Self-care and self-compassion are essential to living a life of positivity, health, and well-being. Yet for many of us, the practice of caring compassionately for ourselves (or finding time in our day for self-care practices) is somewhat elusive if not completely absent.
For those among us who don’t hear that inner voice of self-compassion or who don’t have practices of healthy self-care in their daily, monthly, or even yearly routines, it is never too late to begin.
From Self-Criticism to Self-Compassion
As with the practices of meditation, gratitude, and five breaths, we can begin to incorporate into our mindfulness practices an awareness of our need to cultivate self-compassion, self-kindness, and self-care, one small gesture at a time.
It takes practice to both hear and to let go of the inner critical dialogue and self-critical voice that may be the dominant one heard from within. But with practice, intention, and awareness it’s possible to begin your self-compassion practice and to strengthen your self-compassionate voice.
It seems ironic that many may feel they have plenty of compassion for others, and that they know how to care for those around them, including strangers, but that they lack that very same gentleness to care for – or show self-compassion to – themselves.
The Research Behind Self-Compassion
Researcher Kristin Neff has defined self-compassion as being comprised of three interconnected components, including:
- Self-kindness (instead of self-judgment),
- A sense of our common humanity (instead of self-isolation)
- Mindfulness (instead of mindless negative self-talk and emotions).
She suggests that these three components interact to create a self-compassionate “frame of mind” or mindset.
As with the practice of gratitude, a wealth of research outcomes related to self-compassion demonstrate that higher levels of self-compassion are related to higher levels of well-being and psychological strengths, including:
- Personal initiative
- Emotional intelligence
- Positive body image
- Resilient coping
Overall, one of the most consistent findings is that higher levels of self-compassion are associated with lower levels of psychopathology regardless of culture, race, age, or gender.
Researcher Lisa Yarnell along with Neff and colleagues in 2015 reported:
“Self-compassion appears to facilitate resilience by moderating people’s reactions to negative events…Individuals who were higher in self-compassion demonstrated less extreme reactions, less negative emotions, more accepting thoughts, and a greater tendency to put their problems into perspective.”
Indeed, self-compassionate people are less likely to ruminate about or to suppress their negative thoughts and emotions and to report less depression, anxiety, and stress.
Research by Ellen Albertson, Kristin Neff, and Karen Dill-Shackleford in 2014 found that daily self-compassion meditations resulted in positive impacts on women’s body image, increased body appreciation, decreased body dissatisfaction, and decreased body shame.
These researchers stated that “By embracing oneself with kindness, connectedness, and equanimity, self-compassion meditation appears to generate a positive attitude toward one’s body, helping women stop taking their bodies for granted and start being grateful for their bodies as they are.”
Cultivating a Practice of Self-Compassion
In Kristin Neff’s Mindful Self-Compassion program, the prompt focuses on how one might treat a dear friend in the same circumstances that we may find ourselves in. We are then to foster these same kinds of expressions of compassion toward our self.
The meditation that follows (based on the loving-kindness and compassion meditation by Hofman and colleagues in 2011), is one way to begin the practice of self-compassion when experiencing personal suffering.
It was cited in the study by Alberston, Neff, and Dill-Shackleton in 2014 entitled “Self-Compassion and Body Dissatisfaction in Women: A Randomized Controlled Trial of a Brief Meditation Intervention”.
There are three podcasts used in this study on self-compassion, which can be found at www.selfcompassion.org.
What follows is the meditation from the third week of the intervention:
“First, be present in the moment, notice any sounds that are arising, and focus on the breath. Bring attention to a trait or behavior that has generated negative emotions and allow whatever feelings are connected with this perceived inadequacy to arise. Locate the physical sensation of these emotions in your body and allow them to be there. Place both hands over your heart, and soothe and comfort yourself for the difficult thoughts and emotions being experienced. Then silently repeat the following phrases to yourself:
May I be safe. May I be peaceful. May I be kind to myself. May I accept myself as I am.”