'Self-compassion' - it sounds lovely, bright, and perhaps even enlightening. But what does it actually mean? Before embarking on my positive psychology life coach training, self-compassion felt like a 'Pinterest' concept. It looks fantastic, and I would love some for myself, but how in the world am I meant to make it?!
In this case, a good place to start is by breaking it down: Self - well, that's me isn't it? Easy.
What about compassion? What is that all about? It is something that the Dalai Lama has put forward as an essential part of life many, many times. I can't speak for your own personal interpretation, but when we talk about compassion in positive psychology, we are talking about kindness, humanity, empathy, acceptance, and love. I am sure that you will have had similar ideas when you tried to define compassion yourself.
So you may be thinking, what is your point here? I get it! I am me, and kindness is a good thing. How can this help me?
Well, if I asked you now to think of one thing you did for somebody else in the last week that showed compassion in any of it's above forms, I am sure it wouldn't take long for you to come up with an example. Now, I encourage you to answer that same question with a twist - what is one thing you have done in the last week that showed compassion toward yourself? It can be something as small as taking a few minutes to really mindfully enjoy your coffee, to finally booking yourself that holiday that you have been working so hard for.
However, as with all things that are intended to help us grow and become better versions of ourselves, it isn't always as simple as booking a ticket. Most of my life coaching clients are able to recall times when they have spoken to themselves in a critical way. Sometimes silently to themselves, and sometimes even out loud - I did it just last week! It might sound something like "I've forgotten that again - I'm such an idiot!", or "How could I make such a stupid mistake? I'm useless!" or "What's the point in trying? No one actually cares." If you are nodding your head now in familiarity with these phrases, you - are - not - alone. Most, if not all, people around you speak to themselves like this, and maybe even on a regular basis - your friends, family, positive psychology experts, and on and on. Because we are all human. But would you say these things to the ones you love?
We berate and judge ourselves negatively, and ultimately no one is going to come out of doing that feeling on top of the world! It doesn't feel good. It sucks. But there must be a reason why we all do it. The reason is, we become triggered by something. Something negative happens that perhaps we didn't foresee, and we experience negative emotions - guilt, jealousy, anger etc. Again, all good - we are human, and these emotions are signals not to be ignored. But if we can't foresee these negative events, then what can we do? This is where self-compassion comes in.
Dr. Kristin Neff is the world's leading expert on self-compassion, and I highly recommend her book Self-Compassion: Stop beating yourself up and leave insecurity behind. One of the many tools that she explores involves reframing this negative self-talk. And the easiest, or perhaps most tangible, way to do this is to think about one of those self-damaging sentences you say to yourself, and imagine that a close friend or family member had said those same words to you about themselves.
How would you feel?
Would you feel empathy for them?
What would you say to them?
Wouldn't your compassionate urge be to help them see that the words they are telling themselves are unhealthy and damaging?
Will you draw upon your bravery and talk to yourself like you are just as close as that friend or family member? I mean, you can't get much closer to yourself than being you!
Self-compassion is a broad concept that can involve any number of tools and explanations. Here, I have put forward one that I believe is one of the most effective. It takes bravery to really look at yourself and be honest, and to change a long-standing cycle of negative self-talk. You can do it. And you will be a better you.
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