Self-compassion is a form of acceptance, one of the four options you have no matter what the problem you face (see previous post, No Matter What the Problem, There Are Only Four Things You Can Do). Kristin Neff in her book Self-Compassion: Stop Beating Yourself Up and Leave Insecurity Behind, lists three core components of self-compassion: self-kindness, recognition of our common humanity, and mindfulness. These components are all helpful for the emotionally sensitive person.
Self-kindness is being gentle and understanding with yourself. This concept means more than not beating up on yourself and stopping harsh judgments. Self-kindness means to understand and comfort yourself, like you would a good friend. Self-kindness means comforting yourself even when you make mistakes and especially when you make embarrassing ones.
Self-kindness seems to be a form of self-soothing. Taking a bubble bath, listening to uplifting music, smelling roses and petting a dog are external ways of self-soothing while self-kindness is an internal method.
Maybe you have an individual in your life who is naturally comforting. When you don’t get a job you wanted or have an argument with your significant other, this person is there to soothe you. She may just sit with you or she may help you put the situation in perspective, but most of all she is there to remind you that your value as a human being is not based on one event in your life. She offers acceptance and cares about your pain. She doesn’t add to your upset by blaming you or telling you what you did wrong.
Self-kindness is about being that person for yourself. By realizing that the last thing you need when you’ve had a difficult experience is to be lectured to or criticized. Being kind to yourself helps you get through the sadness and hurt and move on.
Some individuals do not believe they deserve kindness. This may be the result of not having caregivers who were able to give consistent nurturing or of experiencing hurtful relationships with other people. Or perhaps being kind to the self is a new experience. For these individuals, self-kindness can feel foreign and uncomfortable. Though self-kindness may not seem natural for those who tend to be harsh with themselves, habits and comfort levels can change with repeated practice.
Practicing self-kindness leads to your being able to give yourself the same nurturing and emotional support that you get from that special person who is your biggest comfort. The advantage is that you can give it to yourself at any time and you don’t have to worry about losing it for any reason. Giving yourself the comfort of kindness can help you build a sense of safety and security.
Nurturance by others releases chemicals that are calming and increase feelings of trust, generosity, and connectedness. Neff points out that there is good reason to believe that self-kindness has the same effect.
Recognition of our common humanity means remembering that all human beings are imperfect. This means that embarrassing moments, disappointment, shame, rejection, fear, and anger are all shared experiences. Every human being has experienced those situations and those emotions. Every human being has struggles. Remembering what we have in common helps us feel connected, a part of the whole. Seeing ourselves as alone in our struggle, believing that life is smooth and easy for others, leads to feeling alone and separate, a feeling of not belonging.
Neff points out that one of the ways people separate themselves from their common humanity is by comparing themselves to others. When you do this the success of others will lead to negative feelings about yourself instead of being happiness for the other person. Comparing is about competition rather than cooperation.
Mindfulness is accepting what is, in the moment, without judgment. Being able to see what is real and true is a critical part of coping well with intense emotions. Mindfulness will be discussed in a future post.
The benefits of self-compassion, according to Neff, include improved emotional resiliency, better ability to maintain emotional balance, better coping skills, and faster healing of emotional trauma. Self-compassion seems to be a key skill for emotionally sensitive people.