The Art of Self-Compassion

Written by Michael Kemp, CSW

Merriam-Webster defines compassion as, “sympathetic consciousness of others’ distress together with a desire to alleviate it.” Another common definition states compassion literally means “to suffer together.”  Research has shown that when we feel compassion, our heart rate slows down, we secrete the “bonding hormone” oxytocin, and regions of the brain linked to empathycaregiving, and feelings of pleasure light up. This often results in our wanting to care for other people, even those we don’t know. 

During the holiday season, many of us are moved by compassion towards those in need and generously give money or items to those in need. The bells of the Salvation Army, the correspondence by community organizations asking for our support, ads on our TV with haunting images all appeal to our sense of compassion.

Often forgotten in our compassionate heart is the element of self-compassion. Dr. Kristin Neff, founder of the Center for Mindful Self Compassion, defines self-compassion as, “Self-compassion is simply the process of turning compassion inward.  We are kind and understanding rather than harshly self-critical when we fail, make mistakes or feel inadequate.  We give ourselves support and encouragement rather than being cold and judgmental when challenges and difficulty arise in our lives.”

How aware are we in how we speak to ourselves? Especially when we make a mistake, fail to reach a goal, or feel frustrated about the direction of our life. What words of judgement or self-defamation do we use toward ourself? How long do we continue to barrage ourself with criticism of our character or our humanness? How does this talk then effect our day, our energy, our efforts? How does this talk then affect the way we are able to interact with the people in our life, especially loved ones?

What would happen if instead of those judgmental and critical words being hurled at us in our mind, we actually took a breath and replaced them with words that were forgiving, understanding, even loving? What if we used words that were filled with kindness and grace? What if we used words that recognized our dignity, our self-worth as a fallible human, our heart and our spirit? What changes might occur in the way we approach our day and the people in it?

 Research has indicated that self-compassion is a powerful source of coping and resilience. It can radically improve our mental and physical wellbeing. It is able to motivate us to make meaningful changes in our life. It can improve the way we truly treat others in our life. We will be able to give a deeper love to them because we have chosen to be compassionate towards the person it is often the most difficult to be loving towards, and that’s ourselves.

"May I be kind to myself in this moment. May I give myself the compassion I need.” - Kristin Neff

For more information on self-compassion, please visit www.selfcompassion.org.