Self Compassion: be kind to yourself

By Alli Williams, School Nurse

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“Self-compassion is simply giving the same kindness to ourselves that we would give others.”

– Christopher Germer

It’s Christmas time… and one of the best things about Christmas is giving. We give to the people we share our life with, the people we love, and the people we are thankful for. However, we often forget to give to ourselves, so this Christmas I want you to think about giving yourself one of the greatest gifts of all… the gift of Self Compassion.

Being human is not always an easy ride, with some days being filled with pain and uncertainty. When life throws lemons at us, we can do one of two things; feed our minds with sweet and loving thoughts or sour and judgmental ones. We often choose to be self-critical, speaking to ourselves harshly and fall into a hole of negative thoughts that leave us depleted and disempowered instead of nourished and motivated to move through this.

Being self-critical is not helpful. We think that it will make us do better or it is what we deserve, but it comes at a cost. There is an old Buddhist parable, that describes this well. It’s like we have been shot with an arrow (the initial failure, setback or other form of suffering) and rather than tending to our wounds and being kind to ourselves, we shoot ourselves with a second arrow. In life, we can’t always control the first arrow. However, the second arrow is our reaction to the first. This second arrow is optional.

This is where Self-Compassion becomes a useful tool that we can use instead. Simply put, self-compassion means that we treat ourselves with care and concern, particularly helpful when we make mistakes, when we fail at something or when we struggle with our shortcomings.

It has three different components:

Self-kindness: being gentle and understanding of ourselves rather than being critical or judgemental.

Sense of common humanity: recognising that humans are not perfect, that we all make mistakes, we all fail and have serious life challenges. This helps us a feel connected with others in the experience of life as opposed to feeling alone and isolated.

Mindfulness: being aware of our painful experience in a balanced way rather than ignoring our pain or making it worse. It is necessary to be mindfully aware of our personal suffering and to be able to extend compassion to our self. At the same time, it is important to pay attention in a balanced way that prevents us from being carried away by a dramatic, often inaccurate storyline.

Numerous studies have found that treating oneself compassionately when confronting personal suffering promotes mental health. They have found associations between self-compassion and happiness, optimism, wisdom, curiosity and emotional intelligence. (Heffernan, Griffin, McNulty, & Fitzpatrick, 2010; Hollis-Walker & Colosimo, 2011; Neff, Rude, & Kirkpatrick, 2007).

So how do we become more self-compassionate?

One good way is to think about how we might talk to someone we care about, when they are suffering, have made a mistake or are dealing with a stressful situation. We often naturally bring an attitude of loving presence to them, softening our voice, being physically close and conveying a message of acceptance and support. This is how we should respond to ourselves, being gentle and kind, and offering support.

Some examples of self nurturing thoughts might be:

  • It’s OK, we all make mistakes
  • What do I need right now to make things better?
  • I’m human
  • Take a breather
  • I deserve kindness

Being kind to ourselves is not easy, particularly when we are not in our best state. It takes practice, but it is worth mastering. Therefore, this Christmas, starting from this moment on, I want you to start being kind to yourself, being your own best friend and notice how much better you feel.

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