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Learning and Practicing Self Compassion

Self-compassion is giving yourself the treatment you would normally give to a dear friend. Feeling compassionate about yourself has no difference in feeling compassionate for others. In order to be compassionate, you have to notice that they, the other people, are suffering. Only if you appreciate and take a better look at the difficult situations of other people can you show compassion to that person.

In much the same way, you must recognize your own suffering or difficulty in order to be compassionate to yourself. People who are self-compassionate steer clear of ruthless assessment or un-constructive criticism of themselves, seeing their flaws or deficiencies as a part of the human condition. This does not mean they do not try to correct them and improve themselves.

Compassion involves being affected by other’s suffering in a way that makes your heart feel their pain. When this happens, you are filled with the desire to extend your help to the needy person in some way. Being compassionate also means that we skip harsh judgement when others make mistakes or fail and instead offer understanding and kindness. Feeling compassionate for others includes realizing that imperfection, misery, or disappointments are part of anyone’s life.

Self-compassion is doing all of those compassionate things towards yourself during difficult times, failure, or even when you don’t like something about yourself. Normally, under these circumstances, you ignore your pain alongside giving unkind judgment and criticisms of yourself. By practicing self-compassion, you comfort and care for yourself when under a difficult situation. You extend the same kindness and understanding to yourself when faced with personal failures. It comes with the acceptance that no one is perfect, including yourself. Any changes, you do to become healthier and happier, must be done not because you think you are of no value, but because you care about yourself, first and foremost.

Being compassionate to yourself is accepting and acknowledging that you are a human being, like everybody else. And that in one’s lifetime, things will not happen the way you expect them to; there will be disappointments, failures, and setbacks. By acknowledging this reality, you will be able to open your heart to feel compassion for yourself and others.

The Three Elements of Self-Compassion

  • Kindness to Yourself. When things go astray, you feel inadequate and a failure. With self-compassion, you are extending the understanding towards yourself just like you would to a friend or family member. Sparing yourself from self-criticism and unforgiving judgment and being kind yourself is showing self-compassion. When you recognize and accept that life comes naturally with imperfections, failures, difficulties, or frustrations, you will learn to be gentle with yourself instead of getting angry or frustrated. Circumstances that fall short of your expectations are frequent and inevitable. Therefore they should not cause unnecessary stress, self-criticism, or disappointment.
  • Common humanity. Being human means being vulnerable, mortal, and imperfect. With this acceptance, no amount of shortcomings, failures, or disappointments should be enough to make you feel that you are the only person suffering or feeling inadequate. You are experiencing this reality of human life along with other fellow human beings. Being self-compassionate is recognizing the fact that as humans, people do not have full control over their circumstances and even sometimes to a degree over their behavior. External factors like genetics and environment come into play that could have a positive or negative impact on such behavior. If everyone recognizes one’s essential interdependence, failings and life difficulties shouldn’t have to be taken on a personal level, but can be accepted with compassion and understanding.
  • Mindfulness. Having a balanced attitude on one’s negative emotions, thoughts, or actions will thwart suppressed or exaggerated feelings under difficult situations. That’s having self-compassion. And this attitude is brought about by relating personal experiences to that of the experiences of other people who are also suffering. This puts your own predicament into a larger perspective, helping you to notice the bigger picture and not feel victimized with your own situation. The willingness to open up and feel one’s own negative emotions and thoughts is required to reach mindful awareness. Mindfulness is a non-judgmental and sympathetic state of mind wherein one objectively observes thoughts and feelings without any attempt to suppress or deny those thoughts or feelings. One cannot ignore pain and feel compassionate about it at the same time. Mindfulness also means that one should not over identify or become preoccupied with thoughts or feelings and avoid being swept away by negative reactions.

Self-Compassion is Not  – 

  • Self-pity. Having self-pity is being absorbed by one’s own problems and forgetting about other people who may be in similar situations. One misses his interconnections with other people and harbors a feeling of isolation in terms of feeling that they are the only ones in the world subjected into such suffering. Self-pity usually emphasizes self-centeredness, selfishness, or insensitivity so much so that the feeling of personal suffering is almost always exaggerated to unprecedented levels.

Contrary to self- pity, self-compassion allows one to relate his experience to the experience or situations of other people around him. One does not entertain feelings of isolation and disconnection of the world. Self-compassionate people have a more balanced and objective view of situations and are not embroiled in their own emotional crisis.

  • Self-indulgence. Some people have this notion that being self-compassionate means they are letting themselves get away with anything. Always making excuses of feeling stressed out or overwhelmed, in order to do things like watching TV all day or eating unlimited amounts of comfort foods, is not self-compassion. It is self-indulgence. One should keep in mind that self-compassion should bring happiness, health, and serenity in the long run. With self-indulgence, you are always in the pursuit extreme pleasure, which usually harms your well-being. This could lead to addictions, laziness, and health problems. To be successful one should be able to work hard, postpone gratification, and limit pleasure and sometimes sacrifice from short gains for bigger rewards on the long run.

In general, people can be very hard on themselves especially when they know they need to change something about themselves, but are worried about being ashamed with such actions. This is the self-flagellation approach which can backfire if one is not able to accept difficult truths about oneself for fear of hating yourself. Such weaknesses may remain unacknowledged when one avoids self-observation, -reflection, and -examination.

On the other hand, compassion comes with inherent and natural caring, motivating growth and change. It also provides the safety needed to see oneself with total clarity but without fear of self-condemnation.

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