‘I learned a long time ago that the wisest thing I can do for myself is be on my own side’ – Maya Angelou

Self-compassion is the ability to treat yourself with the same care and kindness as you would a good friend who was going through a difficult and stressful time. It’s also about having the courage to turn towards yourself with care and tenderness when life gets difficult. When we experience hardships its so easy to fall back into patterns of harsh self criticism but this only serves to elevate our stress levels over the long run. We can foster our emotional resilience by learning to develop our compassionate self through practice and taking small steps each day.

‘Unlike self-criticism, which asks if you’re good enough, self-compassion asks what’s good for you, what do you need?’  Kristin Neff

Showing compassion to others

When we are compassionate to others, we have an intention to be with them through the difficulties they are experiencing and to alleviate their suffering and stress in some way. This can often be very different to the way we treat ourselves through the challenges of life. How often have we provided support for someone we care about and yet end up criticising ourselves endlessly for our various perceived inadequacies or shortcomings.

Many of us have been taught to put others first. However, neglecting ourselves in order to do this isn’t an effective or sustainable long term strategy. Learning to consider what we also need to keep emotionally well is a life long skill. Maintaining the inner capacity to be there for our family, friends and colleagues is reliant on us looking after ourselves too.

Self-compassion means you are understanding and kind to yourself when confronted with personal failings and mistakes – after all, whoever said you were supposed to be perfect?

Why do we need to be compassionate towards ourselves?

‘Self care isn’t indulgence, it is self preservation’ – Audre Lorde

Feeling stressed and being hard on ourselves is very common. Especially so in a culture which is increasingly performance and target focused. Loneliness and isolation are also increasing in our ever digitally focused world.

If you are finding it difficult to manage the many challenges, threats and distractions of our modern world, you are not alone. Current figures show one in four people are developing a mental health difficulty in any given year. Furthermore, the levels of distress within young people continues to rise, with many people struggling to align life with their deeper values and needs.

A self-critical and unkind stance towards yourself, particularly when you are going through testing times, will only serve to activate the fight or flight stress response. This clouds the minds ability to remain calm and think clearly.

Some people may feel reluctant to develop self-compassion as they feel the notion is self-indulgent or self-pitying. However, it is quite the opposite. Developing the ability and strength to face and manage our difficulties, without isolating ourselves from others and becoming absorbed in our own pain, is the essence of courageous living. Being able to attend to your own difficulties and challenges wisely, will enable you to have the spare emotional capacity to engage with others and life in a more helpful way.

According to Kristen Neff https://self-compassion.org there are three elements to self compassion

Self Kindness

An ability to relate to ourselves with warmth and kindness.

Common Humanity

The appreciation that we all suffer at times and you are not alone in these feelings

Mindful Awareness

The ability to view our difficulties in a balanced perspective so that we can keep engaging in life.

How can developing our compassionate self enhance our resilience?

There has been much interest in the effects of developing compassion within ourselves from a scientific perspective. Research has shown that people who score high on self-compassion:

Compassion is a sensitivity to suffering within self and others with a commitment to try and alleviate and prevent’ – Professor Paul Gilbert

The good news is that our compassionate self can be developed and enhanced through training and practice. This will enable us to become more attuned to supporting ourselves through the difficulties of life. When we sabotage ourselves, we actually make situations more unmanageable than they need to be.