What is Self-Compassion?
by Diane Linsley
Self-compassion is a hot topic in the world of self-help and life
coaching, as well as psychology and counseling. Everyone seems
to be talking about it, but few people understand what it really is.
I've been observing what people in social media, especially Twitter
and Facebook, are saying about self-compassion. There's a lot of
misunderstanding. Most people confuse self-compassion with
Even some professionals are confused. I heard of someone who
practice self-compassion by getting a manicure. I found this very
disturbing because it doesn't get to the root of the problem.
Self-Compassion is Beyond Self-Care
Self-compassion is not about taking bubble baths or buying gifts
for ourselves when we are feeling down. There's nothing wrong with self-care. It's vitally important for our health and happiness. But it's not the same as self-compassion.
Some people indulge themselves with a treat every time they feel unhappy. They sincerely believe they are doing the right thing, but their problems never get solved, and the habit of indulging themselves in order to escape from their pain actually makes things worse in the long run.
To define self-compassion, we first need to define the word compassion. The roots of this word are com - meaning "with," and passion - meaning "suffering." Compassion means "to suffer with."
When we have compassion for someone, we are willing to suffer with them by being fully present and listening closely to what they need to express. We don't just tell them to cheer up - with the implication that if they think unhappy thoughts, they will be punished by the universe with more bad stuff via the Law of Attraction. I personally find this to be very offensive.
The first step towards self-compassion is to become aware of our own suffering - giving it our full attention without turning away from the pain.
Self-Compassion and Self-Discipline
Self-compassion is not about trying to cover up, deny or avoid our own suffering. Problems don't get solved by pretending they don't exist. We can't fix our relationships by getting a manicure. What do manicures have to do with relationships?
Fixing a relationship, or any other problem, requires that we first admit that there is a problem. That's called acceptance. The initial stage of acceptance comes with some pretty painful feelings. It takes courage to face these feelings instead of trying to escape from them.
Then we have to figure out solutions. This may require us to learn new skills, seek professional help, and do a lot of hard work. There's no easy way out. If only getting a manicure really worked!
As a mother who raised three children to adulthood, I know that compassion isn't always "nice." There were times when I had to discipline my children. I did this painful work because it was the most compassionate thing I could do for my kids. I wanted them to grow up to be responsible, happy adults. And they did. Now in their twenties, my kids frequently tell me how grateful they are for the way I raised them with compassion and loving discipline. Of course, they didn't thank me when they were teenagers!
Self-compassion sometimes means disciplining ourselves to do our personal growth work. That's more compassionate than indulging ourselves. Of course, we can still have the bubble bath :) It's important to care for our Inner Child. Self-compassion is about being a good parent to ourselves.
You can always talk with your higher self about how to solve your problems while you are in the bath. Some of my greatest inspirations came while I was doing things for my Inner Child like dancing or going on a nature walk. Inspiration seems to come most easily when we are in a relaxed state of mind.
Self-Compassion in the Long Term
Mature self-compassion requires long-term thinking. What can you do today to solve your problems so they aren't still causing you suffering in the future? Compassion is all about reducing suffering. The more long-term your solutions are, the more suffering they will reduce. Buying yourself a gift today might make you feel better today, but what about tomorrow?
The ability to think long-term develops from awareness. The more awareness you have, the further out into the future you can extend your imagination. With enough awareness, you will eventually begin to think beyond this single lifetime. You will begin to envision your life the way your soul sees it.
Great self-compassion is experienced by people who are able to see through the eyes of their soul. This vision puts all suffering into its proper perspective. People whose vision goes beyond this lifetime are willing to take bigger risks and make greater sacrifices, including sacrificing temporary conveniences and egoic desires in order to achieve more important things for the greater good of all.
It has long been known that the most effective way to increase awareness is through meditation. There are many ways to meditate. My favorite is Holosync meditation, which has many proven benefits.
Self-compassion is a serious topic. Let's not water it down and make it into another quick fix or magic pill. There is already too much magical thinking in the spiritual world. Quick fixes are forms of spiritual bypassing. They are ways to avoid the hard work of growing up and taking care of ourselves.
According to Dr. Kristin Neff, self-compassion means treating ourselves with the same kindness, care and understanding that we would offer to a friend when they suffer, fail, or feel inadequate. Self-compassion means being our own best friend, especially during times of suffering. We are not just a fair-weather friend. We learn how to deal with the Inner Critic, accepting and loving ourselves in spite of all our problems and weaknesses. We replace self-criticism with compassionate self-talk.
There are many aspects of self-compassion and many different practices that help us increase self-compassion. Now that you have a basic understanding of what self-compassion is, you can begin to explore these different facets.
"A moment of self-compassion can change your entire day. A string of such moments can change the course of your life." ~Chris Germer It's important to take self-compassion breaks every day. Guided meditation is a fun way to do this. Here's my best self-compassion meditation.
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