Think of compassion as a sensitivity to suffering, in oneself and in others, with a commitment to be with it and to bring comfort to ourselves. Compassion applied towards ourselves is protective of our mental health and well-being, especially as this practice helps us to regulate a variety of internal sensations and feelings. In turn, emotional regulation skills are essential in coping with stress, engaging in relationships, problem-solving, and communication whereas emotional dysregulation may include mood and anxiety disorders, avoidance, substance abuse, harmful impulsive behavior, difficulty in delaying gratification, and difficulty in behavioral control.
Self-compassion interventions aim to help us shift our attention from a self-shaming perspective to a loving perspective through the practice of present-moment awareness, kindness, understanding, and a sense of common humanity. Self-compassion is a self-soothing coping skill, and better self-soothing leads to enhanced emotion regulation, reduced sensitivity to threats, and increased ability to access, tolerate, and express emotions. Thus, self-compassion builds emotional resiliency!
Now let’s look at the mythology and the barriers that might make compassion practices difficult for some. Common misperceptions of self-compassion include the myths that compassion is a way to feel sorry for yourself, and that self-compassion is selfish. These misunderstandings couldn’t be farther from the truth, in fact, research demonstrates that when we stop and validate our feelings and failures, we tend to let them go rather quickly, and practicing self-compassion makes us more compassionate towards others.
Some other common obstacles include internal resistance to engage with self-compassion. It may be the case that being raised in environments where self-compassion is/was missing, compassion practices may seem strange, foreign, and even aversive. Childhood maltreatment, a history of trauma, a diagnosis of PTSD, or a client who struggles with high self-criticism and shame, may initially experience self-compassion as threatening, so it’s important to recognize these factors when beginning a new self-compassion practice.
Here are some ways you can begin cultivating a self-compassion practice today:
- Comfort yourself physically: take a nap, eat or drink something healthy, give yourself a hug, a massage, or lightly hold your face or your heart
- Comfort yourself internally: find a quiet space and take a 5-minute meditation break, tell yourself suffering is a part of life, and then direct loving kindness towards yourself
- Journal: write about a painful experience and describe how you felt in the moment without any judgment or blame
- Provide yourself encouragement: think about a situation where something seemed to have gone wrong or you found yourself in pain. Take a moment to review the event and then offer support by reminding yourself that that was a difficult experience, that your feelings at that moment were real and valid, and that you’d like to now offer yourself some loving kindness and comfort.