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Self-Compassion and Mindfulness, Part I

Abby Hauer, MC, LAC

I would like to preface this blog by sharing with you that I used to roll my eyes when someone would mention mindfulness – I just did not buy into it. However, Mindfulness has been proven to be effective time and time again through research. But what the heck is it? Before I was able to understand mindfulness, I had to first understand what self-compassion was.

Self-Compassion and Mindfulness, Part I: What Does it Mean and How Can It Help?

What is Self-Compassion?

Self-Compassion is defined as being kind and understanding to yourself in moments of suffering rather than ignoring or criticizing. Sounds easy, but it’s harder in practice. Being compassionate towards a friend or family member comes to us like second nature. You comfort those you care about without hesitation. So why is it so hard to give ourselves that same comfort and care? We are a part of a culture where self-criticism is socially acceptable. We do it because we see others do it. To understand why, we have to take a closer look into Western culture.

Western Culture

With all the advantages Western culture can bring, there are always disadvantages to any culture. Western culture stresses independence and achievement and if you don’t succeed, you may blame or shame yourself. The common American phrase that many of us have heard is, “lift yourself up by your bootstraps.” What that message conveys is rarely do we allow ourselves the time to reflect on how hard life can be. Our culture moves fast, and everyone wants instant gratification and results. Unfortunately, this all comes at a cost to your wellbeing. The main priority is not your own health or wellness but your work and how much you can get done. Everyone compares their achievements to the rich and successful and compares their bodies to models and actors. As a whole, we are taught to idolize unrealistic images and goals and let our inner self-critic set in hard. Interestingly enough, research has shown that criticizing yourself is not a motivating source and only makes things worse (Neff). So, what can help you break this cycle of constant self-deprecation? Learn to give yourself self-compassion. You deserve it!

The 3 Components of Self-Compassion

Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself, is a fantastic book by Kristen Neff that breaks this topic down in more depth. Below you will find a brief summary of the 3 key parts she discusses – self-kindness, common humanity, and mindfulness.

  •       Self-kindness is all about being gentle with yourself and practicing comforting yourself in times of pain. This can lead to a change in your automatic thoughts of criticism and neglect and start creating new ones. If comforting a friend in need is so easy, use those same words of comfort for yourself. You’re just as deserving.
  •       The common humanity aspect of self-compassion recognizes the shared human experience. If you remind yourself that you aren’t alone in your pain or feelings of inadequacy and that it is a part of everyone’s human experience, it fights against the feeling of isolation.
  •       Mindfulness is allowing yourself to have a nonjudgmental stance to your thoughts and emotions. I have learned that mindfulness is more about noticing what’s happening in the moment, inside your body or within your surroundings. We tend to let ourselves ignore our thoughts and emotions and find distractions to help us push them down. Kristen said it beautifully herself. “We cannot ignore our pain and feel compassion for it at the same time” (Neff).

Hopefully, I’ve been able to open your mind to the benefits of self-compassion and mindfulness. If you are interested in learning more, check out the second part to this part-two blog series that expands upon the benefits of mindfulness, how to incorporate it into your life, and self-observation.

Neff, K. (2011). Self-compassion: The proven power of being kind to yourself. New York: William Morrow.

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