Do you want to understand the power of self compassion to help you when in pain, anywhere and anytime? Does it sound too good to be true? When people experience something going wrong at work —whether it’s a bad sales quarter, being overlooked for a promotion, or a conflict with a colleague—it’s common to respond in one of two ways. Either we push back and blame others, or we give ourselves a hard time. Unfortunately, neither response is especially helpful. Shirking responsibility by getting defensive may soften the sting of failure, but it comes at the expense of growing. Beating yourself up, on the other hand, may feel justified in the moment, but it can lead to an inaccurately gloomy assessment of your potential, which reduces your ability to grow.

What if instead you were to treat yourself as you would a friend in a similar situation? More likely than not, you’d be kind, understanding, and encouraging. Directing that type of response internally, toward ourselves, is known as self-compassion, and it’s been the focus of a lot of research in recent years.  The power of self – compassion for enhancing performance in a variety of settings, from healthy aging to athletics has become a focus that enhances personal growth.

The power of self compassion explained

By creating safety to turn inward and accept painful feelings so they can change self compassion heals you. It offers the same benefits as self esteem but without the pitfalls.

  • Less chance you will compare yourself negatively to others
  • Less defensive anger
  • No longer feeling your self worth needs are reliant on others
  • More stable self worth
  • Less self involved, vain, selfish with a need for other’s admiration (narcissism).

Concern for others

Compassion comes from the part of your brain that wants to form social and emotional bonds with others. Therefore it creates greater understanding and empathy for others. As you learn to forgive yourself, you also learn to be more forgiving of others. In a recent study Dr Kristen Neff  found people with a practise of self compassion were rated by their partners as more caring and supportive.

Become motivated to meet your personal standards

Many people fear that cultivating self compassion will result in decreased personal standards. However, what it does do is help you not to get so upset when you don’t meet them. In turn this leads you to a decreased fear of failure and a greater liklihood that you try again when you do fail.

How do you practise self compassion

Mindfulness underpins self compassion followed by the intention to soothe and comfort yourself. As mentioned in my previous blog here on how depression can be helped with self compassion  it has three components. Mindfulness, kindness, and common humanity. Mindfulness is about accepting your moment to moment experience. “What am I experiencing right now?” It requires you to try and tap into your suffering in a curious and affectionate way. “Can I make room for that experience right now?” Rather than in an angry and blaming way.

So you are aware of your painful experience but you are not overidentifying with it. This takes practise and can be worked on with a psychotherapist, a meditation group or even by listening to meditations online.

Self compassion is about soothing and comforting yourself in the midst of this suffering. “What do I need right now?” “Can I be kind to myself right now?” “Can I hold that experience in a loving way?” The idea is that you are extending kindness and understanding to yourself, rather than judgmental criticism.

What is commmon humanity?

Dr Kristen Neff describes:

Compassion literally means “to suffer with,” which implies all human beings experience suffering. The emotion of compassion springs from the recognition that the human experience is imperfect, that we are all prone to messing up. “Why else would we say “it’s only human” to comfort someone who has made a mistake? When we’re in touch with every other human being, we remember that feelings of inadequacy and disappointment are universal. The pain I feel in difficult times is the same pain that you feel in difficult times. The triggers are different, the circumstances are different, the degree of pain is different, but the basic experience is the same.”

How to start practising self compassion

In therapy I help my clients learn to tolerate difficult feelings they may have as they come up.  This is a practise and for some people it may seem really challenging at first. That is why for those really in a lot of pain it is helpful to share that with an understanding and skilled person who can assist you with the suffering.

The actual process involves you befriending painful feelings rather than resisting them. This requires skill and repetition, you need to practise in order to avoid just pushing your painful feelings away. However, like lifting weights at gym, the more you practise the better you get. As your tolerance improves you can begin to explore the feelings, learn to bare them and accept them with kindness. Just remember the power of self compassion is that it is a skill that can be taught and it is always available to you.