But in our society, we tend to reverse that. We find it easier to be compassionate toward others than toward ourselves.
Being nice to others is a good thing, right? Yes, but it begs the question: Why can’t we be nicer to ourselves?
That Inner Critic
You know that chirping little critic you hear inside your head sometimes? Most of us have one. It’s that voice that says,
“You’ll never be good enough.”
“Why even try? You know you can’t do it.”
“You’re such a hypocrite (loser, slob, dimwit, etc.)”
Kristin Neff, author of Self-Compassion and a pioneer in the field of self-compassion research, says this voice probably developed as a means to keep us safe, a basic need that we all have.
Also, she posits that we may think we need this voice to keep us motivated. After all, wouldn’t we just be completely out of control if we didn’t talk to ourselves this way?
You know the answer to that. We don’t need that inner critic to keep us in line.
Would you say that to a friend?
Neff’s work has found that people who are self-compassionate – who are kind to themselves – are less depressed, more confident, and able to bounce back from adversity more easily than people who are not compassionate with themselves.
Listening to our inner critic is definitely not being self-compassionate. It’s really the opposite – more a way to beat ourselves up.
So, ask yourself this question: Would I speak to my best friend like that?
I’d wager that you wouldn’t. I think, if your friend was struggling with a problem in her life, that you’d be right there for her, telling her it will be okay and empathizing about how hard this must be for her.
Can you do this for yourself?
In order to increase your resiliency and develop a healthy sense of well-being, it’s time you learned how to be compassionate toward yourself.
Neff suggests that there are three components of self-compassion.
1. Being kind to yourself
When you’re in a tough situation and find your inner critic taking you for a rough three rounds, retreat to your corner and ask yourself, “What would I say to my friend in this situation?”
Say those same things to yourself.
Go ahead. It’s okay.
“Wow, this is a really hard situation I’m in right now. It sucks, but I know I can make it through. Anyone would be having a hard time when faced with something like this.”
Neff also advocates using a personal mantra for allowing yourself compassion. The one she uses is:
This is a moment of suffering
Suffering is a part of life
May I be kind to myself
May I show myself the compassion I need.
I have adopted this mantra as well except I have replaced the last line with:
May I accept myself completely as I am.
Use this one or develop your own words to form a self-compassion mantra. Practice it frequently, so when you’re in the throes of a crisis, you can easily recite it to yourself.
Finally, Neff suggests that physically showing kindness to yourself can generate self-compassion.
When you are feeling a painful emotion, sit still for a bit and try to locate it in your body. Then put your hand on that place and recite your mantra.
Or, put both hands over your heart and repeat your mantra or speak to yourself as you would your friend.
This kind of self-soothing releases oxytocins in the body and helps you to feel comfort and respite from your struggles.
2. Common humanity
Many times when we are experiencing adversity, we feel like we’re the only ones going through something like this. This kind of thinking leaves us feeling isolated and alone.
Instead, remember that most of what we feel and think and how we behave is a part of our common humanity. Everyone makes mistakes. Everyone gets embarrassed. Everyone struggles at times.
The next time you find yourself starting to feel isolated and alone because of emotional pain, remember that you are a part of a greater, common humanity. You’re not alone – you’re in good company of many people who understand what you are experiencing.
Neff says, “To give ourselves compassion, we first have to recognize that we are suffering. We can’t heal what we can’t feel.” (Self-compassion, p. 80.)
We are used to turning away from our own pain, but self-compassion requires us to stop and recognize the emotional state we are in. That is when the healing begins.
Mindfulness allows us the space to see clearly what is going on rather than getting caught up in our personal drama. As Neff notes, “Mindfulness provides us with the opportunity to respond rather than simply react.” (p. 90)
Of course, the best way to learn to be mindful is to take a few minutes of meditation each day. And this doesn’t have to be a sitting meditation. You can take a walk outside and keep your awareness to what you see and hear around you. When you feel your thoughts straying, just withhold judgment and return to observing.
Kristin Neff has many free guided meditations on her website www.self-compassion.org.
To close, let me just end with a loving-kindness meditation you can use that will increase your compassion for yourself and others. You can say it for yourself, for you and a loved one, or for someone else.
May I/we/you be safe
May I/we/you be peaceful
May I/we/you be healthy
May I/we/you live at ease.
Compassion isn’t just for others.