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Self-compassion: Why don’t we practice it?

Mindfulness brings us back to the present moment and provides the type of balanced awareness that forms the foundation of self-compassion. Like a clear, still pool without ripples, mindfulness perfectly mirrors what’s occurring without distortion. Rather than becoming lost in our own personal soap opera, mindfulness allows us to view our situation with greater perspective and helps to ensure that we don’t suffer unnecessarily.
Kristen Neff in her book, Self-Compassion

Compassion and self-compassion:  What’s the difference?

Compassion means to suffer with another, to feel the pain of others and, to be motivated or feel a need to relieve another's pain or suffering. Just around Christmas time, there are lots of reasons and opportunities to get our heartstrings pulled. We want to relieve pain and suffering or to simply give from what we have; be it food, toys, warm wishes, or simply a smile. 

We act with compassion when we offer non-judgmental understanding and kindness to others. Compassion helps us to realize that suffering, missteps, and imperfection are part of the shared human experience — "Just like me…"  Compassion is for many of us, within reach.

Self-compassion, on the other hand, is often misunderstood. 

Self-compassion involves treating oneself with kindness during our own missteps, imperfections, disappointments and difficulties. Why is it within our reach to be kind to those around us but when we require it of ourselves, it feels narcissistic or self-indulgent?

Because many of us think that when we are being kind to ourselves, we may not be putting our "best foot forward," or may not be keeping ourselves "in check." It is a myth that we need to be self-critical in order to move forward or improve ourselves.

In fact, self-compassion has many benefits, and it starts with a simple acknowledgement of and embracing yourself, for all that you are and all that you do — without judgment. Self-compassion allows us to apply our energies to attaining goals, doing things we love, and working through life's challenges and difficult moments.

Why practice self-compassion?

Research shows that self-compassion is strongly associated with emotional well-being, better coping with life stress, lower levels of anxiety and depression, increase in healthy habits such as exercise, and improved personal relationships.

Like any life skill, the more we practice self-compassion, the easier it is to access when you need it. Self-compassion also increases your awareness of mindful communication towards self and others.

For example, it starts with the inner dialogue we all have with ourselves. What are you saying to yourself when things don't go the way they were planned; what are you saying to others?

Mindfulness is this awareness, the noticing of that dialogue in your mind, and the acknowledgement of that dialogue. Self-compassion is the response to that dialogue in a kind, gentle, and loving manner — the way we would respond to a friend. 

Even beyond the psychological and physical health benefits, the practise of mindful self-compassion will allow you to:

Motivate yourself to finish difficult tasks with kindness rather than self-criticism

More easily handle negative emotions in others

Better manage "caregiver fatigue" as parents or teachers

Learn the art of savouring the moment

How to get started practising mindful self-compassion

If you are not sure how to start the practice of self-compassion, practice this simple technique at least once/day.

Before going to bed or before getting out of bed in the morning; or perhaps at both times, simply allow yourself to be present in the moment and repeat the following mantra:    

May I live in peace and tranquility.

May I live in happiness and joy.

May I live with grace and ease.

May I be safe.

Or, write down phrases that are more meaningful to you in your journey, and repeat them as often as you can. You will soon notice a difference.

(Exercise adapted from Living Well.)

Self-compassion allows us to be aware of our difficult experiences, process them in a kind and loving way; and ultimately let them pass through our lives. When we hold on to difficult emotions such as anger and resentment, we "freeze" them inside our bodies, and thereby, hold on to them. 

Self-compassion thaws and melts these negative emotions. Once we've processed our experiences and let go of self-critical and negative emotions, we are more available and open to both giving and receiving love and joy because we all want to love and be loved. 

Where to learn the art of mindful self-compassion in Vancouver

Allowing ourselves — and families, colleagues, and students — to see ourselves and others with loving-kindness is the best gift of all. Contact Mindful Changes to see the full range of workshops, courses, and training options available in Vancouver and the Lower Mainland all year long.

Download Shahin's guide to three simple and effective mindfulness practices you can do anywhere here

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