What do you notice when you tune into the voice in your head? How do you tend to talk to yourself? Unfortunately, many of us can be our worst enemies instead of our own best friends. The practice of mindful self-compassion offers us a way out of this negative cycle. Self-compassionate practice teaches us a way to treat ourselves with kindness and acceptance, to build-up our inner strength and to ultimately experience greater life satisfaction.
Life can feel very overwhelming at times; we all face disappointments, hardships, and at times struggle in our relationships. Simply put, being a human is hard! Some of us may think that having high self-esteem will protect us from hardships, but there are limits to this. Our sense of self-esteem is often contingent: it’s there for us in times of success, but not always in times of failure. Self-esteem is fed by success, which means we are often comparing ourselves to others in some way to feel worthy. Practicing self-compassion is a perfect alternative- it offers us a healthy sense of self-worth without requiring success or feeling “better than” someone else.
The easiest way to practice self-compassion is by doing the following: learn to be a good friend to yourself when you need it the most. When you make mistakes, learn to talk to yourself in the same manner and tone you would use talking to a close friend who is going through a difficult time. If a dear friend came to you and spoke of their struggles, would you say, “Well you probably deserve this.” If a friend talked to you about a terrible mistake they made, would you respond, “What an idiot, you are always screwing-up.” Hopefully, this is not how we respond to our friends when they are in pain, so why would it be acceptable to talk to ourselves in this way?
Mindful self-compassion consists of three core elements:
- SELF-KINDNESS: Instead of beating ourselves up, this concept encourages us to put a supportive arm around our own shoulders. We learn to approach ourselves with the same warmth, acceptance, and comfort we use with our good friends.
- COMMON HUMANITY: Suffering cannot be avoided. All humans are flawed and everyone has hardship. We often mistakenly believe that things are “supposed” to go well for us, and if they don’t, something is wrong in our lives. Instead, if we see hardship as a shared human experience, we may feel less isolated and alone in our suffering. Suffering can then be transformed into a moment of connection with others.
- MINDFULNESS: This concept involves being open to the reality of the present moment and allowing all emotions, thoughts, and sensations to enter our awareness without resistance. Mindfulness challenges our tendency to avoid painful thoughts and emotions, it allows us to face our true experiences even when they are unpleasant. We learn to acknowledge and observe our pain, without exaggerating it.
When we criticize ourselves, we are tapping into our body’s threat-defense system. Practicing mindful self-compassion deactivates this threat-defense and activates the care system of soothing, gentle, supportive self-talk. To learn more about self-compassion and to gauge how kind you are with yourself, start with this “Self-Compassion Scale” developed by research Dr. Kristin Neff:
Education & Training:
Sara is a bicultural/bilingual (English/Spanish) Licensed Social Worker with Masters Degrees in Social Work from Northeastern Illinois University and Women’s and Gender Studies from Loyola University, and an undergraduate degree in Spanish. She has received specialized training to become a Certified Perinatal Mental Health Provider (PMH-C), as well as to be a birth doula and a lactation counselor.
Areas of Specialization:
Sara’s areas of specialization are in transition and adjustment to life changes, prenatal and parental anxiety, depression, parent-child attachment issues, grief and pregnancy loss, perinatal trauma, perinatal mood disorders, and women’s issues across the lifespan.