Self-compassion is treating ourselves with the same kindness, caring and concern that we would show a good friend. It involves recognizing the shared human experience, and acknowledging those moments in which we are suffering. Imagine for a moment what you would say to a close friend who is struggling through a difficult situation. Now imagine what you would say to yourself after a perceived failure or disappointment. If you are like 80% of the population, it is much easier to be compassionate to those you care about than to yourself. When we are suffering, the internal critical voice can be very powerful. Can you imagine saying those same critical words to your best friend?
In December I completed a week-long self-compassion training at Joshua Tree with Kristin Neff, PhD, author of Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself, and Christopher Germer, PhD, author of The Mindful Path to Self-Compassion: Freeing Yourself from Destructive Thoughts and Emotions. I returned personally inspired and excited about helping young people develop the skills of self-compassion. I believe these skills can do much to ease the suffering caused by negative self-talk and the “inner critic” and they fit nicely with mindfulness-based practices in therapy. I have included a link to Dr. Neff’s TED Talk below.
In case you are concerned that self-compassion might lead to lack of motivation, laziness or self-indulgence, research actually shows the opposite is true. Increased self-compassion is linked to higher intrinsic motivation and greater conscientiousness. Self-compassionate people are less fearful of failure and more likely to persevere in reaching their goals. Self-compassion is also linked to better health habits, better immune response, better romantic relationships, healthier body image and eating habits and is one of the strongest coping mechanisms we have. In soldiers returning from combat, level of self-compassion is more predictive of PTSD than actual combat experience. Level of self-compassion is more predictive of stress levels in parents of children with Autism than the severity of their child’s Autism. It’s how we relate to our experiences that seems to make the difference.
It’s not a revolutionary or even complicated idea, but it can be a challenge to practice in daily life. While there is a long history of compassion training in contemplative practices, use of self-compassion training in mental health settings is still very much in its infancy; but interest and research in this area is quickly gaining ground. To measure your own level of self-compassion, you can take this quiz. For more links and resources on self-compassion, visit www.self-compassion.org.