What does self-compassion mean?

Practising self-compassion helps you improve the quality of your life

Think of a situation when you felt upset about yourself. When was it? – Was it a week back, yesterday or today? What were you thinking?  Many a times, we think of ourselves critically especially when we have the attitude of wanting to be perfect either at home or at workplace or with friends or while taking care of a relative with mental illness if we are a caregiver. What happens when we judge or criticize ourselves? But, does self-criticism always bring a resolve to change for the better?

It is natural to be critical of ourselves when we want to push ourselves and better ourselves. But, if it becomes prolonged and affects our thinking and behaviour then it can lead to mental health problems. We can observe how self-critical we are; based on our self-talk. When we are constantly judging and criticizing ourselves for various inadequacies or failures; that’s when we need to consider self-compassion.

What is self-compassion?

When we see a friend or relative or someone else suffering, we naturally wish to show compassion towards them by understanding their situation and do something about it, to make them feel better. Similarly, self-compassion is having compassion towards oneself. It helps us to look for gentle, kind and more caring ways of motivating ourselves to make the desired change for growth and progress.

There are three aspects of self-compassion:

  • :  viewing situations in a balanced way by observing our thoughts and emotions with curiosity and openness. At the same time, not judging ourselves and not getting caught up or carried away with our thoughts and feelings.
  • Common humanity: adopting a philosophical stand of being human. Remembering that the common human limitations of being mortal, vulnerable and imperfect. This helps us in understanding and recognizing that suffering and personal inadequacy is part and parcel of human experience and not limited to one person alone.
  • Self-kindness: being understanding, patient and tolerant with oneself when we suffer, fail or feel inadequate.

Benefits of self-compassion

Research has been done that show multiple benefits of self-compassion such as: enhanced positive emotions, life satisfaction, wisdom, optimism, curiosity, learning to set goals, social connectedness, personal responsibility and emotional resilience. On the other hand, low on self-compassion can lead to self-criticism, depression, anxiety, rumination, thought suppression and perfectionism.

What can one do to practice self-compassion?

  • Changing your critical self-talk by using logic, reasoning or philosophy to counter it.
  • Maintaining a self-compassion journal that will help in jotting down self-critical thoughts and feelings and asking if you would say these words if it were to a friend.
  • Self-acceptance i.e. accepting oneself and feeling worthy 
  • Learning to forgive oneself for the setbacks, failures and personal inadequacy
  • Writing a self-compassionate letter to yourself by imagining what a compassionate friend would say to you

This article is based on a workshop that was conducted by Jyotsna Agrawal, assistant professor, NIMHANS at Nimhans Centre for Wellbeing