fears and self-judgments are like blinders that keep us from seeing the hands that are being held out to help us. We may also be ashamed to admit our feelings, but hiding our true selves from others then makes us feel even more alone.”
When we are suffering and we remind ourselves that many others are suffering, we feel connected instead of alone. Therefore, our suffering is reduced. So, if you can throw away your rawhide whip, and wrap the blanket of self-compassion around your shoulders, you will find yourself better able to handle life’s ups and downs. After all, self-compassion is your inner support system which provides you with resilience.