Compassion is the feeling that happens when you notice that others are suffering and your heart responds to their pain with love and kindness. Compassion means “to suffer with” giving us the desire to help the suffering person in some way.
Self-compassion is treating ourselves the way we would treat a friend seeing our own suffering and responding with a desire to help, being kind to ourselves when we feel inadequate, make mistakes or suffer through painful life experiences.
When we make a mistake, we are more likely to beat ourselves up than be kind to ourselves. We tend to condemn and criticize ourselves for our inadequacies, becoming our own worst enemy instead of an inner ally. Self-compassion is a practice where we learn to be a good friend to ourselves when we need it the most. Talking to ourselves with warmth and unconditional acceptance like we would a good friend- being tender with ourselves when we encounter painful experiences rather than getting angry, frustrated and full of self-criticism.
Self-compassion requires us to recognize that suffering is part of a shared human experience. That each of us are flawed works-in-progress, that everyone fails, makes mistakes and experiences hardships in life. This acknowledgement helps us not feel so isolated in our suffering and recognize that every moment of pain offers the opportunity to connect on a deeper level with others.
Self-compassion also requires that we take a balanced approach to our negative emotions, being mindful of our moment-to-moment experience, not avoiding or exaggerating our feelings. We need to be willing to observe our negative thoughts and emotions with openness, allowing us to face the truth of our experience, even if it is unpleasant. A mindful approach prevents us from over-identifying with negative thoughts and feelings, so that we are not caught up and swept away by adverse reactions. Mindfully observing our pain and acknowledging our suffering without magnifying it, allows us to take a wiser perspective on ourselves and our situations.
Do not worry if you struggle with self-criticism because the problem of the harsh self-critic is fixable. The practice of self-compassion is something we can learn, boosting our self-esteem, reducing symptoms of depression and anxiety. What we need most is a good friend with a compassionate heart –you might discover that this good friend is inside of you.