Why has the subject of self-compassion become so trendy over the last few years? Why are psychotherapists, mindfulness teachers and life coaches touting its benefits today?
Self-compassion, a Buddhist belief, became a mainstream and popular idea when psychologist Kristen D. Neff of the University of Texas became interested in the subject. After reading Buddhist teacher Sharon Salzberg’s book, Lovingkindness in 2003, Neff wrote a paper on the subject and it was that paper instigated a snowball of interest,
Neff tells us that self-compassion is based on the premise that showing kindness to oneself is essential for showing love towards others.
Three indispensable elements of self-compassion she found from her reading were:
- Self-kindness vs. Self-judgment
- Common humanity vs. Isolation
- Mindfulness vs. Over-Identification
Since Ness’ paper, research has found that self-compassion has many positive rewards. You are less prone to anxiety and depression. Self-compassion bolsters confidence. Being kind to yourself can make it safe to fail, which encourages you to try again. You are more than likely to sustain stronger relationships with others. And psychologists have found that there are links between self-compassion and health-promoting behaviors related to eating, exercise, sleep and stress management.
My first encounter with the concept of self-compassion took place around 1980, way before all the hoop-la. I was driving back home from shopping with my daughter, who had just graduated college. Upset with myself over a mistake I’d made at a store with the money in my wallet, I was overcome with shame and guilt,
“I’m so stupid!” I told my daughter. “I can’t believe I did that! It was so careless. If I had just paid attention instead of talking so much, I wouldn’t have been so negligent with my money. I can’t imagine how I managed to pull a hundred-dollar bill out and lose it.”
“Mom, why are you being so hard on yourself,” my daughter asked? “You never speak to other people like that.”
That moment was an Aha! moment. Where had that negative self-talk come from? What my daughter told me was true. I had never scolded my children or criticized others like I just had done to myself.
A simple conversation, my daughter’s response ended up changing my life. I became aware I didn’t know my mind. There had to be a great deal more going on inside my head if I had been ignorant of what triggered my scolding myself.
Unfortunately, at that time, in the 80’s, no one was sharing advice with how to deal with self-judgment, much less self-compassion. It took a long time, and experiencing many clues, to finally learn how to deal with my negativity. But I never gave up wanting to know more.
All the self-help books I read didn’t approach the subject. It seemed like almost everyone around me was also judging themselves in one way or another. Most everyone believed our thoughts of judging and negative beliefs were true, part of being human.
Finally the first clue came from a book about forgiveness around 2009. Radical Forgiveness by Colin Tipping was written to help overcome anger and blame, however forgiving others also helped me to perceive gifts that I would never have received without those difficult encounters. Forgiveness served to give me a sense of peace.
Besides opening myself to a sense of compassion for the person I was angry with, I found myself able to forgive myself for my part in those broken relationships.
I also realized, through forgiving others, a stronger sense of commonality with all those I had judged and felt anger toward. But even though I felt compassion for others the voices in my mind persisted. They became more annoying now that I had felt that sense of peace.
Then I picked up Michael Singer’s book, The Untethered Soul. I finally had a way to put an end to frustrating, habitual thoughts plaguing me. Singer suggests that, instead of fighting with them, by allowing them, not judging them, and by backing away from any connection with them, seeing them as the lies they were, they didn’t bother me anymore. I could even laugh at them.
I really thought that I had become enlightened, but that cocky attitude crumbled as anxiety and stress crept in again. I quit procrastinating, and began to meditate again. This time, instead of feeling more anxiety while I meditated, I enjoyed a deep peace.
Now I know what self-compassion is and what it’s done for me:
By doing all I could do to stop judging myself, I learned how important being kind to myself was. I laughed more, felt lighter, and loved myself more.
With forgiveness, I healed relationships. My anger had caused me to feel isolated from that person, and now a sense of our common humanity existed in its place.
With meditation, I became more mindful. Writing and painting are easier now that I can focus.
So, why bother doing all you need to do to become self-compassionate?
You’ll be kinder to yourself, you’ll enjoy being with yourself more, and you’ll feel more peace, love, and compassion.
You’ll be surprised with how much easier and better you have become at what you do. You’ll have more fun and work will feel like play. And a whole lot more!
It took me a long time to finally feel compassion for myself, but now with support all over the internet, such as Kristen Neff’s website, with everything you need to know about self-compassion, you can get the help to feel so much better about yourself.