Self-compassion, the lifelong gift from you to yourself ​

Self compassion Become your own best friend Self-compassion is becoming a key aspect of mindfulness in the West. It is also, in my opinion, one of the greatest gifts you could give yourself.

What is it?

It involves:

  • deliberately treating yourself, with your mixture of faults and virtues, with kindness and understanding and
  • accepting that you share your painful experiences and your failings with many millions of others.
  • And it is underpinned by the practice of mindfulness.

Here is how one the major researchers on self-compassion, Dr Kristin Neff describes it:

“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,” she writes 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.”

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.

(The book is Mindfulness in Positive Psychology: The Science of Meditation and Wellbeing edited by Itai Ivtzan and Tim Lomasmeans)

True Friend – online self-compassion course Of course we generally find it easier to accept our virtues than our faults! But since we stumble and make mistakes all the time, we are going to feel a lot better if we can accept our faults as well.
This is where the strange-sounding idea of “bombu nature” comes in.

You probably get something wrong every day, right? That’s “bombu” nature. This Buddhist concept means we never get things completely right: instead we often make a mess of things because we’re human.

Bombu nature means we need to accept we can never achieve the highest levels of excellence, we can never be those shiny perfect beings that we often pretend to be.

  • We walk but we stumble, we sing but we croak, we are virtuous but we are also sinners. Bombu nature.
  • You set out to impress your partner and you end up making a fool of yourself. Bombu nature.
  • You promise, in a fit of virtue, to get up at six every morning and run in the park but instead you turn around and stay in bed until 10. Bombu nature.
  • You have read the great books about how to be happy but, somehow, you never implement their excellent advice. Bombu nature.

When you accept that you have bombu nature you can stop judging yourself against a standard of excellence that is almost impossible to meet. You can learn to laugh at yourself instead of condemning yourself. You even learn to laugh at other people’s failings instead of condemning them.

And if kindness is more appropriate than laughter you can give yourself (and others) that too.

So an awareness of our bombu nature can be very liberating. And it doesn’t have to be an excuse for being slovenly, lazy, irresponsible and so on: it’s about being an accepting and understanding friend to yourself.

For instance, when you accept you’re never going to be up and running in the part at six am you might allow yourself to get up at eight and take a walk in the park at lunchtime.

Acceptance is a key aspect of mindfulness  but acceptance really needs to include acceptance of ourselves as well as others or it is an incomplete acceptance. Recognising the bombu nature in ourselves and in others can help us to cultivate that acceptance.

Try these practices to cultivate self-compassion

​​Here are some practices from my online course self-compassion course, True Friend:

1. What would a good friend say?
When you find yourself thinking today about your faults, your mistakes, the things you should have done differently, pause and ask yourself:

Who is talking now, good friend or harsh critic?

If it’s the good friend, listen. If it’s the harsh critic, ask What would a good friend say? and then listen to that.

2. Mindful breath to cultivate mindfulness
At least three times a day pause for a minute or so and notice the sensation of your breath at the entrance to your nostrils.

You don’t have to push your breath or do anything special with it.

Simply notice.

When your mind wanders, as it will, during this simple task silently say the word “thinking” and return your attention to your breath. Do so with compassion and without self-criticism. Minds wander. That is what they do. Just bring your attention back when you discover that it has gone away.

Make space to do this a few times a day to help you to develop your general capacity for mindfulness.

3.  You are not alone
Next time you spot yourself having self-critical thoughts, pause for a moment to become aware of the many hundreds, thousands or perhaps millions of people who are having a thought similar to yours.

  • Why didn’t I do something different with my life?
  • I shouldn’t have eaten that Italian ice cream last night.
  • I wish I hadn’t said that thing I said that was foolish and hurtful.

You are not the only person having this thought or a thought that is very similar.

And realising that you are not unique in these things is a necessary step towards self-compassion.

4. Soften the internal tone of voice

When we are critical of ourselves we often speak to ourselves in very harsh ways. In fact we would be highly embarrassed if we were to speak to anybody else in the same way. And if somebody else spoke to us like that we wouldn’t really want to talk to them again.

Kristin Neff has suggested that perhaps we are so harsh, sometimes even cruel, in the way we address ourselves because it’s all happening inside our head. In other words there’s nobody present before whom we would be embarrassed to say these things, or indeed who might ask us to stop saying them.

One way to begin to work with this, is to soften the tone of voice with which you speak to yourself.

If you criticise yourself with an internal tone of voice that is hard and harsh try to pause and to restate the point in a softer tone of voice.

Making that pause and softening the tone necessarily changes how you address yourself.

So instead of calling yourself a damn fool and a useless human being (which is the mild version) because you forgot to buy fresh bread on the way home, you can soften that down into something like, “I need to find a way to remember to buy these things in the future.”

So pause, soften the tone of voice and that changes the experience.Start your self-compassion journey right now and see the difference it makes.

True Friend – online self-compassion course