Self-Compassion (An upgrade from self-esteem)

In the early days of my own mindfulness training, I thought about skipping over compassion meditation.  I later discovered it to be invaluable both in my personal life and with clients.  Self-compassion is about learning to be your own best friend.  We are not in the habit of thinking about our relationship with ourselves.  However, most agree that if we treated friends the way you treat ourselves, no one would have any friends at all.

The leading researcher on the topic, Kristen Neff, defines self-compassion this way.  “When we suffer, caring for ourselves as we would care for someone we truly love.”  She also stresses that self-compassion includes 3 components:  kindness, a sense of common humanity, and mindfulness.  Put more simply self-compassion is loving connected presence.

Self-esteem became a fashionable idea in the 1960s and picked up steam in the 1980s.  It is good that as a society we began to realize the damage caused by the levels of self hatred and criticism we experience.  However, there are draw backs to concept of self esteem.  When the goal is to simply like yourself, you must deny the reality that in fact we sometimes show good qualities and other times bad qualities.  Self esteem then is unstable at best because it only works when we are doing well, and it tends to encourage us to compare ourselves to others.

By contrast, Self-Compassion is a way of relating to the mystery of who we are that honors the truth that human beings have both strengths and weakness.  Good feelings do not depend on meeting goals, physical appearance, or being special.  They come instead from caring about ourselves.  We can embrace human imperfection if loving kindness is added to it.

The key to finding self-compassion helpful is intention.  We cannot sooth painful emotions by trying to fix or get rid of them. “We give ourselves compassion not to feel better but because we feel bad”  like taking care of a young child with the flu with gentleness and patients.

Is it very comforting to know that therapy as well as specific daily practice, just like daily exercise, can train the brain for compassion towards ourselves.  Self-compassion meditations with yummy titles like “affectionate breathing” and “soften, sooth, allow” can be found for free on Kristen Neff’s website.  However, many find coaching and training with a counselor is helpful as they attempt to implement these strategies in daily  life and try to find a their voice of self compassion.


reference:  Self-Compassion by Dr. Kristen Neff

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