Self-compassion is becoming a key aspect of mindfulness in the West. What is it? It involves looking at your failings with kindness and understanding and accepting that you share your painful experiences with many millions of others.
"Self-compassion, therefore, involves being touched by and open to one’s own suffering, not avoiding or disconnecting from it, and generating the desire to alleviate one’s suffering and to heal oneself with kindness," writes Dr Kristin Neff in her contribution to the book Mindfulness in Positive Psychology.
"Self-compassion also involves offering nonjudgmental understanding to one’s pain, inadequacies, and failures, so that one’s experience is seen as part of the larger human experience," she adds.
Dr Neff is probably the major writer and research on self-compassion today.
Some more points from that chapter:
- Self-compassionate people ruminate less. In other words they are less likely to keep repeating and repeating negative thoughts to themselves.
- People who are compassionate towards themselves have lower levels of depression, anxiety and stress.
- Self-compassionate people feel less negative about the past even though they are more likely to take personal responsibility for what has gone wrong in the past.
- When self-compassionate people fail, they are more likely try again. This might be because they know that if they fail again they won't subject themselves to fierce criticism.
- Self-compassionate people are more likely to stick to their diets, to exercise and to succeed in reducing alcohol use. Why this should be is not entirely clear but it may be that a self-compassionate motivation is more helpful than a self-critical one.
As I said at the start, self-compassion involves:
- Kindness towards the person you now are, with your mixture of faults and virtues.
- An awareness that you share your faults and virtues with many millions of people.
- Practising mindfulness so that you can spot self-hating patterns of thinking and cultivate a kinder approach to yourself.
The quotes at the start are from Mindfulness in Positive Psychology: The Science of Meditation and Wellbeing edited by Itai Ivtzan and Tim Lomasmeans