Discovering Self-Compassion
Discovering Self-Compassion avatar

Miller, MSW, LISWWillow Wisdom

How compassionate are you to yourself? When you face challenges or difficulties, do you have a calm, reassuring, soothing, and encouraging inner voice or a painful, pestering, inner critic? If you are like most people, there are times that you may fall prey to your inner critic. For some, the inner critic has taken control of “command central” bringing about much suffering, often in the form of anxiety and depression–two of the top reasons people seek counseling.

Dr. Kristin Neff, a leader in the study of self-compassion and author of Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself describes three components required to effectively achieve self-compassion: mindfulness, self-kindness, and awareness of our interconnectedness. Mindfulness is an important first step in learning to be self-compassionate because it allows you to be fully aware of the present moment with acceptance and non-judgment. It frees you to create a quiet space in your mind, hit the pause button, notice the moment, and ultimately seek a broader perspective of the situation. Often we do not take time to notice our thoughts and feelings, which can result in an instinctive, emotional, and ineffective reaction rather than an intentional, effective response.

Once you have given yourself time to take mindful notice of your painful thoughts and feelings, you can begin to focus on shifting to more kind and helpful thoughts. These kind, self-compassionate thoughts are motivated by love, as opposed to the fear and self-doubt the inner critic instills. When your driving force is fear, eventually your psyche will tire of this threatening voice, and anxiety and depression may then sabotage your efforts toward growth and change. Your self-compassionate inner voice is guided by thoughts that are kind, loving, gentle, understanding, forgiving, and encouraging. This voice will lead you to take positive actions that are more likely to result in the inner peace and happiness you seek.

In addition to mindfulness and self-kindness, it is helpful to be aware of your interconnectedness. You are not alone. Suffering is a universal part of the human experience. If you remember this in your painful moments, you will find comfort in knowing that others struggle with similar feelings. This will help guide you away from feelings of self-pity, loneliness, and isolation and toward feelings of belonging, acceptance, and self-compassion.

Carl Rogers, a great American humanistic psychologist once said, “The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change.” Self-compassion is critical to achieving self-acceptance. So the next time your inner critic tries to take control, try love, non-judgment, and self-compassion!