Self-compassion: a courageous act of self-care
As time goes on, this pandemic is more of a marathon than a sprint. When looking forward, it’s important that we use our marathon-running skills, rather than our sprinting skills, to ensure that we’re able to bounce back and flourish when life gets back to normal.
Self-compassion is a great tool to help you thrive during challenging times. Compassion is a sensitivity to or awareness of the suffering of others and a desire to ameliorate it. Self-compassion is focusing that awareness on ourselves and our own experiences. By focusing our awareness on our internal dialogue, we can determine whether we’re being self-compassionate or self-critical when speaking to ourselves.
Some individuals assert that self-criticism is necessary for motivation, and although it may have served as that purpose for some, it’s important to know that self-compassion can support healthy behaviors, well-being, and resilience in difficult situations. Who would you work hardest for your biggest fan and loudest cheerleader, or your most aggressive and negative critic?
In The Mindful Self-Compassion Workbook, authors and researchers Kristin Neff and Christopher Germer outline three components of self-compassion: self-kindness, mindfulness, and common humanity. Self-kindness involves being intentional about how we treat ourselves and adopting an attitude of support, warmth, and acceptance. Self-kindness is treating oneself as a good friend. Think about the last conversation you had with yourself after you made a mistake: Were the words you used to speak to yourself as kind as those you would use with a friend?
Mindfulness involves having an awareness of what’s occurring in the present moment while refraining from assessment or judgment of the experience. Mindfulness allows us to recognize when practicing self-compassion would be beneficial.
Lastly, common humanity is the knowledge that everyone makes mistakes and that imperfection is something that everyone has in common. This knowledge can help debunk the isolation that can accompany a mistake or disappointment in one’s performance or experiences. Self-compassion is a gift to oneself and others—we can’t be gentle with others if we aren’t gentle with ourselves.
To incorporate self-compassion into your life, try these practices:
- Shift your self-talk
Think back to a time when you made a mistake or things didn’t turn out the way you had hoped. Try to remember how you felt and what your inner dialogue was like at the time. Now, using the principles of self-compassion, reframe the experience for yourself. Write down what you would have told a friend in the same situation, remind yourself that being human is about making mistakes, and refrain from judging yourself harshly for your actions. This type of practice can help you use more compassionate self-talk going forward.
- Try self-compassion meditation
Apps like Headspace and Calm can help you with self-compassion meditation. You can also visit self-compassion.org to learn more. Another option would be to try loving-kindness meditation to strengthen feelings of kindness and connection toward others. Learn more at ggia.berkeley.edu/practice/loving_kindness_meditation.
- Ditch the word “should.”
The word “should” is often used when we’re being harsh with ourselves or regret something. Pay attention to how you use it, and then try a compassionate reframe. One phrase I find helpful is, “I did the best I could with the knowledge and resources I had available at the time.”
By Colleen Best, Ph.D., DVM and the Ontario Veterinary Medical Association. Dr. Colleen Best, Ph.D., DVM, is a consultant and educator with a focus on veterinarian-client communication, veterinary team performance, wellness, and resilience. She’s a certified compassion fatigue professional and is also trained in mental health first aid and suicide intervention.
Posted April 9, 2021