Mindful self-compassion is a very popular concept among psychologists and people interested in psychological well-being. Mindfulness is, in many circles, considered to be a major path toward mental health.
When most of us talk about mindfulness, we talk about awareness and being present in the moment. We talk about connecting with our emotions and learning to process them while we are experiencing them. Mindfulness allows us to take every moment as it is and always look for the silver lining in everything. It also works as a barrier between us and our often hectic daily lives and can help us manage different mental health conditions, including depression and anxiety.
In other words, mindfulness invites calm and peacefulness into our otherwise overloaded everyday lives. But where does mindful self-compassion fit in? What is mindful self-compassion, and why is it of utmost importance for our well-being?
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What is mindful self-compassion?
If mindfulness is the first step toward emotional well-being and life satisfaction, mindful self-compassion is the second one. It stems from mindfulness, but it channels the awareness toward ourselves in a forgiving way. We are all familiar with the surge of compassion we experience when one of our loved ones is suffering. Whether they are struggling with a difficult decision, feeling inadequate, or going through hard times, we instantly feel the need to be there for them and treat them with kindness and understanding.
Self-compassion is about treating yourself the way you would treat a friend experiencing difficult emotions. All the love and care you would reserve for your friend or partner can be focused inward. Mindful self-compassion is the capacity to forgive ourselves and honor our emotions when going through difficult times. When we fail or suffer, we need kindness to mitigate the risk of succumbing to anxiety, feelings of depression, or other mental health challenges.
What mindful self-compassion is not
Researchers and psychologists have identified three essential elements of mindful self-compassion: self-kindness, common humanity, and mindfulness. When well-implemented, they pave the way to self-healing. While we are often experts at being compassionate and overly indulgent with other people, when it comes to our own selves, many of us struggle with feelings of understanding, tolerance, and love.
Unfortunately, self-compassion is often confused with self-pity. While mindfulness may be easier to manage, self-compassion can often feel like self-indulgence, which carries a negative connotation and seems to be at odds with life satisfaction. However, self-compassion is not self-pity or self-indulgence, especially in the context of mindfulness.
Where mindfulness focuses mainly on accepting the experience and being fully aware of the present moment, self-compassion imbues care and self-love into the experience. The third core element of mindful self-compassion, common humanity, is the strength to accept that everyone makes mistakes and feels pain. It’s important to note that your missteps are a part of a deeply normal human experience.
What are the benefits of mindful self-compassion?
Self-compassion and mindfulness have been the subject of numerous recent studies. Research on self-compassion has shown that self-compassionate people have a better acceptance of negative experiences, as well as a better handle on their difficult emotions. Furthermore, self-compassion studies have revealed that this skill is associated with lower levels of cortisol, a higher ability to control our intense emotions, and reduced levels of anxiety and depression. Self-compassion has been associated with a more positive attitude toward life, higher doses of optimism, curiosity, and initiative, as well as a more prominent sense of altruism, empathy, and forgiveness for others.
On the other hand, mindfulness has been linked to numerous positive benefits for emotional, mental, and physical health and is considered to be the shortest path toward genuine compassion for others and the self. Research has found that mindfulness exercises can help people gain more control over their impulses. Moreover, the effects of mindfulness take the shape of healthier relationships with others, emotional balance, and developing healthy lifestyle habits. Mindfulness-based therapy teaches us how to stop resisting our painful experiences, embrace them despite the suffering they may cause, and be kind to ourselves. This path can only lead to greater satisfaction with life and emotion regulation.
Mindfulness and self-compassion allow us to live with less resistance toward ourselves and our lives. If we can fully accept that things are painful, and be kind to ourselves because we’re hurting, we can overcome the pain with greater ease. Thus, when we allow mindfulness to meet self-compassion, we open the door to self-kindness, self-care, reduced stress, and emotional healing.
Mindful self-compassion teaches us to accept negative experiences without breaking under their weight and to move past difficult emotions. When we take the mindful path toward self-compassion, we increase our strength to acknowledge our limits, learn from our mistakes, and change for the better without self-criticism or self-judgment. We learn to treat ourselves with kindness and self-respect and become more resilient.
How to practice mindful self-compassion
Mindful self-compassion is an inner strength that can be developed, nourished, and practiced. We can learn self-compassion by connecting with our innate compassion for others, compassion that acts as a resource for our own self-care. If mindfulness turns your attention to what you are experiencing in a particular moment, self-compassion makes you focus on what you need.
According to the therapist Christopher Germer and researcher Kristin Neff, the founders of the mindful self-compassion program and writers of the mindful self-compassion workbook, mindful self-compassion is a psychological practice. It simply helps you shift your focus from others and their needs to yourself and your needs.
Mindful self-compassion practice starts with developing your skills of mindfulness. Acknowledge that there is a distinction between mindfulness and self-compassion and start from there. All the negative thoughts or emotions that invade your mind will try to stand between you and self-compassion, but with a mindful approach, you can get through them and start your self-healing journey:
- Understand what stands between you and self-compassion
- Reflect on the beliefs you hold about yourself
- What experiences are connected to these beliefs?
- Why do you hold on to these beliefs about yourself?
- Would your life be better if you forgo these beliefs?
Questions like these can help you find your way out of self-criticism and into self-kindness. As expected, self-compassion training takes time, dedication, and, of course, compassion. Once you have found what keeps you from being more kind and compassionate to yourself:
- Try and identify what triggers the negative self-beliefs
- Do not avoid the triggers but take the time to understand them
- Practice mindfulness and focus on the triggers
- Explore the emotions and thoughts associated with the experience
- Accept all your emotions and thoughts and process them
- Befriend yourself and act toward yourself as you would toward a friend who needs your help
Start with a simple mindful self-compassion exercise: how would you treat a friend if they experienced a struggle similar to yours? What words would you use to comfort them, and what tone would you think to be appropriate to show your compassion? Now compare it with the way you usually talk to yourself in similar situations. Are the two ways the same? What are the differences? Why do you think you react differently? Write down how you would ideally want to treat yourself when you experience hard times – words, gestures, tone, behavior.
This could be your starting point for your journey of mindful self-compassion. It can also help you learn how to better cope with dramatic life challenges and develop more satisfying personal relationships. Furthermore, according to Chris Germer and Kristin Neff, mindful self-compassion is a type of cognitive therapy. Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy may help combat trauma, boost mental abilities, and aid emotional healing.