Self-Compassion: What it Is and Why it Matters

Self-Compassion: What it Is and Why it Matters

For many, compassion toward others is seen as a desirable and beneficial trait that can improve our broader society. To steal some insight from the great Dione Worwick, many people can agree that, “What the world needs now is love, sweet love.” For some, putting the word “self” in front of compassion evokes concerns of being overly self-indulgent or selfish. The interesting thing is that there really aren’t differences between the two. The way we relate to ourselves directly impacts how we relate to others. Without compassion for ourselves there is no compassion for others and vice versa.

Dr. Kristin Neff, a pioneer in self-compassion research, identifies three elements of self-compassion: Self-Kindness, Common Humanity, and Mindfulness. These components, like compassion itself, are not mere personality traits. They are a skill set. Self-compassion and its components are like muscles; we have to exercise them regularly in order for them to be maintained and also in order for them to grow stronger. It may seem fairly simple. I mean, all you have to do is be kind, mindful, and aware that you are part of the interconnected network of humanity, right? However, logically knowing these things and implementing them consistently in our day-to-day experiences and interactions are two different things.

Taking an inventory of some of the internal messages you send yourself and considering the thoughts you have about others may assist in seeing how we all could benefit from improving our self-compassion practices. What do you say to yourself when you look in the mirror in the morning? What about when you miss a deadline? What did you think about the guy who cut you off on the highway or your unresponsive co-worker?

So why does this all matter? Simply put, self-compassion has the power to change the world. This may sound a little extreme, but self-compassion provides the tools to engage first with ourselves and then with our communities in ways that are peaceful, loving, and accepting. Can you imagine what the world would be like if our initial reactions to our own mistakes and the mistakes of others were compassion and understanding rather than shaming? Our homes, workplaces, schools and communities would feel so much safer.

Practicing self-compassion also increases our resilience. It allows us to bounce back from our own mistakes; to see them as part of the human experience, rather than as something that defines our worth. It also provides us with grace for those who may make mistakes that impact us either benignly or in more harmful ways. It keeps us out of a space of judgment and aides us in seeing the infinite worth of all people. Carl Rogers, considered by many to be the father of person-centered psychology, once said, “The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I change.” Self-acceptance, and by extension growth and change, are outcomes of self-compassion. If we want to improve ourselves, our communities, and our world at large self-compassion provides a great formula for doing so.

If you’re interested in learning more about self-care and self-compassion, you can join us at an upcoming continuing education class. Find a list of our upcoming classes here.