What is self-compassion?

By Debbie Vaile

Self-compassion can be misconceived as being self-indulgent or self-pitying. However, compassion is defined as to ‘suffer with.’ We show empathy in our understanding of whatever difficulties others may be going through. Compassion is, by definition, relational. So self-compassion is about feeling connected in giving understanding to our own suffering in the same way we would to others. 

When we reach out to others, we notice their suffering, hurt and pain and we feel moved by compassion for other’s difficulties and challenges. In doing this, we open ourselves and feel warmth, caring and a desire to help and support in some way. We do not judge or criticise others at times of difficulty or failing.  

A key element of self-compassion is recognising our shared humanity – ‘to suffer with.’  The human experience is imperfect, and that feelings of inadequacy and disappointment are universal when we are in touch with our common humanity. That is what distinguishes self-pity from self-compassion – instead of ‘poor me,’ self-compassion recognises that we all have times of difficulty and hurt. We are not alone in our suffering. 

So having self-compassion is about recognising our own human experience in showing ourselves the same understanding, acceptance, and kindness that we would show to others.  

So, imagine what it would be like to be more understanding of your hurts and difficulties. Rather than trying to ignore, or beat yourself up, try taking a moment to notice and understand – whether emotional hurts, failings or not liking something about yourself. Make space to ask yourself – ‘what is happening for me right now?’  – ‘how is this making me feel?’ and ‘what would be of support to me?.’   

In turning to yourself with self-compassion rather than with criticism or judgement you are offering yourself comfort and support. In doing so, we are asking ourselves what we really need and can take steps to find what will help, heal, or support us.  

Self-compassion is at the core of self-care. We can use this as a signpost for developing a daily self-care routine. Building self-care into our lives doesn’t have to be overwhelming — it is as simple as making time for a few small acts of kindness for ourselves each day. That may be eating more healthily – cooking a tasty meal, taking a relaxing walk, doing some gardening, watching a favourite film, practising yoga, meditation, getting more sleep or spending quality time with friends and family. 

With time, practising self-compassion and showing self-care will build feelings of well-being and resilience. Self-care won’t be something that we do when we need it, but something embedded in our life. It can help us to better cope with everyday concerns and stresses. So, taking care and being self-compassionate is not self-indulgent or self-pitying. It is about helping ourselves and feeling connected and can be the key to a fuller life — because the more we look after ourselves, the more we can connect with others and give to our family and friends. 

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