What is Self Compassion?

Are you kind to yourself?  Do you practice self-compassion?  I guess I have been aware of the concept of self-compassion for a few years, but it was about three years ago that I really explored the meaning and practice of it and intentionally put a little self-compassion to work in my own life.

What is self-compassion?

Dr. Kristin Neff, a leading researcher in the area of self-compassion, explains the practice of self-compassion this way: “With self-compassion, we give ourselves the same kindness and care we’d give to a good friend.”

When I think of this explanation, I think of the scripture that teaches us to love our neighbor as we love ourselves.  I think this scripture implies being kind and compassionate to our neighbors as we are to ourselves.  So, what if we are not so kind and compassionate to ourselves?

Compassionate or Critical

If you are like me, you are your own worst critic.  I have had a critical voice living inside of my head from as far back as I can remember.  I think it moved to a front row seat inside my head when I became a teenager.  During those years, like many other teenagers, I had a tremendous struggle with self-esteem and self-confidence.  I also had a significant struggle with depression which led me to the point of seriously flirting with suicide.

By the grace of God and good parents I managed to emerge from my teen years alive.  However, as an adult I still struggle from time to time with my inner critic.   If you are wondering what I mean when I use the term “inner critic” I am speaking of that negative voice inside your head that says “You are such a loser!” when you miss a deadline or don’t get a call back for a job really wanted.  It is the voice that says to you, “You sounded so stupid!” when you failed to convey what you really wanted to say during an important conversation.  It is the voice that says, “See, you are just a terrible, unlovable person,” when there is miscommunication, misunderstandings, or missteps in your marriage.

I know that I am not alone in this.  I want to pass along to you a word of encouragement that I have passed along to others with whom I have been blessed to work:  Be kind to yourself.  Be compassionate to yourself.  Imagine what you would say to a dear, trusted friend if they came to you with the same challenges or problems you are navigating at this point in your life.  Whatever you would do and say to them, do for yourself.  It is really that simple.

Self-Compassion Works

Several weeks back when I arrived home from work, I realized that I was really stressed.  I was stressed not about any one thing in particular, but rather just a culmination of several things that had occurred across the work day.  As I was getting out of my truck, I realized that I had forgotten to do something that at the moment seemed important.  That triggered my inner critic.  He started to spew the words across my brain, “You are so stupid!  You are an idiot.”  I stopped walking.  I took a deep breath.  I spoke out loud to myself phrases such as, “Stacy, relax.  You are okay.  You are just human.  You have been under a lot of pressure.  But it’s going to be alright.”  It was amazing how my emotional state calmed down.  I could feel my body relaxing.  I did not feel as keyed up and interestingly enough, the critical voice shut up.  It was as if I had told him words that parents, especially moms, tell their young children, “Don’t you dare take that tone with me.  Now hush and go to your room and think about it!”  I guess by practicing self-compassion, I sent my inner critic to his room.  If you are having an ongoing battle with your inner critic, try a little self-compassion.  Perhaps you also need to send your inner critic to his or her room.