“Unlike self-criticism, which asks if you’re good enough, self-compassion asks what’s good for you?” – Kristin Neff
As unpleasant as it is, there can be an upside to suffering – compassion. Compassion is when we extend kindness to others in the midst of suffering. We nurse our friends when their health is failing, share resources when natural disasters hit and advocate for people and communities impacted by violence. We attune to the interconnected nature of life and act to strengthen those connections.
Self-compassion is when we offer kindness to ourselves in the midst of our own suffering. It involves being motivated to both recognize and tend to the hurts within us. It also asks us to feel into our shared humanity – to acknowledge the humanness of feeling difficult emotions in the midst of difficult situations.
When we act to strengthen our connections to others in this way, we also strengthen the quality of our connections. We boost our capacity for being generous with our presence and understanding.
For some of us self-compassion comes naturally, for many of us it does not. Wherever you land in the spectrum, below are five ways to experiment with growing your capacity for self-compassion.
What are some ways, big or small, that you offer yourself compassion? I’d love to hear from you here. You may also want to check out the Self-Compassion Resources blog for additional self-kindness tools.
Acknowledge – Take a moment to simply recognize when you’ve been hurt. You might gently say to yourself, ouch, that stings, or I’m really hurting right now. Remind yourself too that others have been hurt in similar ways or others could struggle with this experience as well.
Touch – Offer yourself warm touch. Place a hand or hands over heart, hold one hand in the other, gently touch a cheek or stroke a forearm… Compassionate touch, whether offered by someone else or ourselves, activates the natural caregiving part of our nervous system. In doing so we stop releasing stress hormones and begin to release feel-good hormones.
Breathe – Abiding with the physical sensations of inhaling and exhaling is also an act of kind attention. It helps us to return to present moment awareness and invites energy to settle. Sometimes it can help to take a few full inhalations, pausing to feel sensations of full, and then slowly releasing on exhalations.
Back-Off – When uncomfortable turns to overwhelm the compassionate thing to do is back-off or change the channel. This might look like resting awareness with breath or feeling feet grounding into the floor beneath you. It can also come in the form of going on a walk or attuning to ambient sounds around you.
Tend – Take a moment to reflect on how you might gently, kindly and actively tend to yourself. Depending on the severity of the hurt this might relate to how to proceed for the next five minutes, the rest of the day, the week, or the year.