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Self-Compassion 101: Give Yourself a Break

Stacey Arsenault

Have you noticed that you’re a pro when it comes to showing compassion for other people, but you struggle with returning the favor to yourself?  Compassion is just as important for yourself as it is for others.  Let’s break down what self-compassion is so that we can return the favor to ourselves.  Dr. Kristin Neff, a self-compassion researcher, defines self-compassion as “treating yourself like someone you care about with support, encouragement, and warmth.”  Sounds nice, right? Self-compassion is made up of three elements: self-kindness, common humanity, and mindfulness.

Self-Kindness vs. Judgment

When slips or setbacks come up what do you say to yourself?  Do you respond with judgment or kindness? Responding with self-kindness is a way to actively comfort yourself in the form of words. This is accepting that we are not perfect and being kind to ourselves during this time of imperfection. Drop the self-criticism and start giving yourself kindness.

Here is what it might look like:

Judgment: “I forgot my lunch in the fridge!  I am so stupid and forgetful! I am never going to lose the weight if I can’t even remember my lunch!”

Self-Kindness: “I forgot my lunch in the fridge! I was really looking forward to eating that healthy lunch I packed for myself.  So frustrating, since I made the extra effort to pack it last night. Oh, well, I’ll eat it tomorrow!”

Which example do you connect with? Start bringing some awareness to the way you respond to your mistakes, so you can squash that self-criticism and replace it with some self-kindness.

Common Humanity vs. Isolation

When we make mistakes or find ourselves struggling, it’s common to feel as if we’re the only one experiencing those emotions. However, this is what makes us human; we all suffer and experience setbacks. Instead of isolating yourself from others, try to remind yourself that you’re not alone with what your feeling and resist the urge to compare yourself with others.

Here are some examples of what that might look like:

Isolation: “The scale keeps fluctuating up and down every day, it’s so frustrating! I am the only one having difficulty losing weight everyone else in my group is making progress. I am never going to get to my target weight!”

Common Humanity: “The scale keeps fluctuating up and down every day, it’s so frustrating! I remember someone else in my group posted that she was having the same issue a week ago; other people also experience frustrations with the weight loss process. These ups and downs kill my motivation but I understand this is part of the process.”

Be on the lookout for those moments where you tend to withdraw and suffer alone.  See if you can shift your perspective to others who have also experienced this pain.  Last but not least let’s learn how mindfulness can help us with self-compassion.

Mindfulness vs. Over-Identification

When painful moments arise, be mindful of the feelings that come up versus suppressing them.  Identify what you’re feeling and refrain from any judgments that may come up around your emotions.  Being aware of your emotions is different than getting lost in your own story and feeding into the drama.

Here is what that might look like:

Over-Identification: “I totally blew it over the weekend and went way over my calorie budget. I feel like a failure. It’s impossible to stay on track at all these social events when everyone else is eating whatever they want. It’s so unfair!! I keep failing, I am never going to lose the weight.”

Mindfulness: “I  totally blew it over the weekend and went way over my calorie budget.  I am feeling really ashamed and embarrassed that I got off track. These types of setbacks can be really frustrating.”

Take a moment and reflect on which element of self-compassion comes more naturally to you. Which one do you struggle with the most? If you’re not sure, this quiz was created to test your level of self-compassion and help identify areas of self-compassion that you’re fostering and needing to work on.

A simple way to help yourself practice self-compassion is when you’re experiencing a painful moment or event, think of a close friend/family member.  Imagine that they have come to you with this exact issue. What would you say to them? Turn those compassionate words on yourself. You deserve them too!

Author: Stacey Arsenault

Reference: Neff, Kristin. Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself.  New York: HarperCollins, 2011. Print